This article was originally posted in The Herald (Vermont) and written by M.D. Drysdale
Agricultural expertise from Randolph found its way this month to Ghana, an impoverished country on the western coast of Africa. That expertise won’t be used in producing milk, as in Vermont, but mostly in growing peanuts.
Sosten Lungu, an associate professor at Vermont Technical College, spent two weeks with the Organization of Women Farmers, thanks to support from a program of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmer-to Farmer Program. The area he visited was sparsely-populated northern Ghana, marked by “tiny farms and very poor people,” Lungu told The Herald last week. Lungu himself is a native of Zambia in southern Africa. He came to the U.S. in 2001 for further studies and began teaching at VTC in August of 2007. His specialty is soil chemistry, and he teaches classes in how to manage soils, as well as efficient production of hay, corn, and other sileage. “Anything that’s feed for a cow,” he explained.
In his earlier life in Zambia, he had worked for the government with farmers growing nut crops, and he knew their importance in Africa. So when recently he ran into a friend who had been part of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, he was immediately interested.
Lungu likes the philosophy of the program—“Instead of giving them money, you give them education,” he summarized. He found himself in an area of small villages, each of them populated by an extended family of up to 100 people. They had never seen an extension worker—“I was the first person,” he said. He was able to speak to farmers in five villages.
The product grown by those farmers included some corn, millet and yams, but the main crop was peanuts, which takes up about 70% of the land. They are a staple in the local diet, as well as a cash crop.
“Whatever else you’re cooking, you need peanuts,” he explained. “And if there are no peanuts in the home, it means the family is hungry.”
Despite the reliance on peanuts, the practices used in these tiny villages were poor, Lungu said. “If you go to South Africa, they produce 4500 pounds per acre,” he said. “Where I was, it was 1600 pounds an acre. “Its all in the practices.” In the villages, Lungu focused on basic improvements that could be quickly adopted. Farmers traditionally haven’t planted seeds in rows, for instance, resulting in uneven spacing and a smaller number of plants.
He also gave advice on crop rotation, measuring pH levels in the soil, and the importance of sorting seeds before planting to get rid of immature or defective seeds. His sessions with about 70 farmers— more than half of them women— were very well received, he said. As to his experience at VTC, Lungu said, he’s impressed.
“It’s a very good college,” he said. “I wish they had one in Ghana.”