Prudence lives in the village of Akonkoma in the Eastern Region of Ghana with her family. They own one of the most outstanding farms in the area, thanks in large part to her diligence in cultivating their moringa trees from tiny seedlings to mature trees through the past few months.
Mid-November to the end of March is “Harmattan” season in Ghana. The weather turns dry and unpleasant: cold at night, and hot throughout the day as the wind blows red sand and dust from the Sahara down toward the south. That pesky red sand sneaks its way into just about everything around the house and farm. Harmattan is one of the hardest seasons for farmers in West Africa, as many have to rely on the income made during the rainy season to get by, and water becomes scarce.
Few crops can cope with the unfriendly weather. Moringa is one of them: flowers blossom just when the rains stop, and long, seed-bearing pods slowly develop in the dry months until the sun ripens them for the harvest in late April.
Farmers like Prudence face tough odds to ensure their trees survive to maturity throughout the dry season. Lush, nutritious moringa leaves often fall victim to cattle, goats, and other animals hungry for vegetation to graze on during the dry season.
Bushfires (mostly man-made) are frequent during the Harmattan season, and pose an even greater threat to the farms as fire can catch easily in dry grass and spread over miles. Often, fires are lit to hunt small animals called “bushmeat,” or as part of traditional land preparation practices in the weeks preceding the beginning of the rains. Herders also start fires to stimulate the growth of young shoots.
In order to protect their farms from accidental fire farmers burn grass around it, creating what is called a fire belt. The space left by the burnt grass in the fire belt will create a safe space between the farm and the vegetation, reducing the incidence of accidental fire. Creating a firebelt requires extreme attention and ability to keep the fire under control.
It will all be worth it come April when the moringa harvest will start to roll in, providing farmers like Prudence with much needed income at the tail end of the dry season.