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The Akan and agriculture

The Akan and agriculture

The Akan belong to an ethno-linguistic population in which a series of similar populations recognize themselves. These speak languages of the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo group and occupy the central-southern regions of Ghana and the central and south-eastern regions of the Ivory Coast. They include, among others, Ashanti, Agyi, Nzema, Fanti and Baule.
These populations are based on patriarchal families of many members grouped in both matrilineal and patrilineal clans; the various tribes are governed by an elected chief and were grouped together in federations that are now dissolved.
They have an animist religion even if syncretic rites and Christianity are very widespread; in this territory there are secret societies, both male and female, which still occupy a large space in the social sphere.
These populations, despite having been transformed in part by the acquisition of modern European technologies and knowledge, have a social and cultural organization based on a settlement system still very present in the countryside and in the villages.
The Akan have an agricultural economy, note the importance of palm plantations.
However, the spread of specialized plantations, forest exploitation and the birth of industry are causing a growing exodus towards coastal cities where today there are extensive shanty towns where hundreds of thousands of individuals live in a state of appalling poverty and who have now lost any ethnic identity.
The economic system of the Akan, albeit with the great upheavals of recent decades, has been complex and integrated, for over four centuries, into the world mercantile system, based on agriculture.
This was founded, until the end of the 19th century, on an itinerant cultivation of the forest and in which commercial plantations were introduced starting from the early years of the 20th century: cocoa, oil palm, rubber, coconut palm.
To these are added trade, mining and fishing (coastal, river and lagoon).
Within the Akan ethnic group we also mention the Ashanti (or Asante) who are a population mainly residing in the Ghana region.
The populations that migrated from North Africa between the 13th and 14th centuries adopted land cultivation as their main activity, while leading a semi-nomadic lifestyle. In the following centuries, passed to founding permanent settlements, the Ashanti paid to the Denkyira (powerful Akan nation that flourished in the Ashantiland peninsula from the 1620s, in what is Ghan in the twenty-first century) a tribute composed of timber, fiber of plantain and red clay. The three goods were linked to women’s activity: the red clay was used by the women to decorate their homes, while the wood and the fiber – destined respectively to be burnt and for the care of personal hygiene – were directly collected by them.

From the eighteenth century, having obtained the liberation from the Denkyira and founded their own Empire, the Ashanti devoted themselves to flourishing exchanges of gold, cola and other goods with the Europeans settled on the coast, through commercial routes that came from the north, even from the Sahe. The empire maintained its hegemony over trade thanks to constant wars with neighboring populations and played an active role in the Atlantic trade in African slaves.
Between the 20th and 21st centuries, the Ashanti region has contributed significantly to the Ghanaian economy: it is in fact the main area of food production – in particular of bananas, cocoa, cassava, yam and plátani – as well as gold and timber .
All these populations, residing in these territories, have unfortunately had to undergo the advent of intensive agriculture, brought by large foreign groups, which has generated, together with the exploitation of minerals and other resources, environmental and social degradation.
Thus climate change in the last twenty years has reached alarming levels for which urgent and global action is needed to minimize the impact on populations, especially the most vulnerable communities of this country.
According to the 2019 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate and Land, in chapter six, better management of croplands, agroforestry and forest areas has the potential to mitigate the impact of climate change. To address this environmental degradation and climate-related challenges, some projects are being carried out in order to achieve, among others, a sustainable cocoa supply chain and the improvement of living conditions.
One of these projects called “Alliance for Sankofa“, addresses crucial problems such as deforestation and aims to reduce the carbon footprint, ensuring different sources of income for farmers and recognizing that, to be truly sustainable, action on the environment it must be accompanied by social and economic development. Sankofa is a word of the local Akan language which means “going back to our roots to rediscover what we have left along the way“. The Sankofa project started in 2018 and will end by 2022 with the aim of planting 400 hectares of agroforestry plots, aiming at the biodiversity of crops and the planting of tall trees, creating an indirect impact on 2400 people.

Guido Bissanti

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