In both the southern and northern savannah parts of Ghana, there is one distinctive tree – the Baobab. This tree grows on the wild. Its bole is so huge and the branches are huge too when it is mature. The tree is held in high esteem that, the University for Development Studies has the Baobab as its symbol.
It is no coincidence that the Baobab is regarded in high esteem especially in the northern savannah parts of Ghana since the tree plays a critical role in the economic and nutritional values of households. Food security is a critical issue in these areas since farmers in these parts depend heavily on the single rainy season which has been erratic in recent times.
The Baobab is critical due to the benefits that women in rural household derive from it.
The harmattan is a period that farming is put on hold due to dryness that prevails. This period is usually from the late part of October until late April. During this period, women who are usually involved in the provision of food for their households must find ways and means to feed their families. It is at this point that the harvesting of both the leaves and the fruits of the baobab becomes a form of livelihood.
Due to the size of the mature baobab, women have devised quite a risky way of harvesting the fresh leaves of the tree. A long branch of another tree is cut and leaned against the Baobab to serve as the ladder. A woman climbs onto this until she gets onto the huge branches of the tree. While on top of the tree, she plucks the leaves, moves with very careful steps, holding one branch and moving on to the next with a sack in one hand.
These fresh leaves are sold to complement the budget of the family as well as used in the preparation of soup. This soup serves as an accompaniment to a staple food known as “sao or saab.” Like the leaves, the fruits perform equal functions. The fruit is ready for eating when the pod which contains the edible part is dried. A very long pole is cut and at the end, a metal is tied to it. It is this metal that children and women use for harvesting the fruit.
When harvested, the pod is broken to reveal the edible whitish pigment and brownish fiber that hold the seeds. The whitish pigment is licked and water is drunk after to satisfy one’s hunger. On other occasions, the whitish pigment is removed into a calabash and mashed. When it is mashed the seeds are taken out and this is mixed with soaked corn, or millet or sorghum flour to serve as an additive in the preparation of porridge or the staple food, “sao or saab.”
Beyond having its fruit and leaves serving as an alternative food during the dry season, the Baobab is a tree that serves as a habitat for bees and consequently honey production. Both men and boys harvest the honey through very skillful means. A bundle of dried grasses is lighted and the flaming grasses are held onto the beehive to bring out honey. This is later collected into old coke and beer bottles or smaller gallons for onward sale. A coke bottle could be sold for GHS 12.OO while the gallon could go for GHS. 30.00 or more.
The Baobab is an alternative to unavailable food during the harmattan as well as a means to livelihood.
The writer is a freelance journalist.