The Students of the World (SOW) Boston team has just returned from a month-long trip to Ghana to visit Opportunity Ghana‘s microfinance operations and document their experiences in dozens of photos, posts and more on their blog. You can see all their updates and content on their site, and stay tuned to the Opportunity Blog and our Facebook page for updates from their trip. The following post, “Lady of the Land,” was published on Wednesday, June 18 about Ghanaian agricultural client Beatrice Boaten. (All photographs for this post by Sara Joe Wolansky.)
We are sitting inside a small cozy room painted in a rich blue, complete with shelves boasting an array of decorative pieces, photographs and a poster of Jesus. Floral lace decorates the refrigerator and a single window with white curtains lets light in. There is one small old-fashioned television in the corner. This is Beatrice Duku Frimpong Boaten’s sitting room in a house she inherited over 30 years ago from her father, who was one of the community chiefs in her village, Nerebhi.
Along with this house, Beatrice also inherited four acres of land. After Beatrice retired as a teacher, she decided to convert the land into a cocoa farm. She worked as a farmer for 16 years, and in March 2010, she joined Opportunity International‘s agricultural finance program through Opportunity Ghana. As a result of this program, she has received fertilizers, insecticides and learnt farming techniques that have allowed her to increase her output from an average of five bags every year to 13 to 15 bags by the end of every cocoa season. Her income has also been boosted from the increased yield. But improving her own lifestyle and paying for her children’s education is not the only thing to come out of Beatrice’s relationship with Opportunity International. She felt encouraged enough by Opportunity loan officers to gather community members to form two Trust Groups and collectively they have made a community farm, which grows cocoa, plantains, maize, cassava and other crops for the community. Proceeds from the sale of these crops go into the Trust Group’s funds, which in turn pay back the loans farmers have incurred from Opportunity.
Leading and working with the community has been a major part of Beatrice’s experience after using the loans and savings program. Farming has been a valued way of life for many of the older community members and by involving everyone through Trust Groups, Beatrice said that it created a greater respect and understanding of the profession in the younger community members. Some of her children want to return from school and help on the farm. Abena Sarpong, who took us to our first cocoa farm in Bonsaaso a few days ago, is also Beatrice’s loan officer. She told us that agriculture is a very important component of Ghana’s economy (more than 48% of GDP and 70% of the rural population depends on agriculture as a source of income) and must be fully developed, which is why Opportunity has invested a lot in agricultural finance.
We visited the community farm with Beatrice and Muhammad Opuku, another member of her Trust Group. Muhammad showed us how to harvest plantain and how a new farming technique they learnt is being applied. Using this technique they planted palm trees in rows, alternating the crops that are being grown to allow for a greater variety on the farm.
When Beatrice speaks about her love for the land she has cultivated all these years, her joy is infectious. During our interview she laughed at every pause in the conversation, her eyes twinkled when we asked her to give us a tour of the farm and when we attempted to thank her in Twi: “Meda’ase,” she grinned at our pronunciation and shook our hands vigorously before we took the long road back to Kumasi.