In the Mole-Dagbani ethnic groups of Northern Ghana, families are organized by specific vocations or trades. There are blacksmiths who buy meat from butchers; meat cut into pieces with knives and machetes made by the blacksmiths. The drummers and singers obtain animal skin from the butchers to make their drums and in turn perform for them during funerals and enskinments. By the mark on the face of an individual or the sound of their native name, you can easily identify from which family they come; they could be blacksmiths, butchers, drummers, barbers, hunters, bricklayers, herbalists, etc. Every child born into the family is expected to learn the family trade.
My interest is in how this arrangement could contribute to the much needed agricultural transformation through agricultural mechanization. The family from which I come is of blacksmiths and we have a workstation in the family house where my grandfathers and fathers have been making various metal wares for hundreds of years. By heating and moulding iron and steel, they make everything from household instruments to weapons. In the context of agriculture, they make the axes and machetes with which farmland is cleared, the hoes to turn the soil and the buckets with which to fetch bathing water after a day’s hard farm work.
It is a tragedy that they have not been able to make more advanced implements. I imagine a scenario where my uncles could make sowing machines with which farmers would sow seeds more efficiently; or weeding machines that would enable farmers weed larger tracts of land in less time; or irrigation equipment that farmers would ride on to farm all year round. The vast span of land would be productively cultivated. Then food would be abundant and less costly.
There are many African countries that have such cultural arrangements where a form of manufacturing is embedded in the very structure of their societies. Examples include Mande blacksmiths of Mali, the Banama, the Fok of Nigeria and a host of others. If these were to be seen as a form of foundation for manufacturing advanced implements and light machinery for agricultural production in Africa, I imagine the amount of money we would save considering that the food import bill for West Africa alone is $40 billion annually.
The blacksmiths have neighbours who are farmers. How do they collaborate to transform African agriculture?
Hardi Yaubu is a Communications Officer at ACET