Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Food Security: Henna Farmer

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Food Security Success Story:  It all began with Zabila….

Story by Mar Knox

(taken from interviews held between Lydia Ajono and Madam Amina)

Published in the April 2010 edition of The ADVOCATE

Madam Amina Nabala Adam is a hardworking woman who is a community leader in Diare, her village in the Savelugu Nanton District.  Although she is now a respected farmer who manages diversified crops including maize, groundnut, organic mango and legumes, things have not always been easy for Madam Amina.

Tragedy struck twelve years ago, when, as Madam Amina explains, “my day turned into night when I became a widow at a very young age”.   Her husband died, leaving her with five children to feed, clothe and school.

As the last of her husband’s four wives, she was left with half an acre of land which was infertile.  However, she was reminded of a conversation she had with her mother-in-law, who told her that if she farmed henna (or zabila, as it is known), she would always be able to make ends meet.

Trusting this advice turned out to be a godsend.  Madam Amina cultivated this plant and pounded the crop into powder which she was able to sell at the local market.  From this money, she was able to buy food for her children.  As she states, “Zabila is my life and my family. When you cultivate zabila, it is for life. Your children and grandchildren will benefit from it.  When you have cows and sell one cow without a baby, that ends the life of that cow. But zabila is always sprouting and you continue to harvest it. It does not need fertilizers. All it needs is for the farmer to keep the weeds away from it. I assure it will help you earn some money that could support your family.”

Over time, she learned the best farming techniques for the plant.  “We harvest zabila with a sickle.  And I know it is time to harvest when I cannot see chickens roaming inside the farm”.

Henna or zabila, is most commonly used as a dye for hair, skin and fingernails; the flowers can also be used for perfume.  In Ghana arts and culture, henna dye is used on drumheads and on other leather goods.  It is also said that henna repels some insect pests and mildew.  For these reasons, henna was in demand.  Madam Amina eventually met someone who wanted a larger quantity of henna, which was her big breakthrough.  With the larger sale of product she could then raise some money and eventually got some fertile land where she was able to plant groundnuts.  Today, she says, “I have special customers in Burkina Faso and Kumasi who regularly place orders for my products.  This farm has been feeding me for 12 years.  The life span of Zabila plant could last from 5 to 12 years, depending on how you care for it.”

As she started a cycle of farming productive land with productive crops, Madam Amina was able to hire men to labour for her.  She had money, so the men were keen to work.  Over time, she was able to build a house for herself and her children, and was able to send them to school.

The women in Diare could see the success that she was having.  This was encouraging to them, as well.  They could see the impact she was making on her own life, and it encouraged them to employ some of the same techniques that she had been successfully using.  As a community leader, she explains the communal aspect to helping others:  “When there are child naming, marriage or funeral ceremonies in the community, it is in my house we all meet to plan how to support the woman in need.  Currently I am sponsoring six other children in the village who are either orphans or very needy.”

In 2007, the Women’s Group that Madam Amina is with a member of, was the winner of the Best Groundnut Farmer Award.  One of the things she liked best about farming groundnuts was there was no need for chemicals; she simply applied compost to get good yields.  Today, she is now diversified into many types of crops, including legumes, soya beans and even organic mangos!  She also farms maize, but she keeps this crop as food for her household. Doing so provides her with food security.  In this way, she always has a supply of food for her family, and can rely on the other crops to provide a source of income for other needs.  “I use all the grain that I grow to feed my family so that we don’t have food shortages in the house. If I need any other items, I sell zabila to finance it”.

The story told above did not happen overnight; this is a story that took 12 years to unfold.  But the fruits of her labours have been worthwhile.  Today, Madam Amina’s five children are all well educated.  Two are in university, and one daughter is ready now to go to polytechnic school.  What was originally a means to keep her family fed and clothed has turned into an achievement that she can be very proud of.


Written by Mar(k)

April 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm

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