“As the Months of January and February approach my heart keeps beating. I know as usual my husband and the entire family would use the little food they harvested from the poor soils to perform funerals.
I remember that last year during the performance of my husband‘s late father’s funeral I cautioned him to be careful about the use of food stuff and the animals including fowls for funeral performance otherwise our children would go hungry in the lean season.
He never listened to me and went ahead to use all the food items for funerals. In fact that year our four children went hungry and I had to travel to the southern part of the country to do menial jobs in order to salvage the situation. This year again I have warned him but he wouldn’t listen.
He tells me he would spend the little food we harvested on the funeral of his grandfather”. That was Mrs Akolpoka Adongo narrating her plight.
The above scenario has become a perennial problem of the indigenes of the people of Upper East Region. Majority of the people who are mainly peasant farmers last year had poor yields from their farms but would spend all the little they got on extravagant funerals – which are usually done between January and May – at the expense of their children.
Until another harvest, scores of rural children in the area are starved for months and distracted in class due to hunger, after extravagant funerals during which their care bearers exhaust the food barn and make use of all the livestock to pacify gods and to entertain guests.
It is crucial to note that the Region falls within the Sudan Savannah zone which is characterised by a uni-modal rainfall regime lasting between five and six months, followed by a long dry period of six to seven months.
Unfavourable climatic condition coupled with the low inherent fertility with nitrogen and phosphorus as the most deficient in the soils, account for the poor yields of crops in the Upper East Region. Farmers’ household food security becomes a major problem despite the fact that they tediously and laboriously till the land for cropping each year.
An overwhelming majority of the farmers in the area usually embark on small-scale farming just to feed their families, but there is a handful of others who undertake commercial farming. The two groups of farmers face the same problems.
Crops such as the late and early millets which yielded good harvest in previous times for the farmers to enable them to feed their families and to store some in their grain barns for the lean seasons, no longer turn perform well and this has adversely affected food security in the region, which in turn manifests in the high incidence of poverty.
It is now an established fact that the highest proportion of food-insecure households in the country is found in the Upper East Region, where about 28 per cent of the people are either severely or moderately food-insecure.
The situation has necessitated a feeding calendar devised by many deprived households in the region particularly in the rural areas. Between September and January some households are able to feed three times a day. March to June, twice daily and from July to August once in a day.
Even in some extreme cases there is no feeding at all for the whole day because food is simply not available.
A 50-year-old Pastor of the Baptist Church of Africa, Clement Sampana from the Yinduri Community told this writer that the food insecurity situation is continuously being replicated almost every year.
He attributed the high rate of malnourishment among some women and children in the region to food insecurity in most households. Many school children attend school hungry and this mostly affects teaching and learning. This situation underscores the essence of the School-feeding Programme in the area.
It is also the same phenomenon that accounts for the rural-urban migration (or ‘Kayaye’) which is so high in the region as many residents, especially the youth and women, have to travel to either Kumasi or Accra to do menial jobs for their own survival and that of their families.
No one is against performing funerals in remembrance of the dead. It is a very important aspect of African culture but it should not be done in excess to the detriment of the family, particularly children and pregnant women who become exposed to malnutrition and its associated ailments.
Unlike the Southern parts of the country where the people who attend funerals support the bereaved families with donations, ‘sympathisers’ in the Upper East who attend funerals just go to eat and drink without giving the bereaved family anything in most instances, thereby aggravating the family’s situation.
This writer tried to find out whether in the olden days the indigenes also spent lavishly on funerals to the detriment of their families. In response, Mr John Akaribo, the District Director of the National Commission for Civic Education in charge of Talensi District who is an indigene from the area, said it was not so.
“In the olden days, families spent just a little portion of their farm produce and animals on funerals so that they could take good care of their families with the reserves”, he stated.
He cited for instance that during the performance of funerals in the era, the people measured the food items in bowls and not in large basins and bags as done by the current generation. He said instead of sacrificing an animal, a hoe was used as a symbol to replace the animal.
A dried half guinea fowl was also used instead of four or six guinea fowls as is the case today. Instead of using the sheabutter which is common and affordable in the area, today’s generation spend a lot of money buying gallons of imported cooking oil for cooking during funerals.
The District Director urged the people to use the little food they harvested judiciously and not to waste it. Although it was good to show respect to the dead by performing funerals, it should not be done lavishly at the expense of the living, he counselled.
“As a result of competition among clans in performing funerals people sell their farm produce at the expense of their children’s education and I think this is a misplacement of priority and must be stopped. Nobody says funerals should not be performed but they should be done with restraint”.
There is the urgent need for stakeholders to educate communities in the area to be judicious in performance of funerals in order to help reduce the annual ritual of hunger and malnutrition among children and women.
There also is the need to help avert hunger among school children in the area if we expect them to produce good grades. The quality of human resource in the area would suffer most if efforts are not made to tackle the issue.
All well-meaning natives of the area, including this writer, empathise when they see children going to school on empty stomachs as a result of extravagant funerals. As suggested by the NCCE Director, the Regional House of Chiefs should find an antidote to the problem.
Political leaders including Members of Parliament from the area, Assembly Members, opinion leaders , Civil Society Organizations and the Media must all join forces to help tackle the situation.
If this is done, it would help save the vulnerable, especially children and pregnant women from going hungry and go a long way to reduce the incidence of malnutrition in the region.
The Paramount Chief of the Bongo Traditional Area, Naba Salifu Alemyarim has blazed the trail by ensuring that the duration for funeral performance in his territory is shortened to between two and three months instead of the usual six months performed in other parts of the region. This is a laudable example that should be emulated by all traditional areas.