The combination of imagination and the power of touch is how visually impaired Kanyizine Kansah identifies weeds from his crops.
The 59-year-old blind farmer who lives in the Karni community of the Upper West Region commutes about 45mins eastward to his farm every morning.
“I farm maize and other cereal crops in the rainy season,” he says. But in the dry season like this, Mr. Kansas, with support from his three adolescent children, goes into dry-season farming.
“I grew vegetables this season and that include leguminous plants, cabbage, onion, pepper, and okra”, Mr. Kansah says whilst meticulously reaching out below the roots of his cabbage plant to remove a weed.
His vegetable farms occupy two mini-size hectares. Mr. Kansah also has a four-acre farm where he farms maize, sorghum, beans, and groundnut among other crops during the rainy season. This is where the ‘bread and butter’ of the family come from, he says.
Mr. Kansah says he has dependants and so he does not allow his loss of sight to limit his ability to provide for his family.
Genesis Of His Blindness
“I do not know the color of the sun nor the moon. I can’t tell whether water is red and or yellow either”, Mr. Kansah reckons and that is so because he was born blind.
His parents, both peasant farmers decided to consult native doctors after thinking that blindness was spiritual. But there was no positive outcome after many years of such consultations.
Consulting native doctors with eye conditions are common in deprived communities where health information is limited.
That is when the determined Kansah began accepting his fate and taking the bull by the horn.
One common sight in the Karni community is the number of visually impaired people. It is not only Kansah that has lost his sight and fighting on. I noticed many others without sight also working on their farms.
Most of them, however, fell ill to blinding sicknesses such as missiles and trachoma which became so common until the country fought to eradicate them.
“When my late parents told me the story of my blindness, I thanked them for doing their best to get me to see. But it is not their fault and that should not be a barrier for me to live”, Kansah says.
“That is how I learned farming and since then I have been living with that, although it is not rosy.”
He says, “losing one part of your body doesn’t mean you have become redundant in life. People should stop using disability as an excuse to be a burden in society. We need to stop that mindset and begin to work like I am doing and they will see that it’s easier working than begging.”
Mr. Kansah is married “and we are blessed with three strong children”, he said with a beaming smile. The produce from both farmings keeps the household running as well as supporting all kinds of bills including when they have to pay for health or buy anything for academic reasons. The family also takes full advantage of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and Free Education to balance their costs most of the time.
Despite having indigenous farming skills which lasted him all the years, recent hikes in prices of farm inputs, poor soil fertility, and climate change are disturbing realities to contend with.
“Farming activities have become very expensive than we knew years ago” Mr. Kansah laments. “The cost of fertilizer, weedicide, and seeds has skyrocketed and the yield is too little to survive on it.
It has been like a ‘rock and hard place’ for marginalized farmers like Mr. Kansah since the world battled the Covid pandemic and Ukraine Russian war.
“Fertilizer and seeds are very expensive lately because sellers say the problem is where they buy from. And that is affecting everything we use to get in a yield. You can’t farm the usual size because you can’t maintain the field.”
The population of persons living with disability in the Upper West stands at 14,404 according to the Upper West Regional Chairman of Persons Living with Disability, Mr. Saani Ibrahim.
Many of them have encountered a lot of challenges regarding job opportunities across the country.
Despite government initiatives such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program, an initiative targeting vulnerable households with cash transfers, persons living with disability continue to wallow in poverty while the majority of them are not even aware of the disability fund, let alone access it.
Mr. Kansah told DGN Online he tried many times to access the fund but the social welfare department in the district never listed him for it.
“ The assembly is aware of what I am doing but efforts made to get their support has proved futile. Even satisfied seeds, and fertilizer for my farm they do not give me so I have to get everything by myself.”
Sustainable Development Goal 10 calls for reduced inequalities within and among countries. It calls for nations to reduce inequalities in income as well as those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic status within a country.
The Upper West Regional Chairman of Persons Living with Disability, Mr. Saani Ibrahim told DGN Online that the disability common fund at the various Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAS) is meant to empower them to undertake some activities such as businesses among others to discourage them from begging on the streets but the delay in its disturbances is affecting members.
“The delay in the release of the funds is affecting us because of the nature of the funds the time you may need it for your farming might not be available and it will come probably when the farming season is over and so if the common fund will come regularly our members will to encouraged to go into serious farming as a business so we beg the government to ensure the release of the common fund on time.”
He urged members to venture into farming and other businesses to empower themselves and called on the government and other institutions to support persons living with disability who are into something to survive to enable them to earn something to carter for their families.
Back at Kansas’s vegetable farm, the plants are showing positive signs and the green leafy veggies dangles due to moderate harmattan wind which blows over the guinea savannah belt. What threatens the crops is the inadequate water due to high evaporation posed by climate change in this region.
“As you can see the plants have started growing gradually and with the severe sun shining on them the plants will need constant watering,” Kansah said whilst fumbling to fetch water with a bucket from a stream nearby. He is scared the crops may soon wither as the evaporation occurs rapidly.
“I do not have any sustainable water supply aside this the stream that runs through the gutter. If I could afford a borehole, I won’t have to be scared anymore” he said.