Cooking is a women’s job. Women cook, men eat what women cook.
The ideal of the traditional family is very strong in Ghana. I often witness conversations about women in the trotro.
The general idea goes like this: If she is big enough she is good to be a mother and cook your dinner. If she is girlish and skinny she is a good girlfriend/affair (if you can afford to support two women).
(classic picture of a ‘big mama’ cooking over an iron stove that is welded from an old rim and some construction steel)
Irrespective of her size, if she is the mother of your children and cooks for you and your family she will do so most likely using charcoal and a classic welded stove. So do 70% of all Ghanaians.
Ghana consumes approximately 700.000 tons of charcoal every year amounting for an annual per capita use of 180 kg. 30% of that in Accra alone. The charcoal is produced in the northern and western region where the big lush forests are. The truck on the picture, together with a second one, came from Bolgatanga. So in addition this might be a case of coal smuggling from Burkina Faso.
An estimated amount of 3 million people live directly from forest production such as charcoal, traditional medicine, bush meat, fabrics, shelter, water supply etc. This people are poor and rely on business reliance with local traders and big coal producers who buy the freshly logged timber.
The interconnection between deforestation and water supply is extremely critical and its devastating effects if not dealt with can be seen in Kenya, where the Mau forest is being deforested despite its importance for five major rivers in the country.
If you take a car to the Volta Region or the Western Region you will pass by villages that almost entirely live off of burning coal and selling it on the roadside for a very small margin because they can’t afford the transport to the city center of Accra or Kumasi where the price is higher.
So others will take advantage of this situations and organize transport. Collecting all coal on a round trip and sell it in Accra.
Questions of sustainable forest management, biodiversity or communal outlook are staying unanswered since illiteracy is high and life is hard. Making quick money now is easier than thinking about difficult long-lasting decisions. A mindset that influences today’s economy very much and creates a lot of headaches for many.
Ghanas forests are shrinking every day.
Logging has been part of the economy since the very first colonial days but the rates are dramatic. Between 2005 and 2010 Ghana cuts down 2,19% of its forest every year. It seems to be a West African problem. Togo (5,75%) and Nigeria (4%) are also part of the game. To put it into perspective, Brazil’s rate is 0,42%. Or in a different view: Ghana’s forests are shrinking 5 times faster than Brazil’s.
Main reasons for this are widespread policy changes in the 1980s. The so-called Economic Reconstruction Program (ERP) of the famous (you know who I am talking about) IMF forced countries like Ghana to open its boarders and orient their economies export wise. Since then, in an environment of lack of monitoring and environmental awareness, the forests are being plundered. Leaving behind Cocoa monoculture or pasture area for farmers. Lack of funds do the rest and the communities suffer from erosion and income losses.
‘Don’t cut the branch you sit on’ is way too accurate here.
Besides the environmental influence there is a hidden one.
Coal fumes are dangerous. Carbon monoxide and other gases are attacking the health of those sitting closest to the stove. Women and children.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves (yes they exist) estimates that worldwide 4 million deaths are linked to household air pollution mostly from ‘dirty’ cook stoves.
Initiatives to help people understand this issues are difficult because they intertwine with local cooking culture, which is holy to mostly every culture on the face of this planet. I bet everyone, from any country can name a couple of examples what is unhealthy in their respective countries cooking culture.
Sitting in the trotro and hearing someone coughing in the back, I know, in 90% it is a mama with her baby on the back.