Praise for Ghanaian micro business
Weeds rarely are welcome in the garden soil. Getting rid of them is normally an arduous procedure with more bad sides than good sides, including blisters, aching backs, and time passed, which might have been better spent elsewhere. The one good side from weeding is probably the dead-tired, ‘sweat on your brow’ reward of seeing your garden rid of the unwelcome invasion.
But if you’re an itinerant farmer in Ghana, living near the Brong Ahafo gold mine of Newmont Ghana Gold Limited, one weed features another good side: it is being converted into a cash crop.
This weed, called Broussonetia papyrifera, or York, can consume arable land in a short time, growing 25-meter trees and a system of seeds and shoots that turns food-producing areas into wastelands. Ghanaians may once have called it Devil’s Teak, now they see it as a raw material that can bring income to the villagers of Techeyre, who operate a micro business making biodegradable matting that is used for erosion control and slope stabilization at the nearby mining operation.
This micro business jute mat operation was conceived by Muhammad Bin Abubakar, an outspoken Newmont nursery manager who has left behind a large trail of good work, including growing a shaded forest where once there were only mining tailings. Bin, as he is known, says he learned of a way to use the tree when he worked at Newmont’s Indonesian operations. According to Bin, one farmer, Amoafo Darkwah had to abandon his family’s two-acre cassava farm because of York infestation.
In the village of Techeyre, some 800 people, including Darkwah, join in stripping bark from these trees. Bark stripped, the trees die within two weeks and will stop producing seeds. The dead timber can be used for minor construction needs or for cooking fuel, and much of the sawdust is used for growing at Bin’s nursery.
Then it’s time to treat the moneymaker, the bark. The fibrous material, taken from the bottom part of the tree, measures an average of one meter by five meters. This solid piece is first hammered flat so the fibrous structure can be pulled out, or woven into a continuous net material. The hammering process, where large hand-hewn mallets are used, resonates throughout the village with the sound of drums.
As Bin describes it, “ The mat is then woven into a mesh, just like chicken mesh, thus giving it the ability to trap eroded soil particles during storm periods.”
Beyond the environmental functionality of the jute mats, there is the micro business that has provided income for some 800 people where money or paying work are as scarce as the York is plentiful.
The difficulties posed by the York have been transformed into a solution, says Bin.
“So the jute mats are used for controlling erosion in our mining areas. Which now accounts for 800 people – ladies, men, and students in this area. And they are getting their livelihood from this work.”
We hope more micro businesses such as this one Bin has started begin popping up across Africa and other developing areas of the planet.