Amidst the lingering perception of Bawku as a community torn apart by conflict, a resilient group of widows is forging a path of healing and empowerment through agriculture. While outsiders may view Bawku through the lens of strife and division, these widows in the Kpalwega community in the Bawku Municipality of the Upper East Region are defying stereotypes and cultivating a future of hope and resilience. Interacting with them during a visit by correspondent, Moses Appiah, they acknowledged that most of them used to be traders, trading in all kinds of goods that have market value in the Bawku market, but have to resort to farming activities due to the prolonged conflict. For women like Apansib Abunkudugu, a 45-year-old widow who unfortunately lost her husband to the conflict, agriculture has become a beacon of stability and sustenance for her family of eight. Transitioning from her previous life as a trader, she explained that she now tends to a thriving vegetable garden during the dry seasoning, growing onions, pepper, and garden eggs. She indicated that despite the economic challenges, she finds solace and inner peace in the greenery, a respite from the turmoil that once engulfed her community. “What can I do if not to engage myself in this garden? I spend most of my time here because I find inner peace there. After losing my husband and my work as a trader to the conflict, this garden is doing magic for me and my eight children”, she said. Gifty Akumbas, also a widow who lost her husband to the prolonged conflict, finds strength and sustenance in her vegetable garden. With seven children to care for, her garden has become a lifeline, providing a steady income of Ghc250.00 to Ghc300.00 every three weeks. Also, Assibi Akirigah, a mother of five and widow could not stop praising how her vegetable garden is supporting her family. According to her, two of her children are attending school through the support she is getting from the garden. With a group membership of 50 widows, they explained how their vegetable gardens were supporting them and their families during the dry seasoning. However, alongside their success stories, these women grapple with a host of challenges, including the invasion of pesticides, inadequate water supply, and a lack of Agric extension officers to support them with farming techniques. Abunkudugu recounted the laborious process of manually digging a pit to store water for their garden, a temporary solution that falls short in the face of prolonged dry spells. According to her, a couple of weeks ago, she was admitted to the hospital for treatment after spending long hours and days digging a pit to get water for her vegetables. “I used my hands to dig. And you know, I’m not younger anymore, after digging I spent two days at the hospital. It is not easy getting water for the vegetables,” she said. “If we can get water, like an irrigation system to always water our vegetables it will go a long way to improve our livelihood here. And some of us will even forget about the conflict and our lost ones,” she added. Gifty, on the other hand, lamented the destructive impact of pesticides on their crops, despite repeated calls for assistance from agricultural experts in the area. According to her, some of the officers anytime they called them, failed to come all due to the fighting in Bawku. “I can’t remember the last time we saw an extension officer here showing us how to nurture our vegetables. It is hard, but what can we do." Assibi Akirigah also a mother of five and a widow explained how the failure of agri-extension officers is impacting them negatively.
A widow farmer showing her farm to our reporter
“Last two weeks after planting my garden eggs, I could see some flying-like pests nesting on them. I tried using homemade concoctions to fight them but it did not work. As you can see how yellowish the plants are”, she said with a sad voice. Speaking on what can be done concerning some of the teething challenges these women face in their quest to find a livelihood, Ms. Patience Azuah, a Member of the Centre for Empowerment and Development Initiative (CEDI, Ghana) explained that stakeholders especially the government bodies ought to look beyond the happenings in Bawku. She said, “These women just need a little push. I think that the extension officers to be trained and encouraged to devise means that can bring support to these women. Imagine an already traumatized widow has to lose it all in her garden again. So, policy implementers ought to do more especially the Ministry of Agriculture.” CEDI Ghana is a registered NGO, aimed at addressing development gaps and empowering the poor in the areas of; economic, and social, security, protection of the vulnerable, and balancing in sound environmental management and curtailing migration. At the time of writing the report, this reporter placed several calls and requests for comment from the Department of Agriculture in the region, but no response.
Some of the women engaged in the farming activities
Despite these challenges, the widows remained undeterred in their pursuit of a better future for themselves and their families. Their resilience and determination serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the people of Bawku, who refuse to be defined by the conflict.