Caption: Kumah Farms students pull fish from an aquaculture pond with a dragnet in Anwomaso, Ghana, on Nov. 10, 2010. (Matthew Muspratt/GlobalPost)
ANWOMASO, Ghana — Nana Kwaku Siaw once rose from auto mechanic to head transport officer of a major Ghanaian university. Then he took a farming hobby even further — in 2004, Nana Siaw captured Ghanaian agriculture’s second-highest honor at the National Best Farmer Awards.
Now, Nana Siaw is spreading his expertise at Kumah Farms Complex outside Kumasi in the heart of Ghana's Ashanti Region. His classroom is an aluminum-roofed shelter overlooking acres of earthen ponds containing tilapia and catfish at varying stages of growth.
Aquaculture — or fish farming — is one of his specialties. It’s also frequently touted as a promising economic activity in light of limits to sustainable sea catch, and Ghana’s nutrition needs.
“Aquaculture is like hotcakes now,” said Nana Siaw, who has also picked up a Best National Aquaculture Farmer award.
Every year dozens of farmers from across the country travel to Kumah Farms to enroll in Nana Siaw’s five-day aquaculture courses and sessions on pigs, poultry, bees and other activities. In addition to paying customers, Nana Siaw regularly takes on students from universities and agricultural colleges free-of-charge for “attachment” training. He also hosts day visits for government institutions, international organizations and U.S. Peace Corps volunteers.
Nana Siaw's reputation as a repository of agricultural knowledge appears far-flung. His achievements prompted the local chief, in 1998, to install then-Martin Kumah as the Nkosorhene (development chief) of Anwomaso and confer the honorific name Nana Siaw.
“Kumah Farms is special,” said Tuuteng Simon Sankomah, an attachment student from the Institute of Tropical Agriculture. “I’m taking Nana as my mentor.”
Kwame Ahenkan, a mason hoping to launch a fish farming operation, recently attended Kumah’s aquaculture course. First steps included learning about pond site selection and proper feed quantities for fry, fingerlings and growing fish.
The course’s next days proved the very hands-on nature of Nana Siaw’s teaching style.
Seated outside the hatchery shed, Ahenkan observed and then repeated basic induced-spawning and fertilization steps: Use hammer, knife and syringe to extract pituitary gland from male catfish and inject into female; Wait 10 hours; Squeeze ripened eggs from female into dish; Tear sperm sack from male; Nick sack and drip and mix sperm with eggs and saline solution; Drain; Spread fertilized eggs across submerged screen in hatchery tub.
As the fry mature to fingerlings, they will be sold to other fish farmers or deposited into Kumah’s ponds, where they will grow until harvested with dragnets and bought by vendors selling in town markets.
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“You go right into the practical,” said Ahenkan of Nana Siaw’s classes.
Ahenkan discovered Kumah Farms while listening to Kumasi’s 92.1 FM, Garden City Radio. Every Friday at 7 p.m. Nana Siaw is on the air, discussing all things farming and taking questions.
Nana Siaw says the radio program and Kumah Farms are part of his effort to “fill the gap” in agricultural education in Ghana.
“They don’t always have farms at the schools,” he said. “They have difficulty with the practical.”
Another attachment student, Robert Nyarlui, aims to become a professional farmer and laments that “all the courses are theory” at his agricultural college.
Indeed, in a country where most workers are farmers — many subsistence — the term “professional farmer” appears to be as much about acquiring knowledge as selling harvest. Nyarlui said possessing technical knowledge is what makes one a professional farmer, and Nana Siaw confirms that his “professional” status makes him a “consultant” on farming matters.
“Many farmers have fish ponds, Nyarlui said. “But they don’t know the diameter.”
Nana Siaw and his students also believe many Ghanaian farmers lack exposure to efficient farming techniques.
“Nowadays we are in the modern world and need the knowledge from people like Nana Siaw,”Ahenkan said.
Fish farming seems a promising start. Though introduced back in the 1950s as an income-generating, nutrition-boosting activity, aquaculture now accounts for only 1 percent of Ghana’s total fish production, studies estimate. Meanwhile, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization reports that domestic fisheries fall up to 400,000 metric tons short of Ghanaians’ annual consumption requirements. The government recognizes that fish farming could help close the deficit, and in recent years has expanded training and extension services.
For Joseph Kumah, Nana Siaw’s brother and a farm manager, sourcing quality fish feed is one main constraint to bumping up aquaculture figures. The farm mixes rice bran and groundnut husk as a homemade option, but Kumah suspects this — and even the leading import brand — fails to provide adequate protein for their catfish. He said subsidies for feed and domestic producers are possible solutions — all feed ingredients are available locally.
Nonetheless, what’s also available locally, according to Nana Siaw, are ample resources and interest in a gainful farming activity. His Kumah Farms courses are meeting a need and demand in education.
“Farmers have the money, but they don’t know what to do with it,” he said. “They want to study under someone who has been successful.”