Ghana: Cycling for Necessity, Not Ecological Reasons
In Europe, cycling is promoted not only as a great way to exercise, but also for ecological reasons. In Ghana, poor farmers cycle out of economic necessity.
“I bought my first bicycle in 1985. Since then, the iron horse [the bicycle] has become my companion,” said Dawuni Alhassan, a 67-year-old farmer who lives in Choggu, a suburb of Tamale, northern Ghana’s capital city.
According to Alhassan, between 1962 to 1989 rice farming was booming in the area and farmers had to get to the farm early to provide security to the crop against rodents. A lack of public transportation to and from farms and market centres, where farmers would be selling their produce, required another solution – and it was the bicycle. “Mobility became very important: you need to be on the farm on time, else the birds will destroy the rice. So bicycle became the most important thing in our life,” he said.
Today, the bicycle is still the most important means of transportation for rural farmers in northern Ghana where access roads are non-existing. “We prefer bicycles to other forms of transportation because it is cheaper, easy to repair, and does not pollute the environment,” said Moses Binjo, a 46-year-old farmer. Small carriers can also be attached to the bikes to carry foodstuff enough to feed a family for a day.
For Binjo, riding a bicycle is also a comfortable exercise that “relaxes our muscles when we are not doing any hard work during lean farming season.” He himself suffered from knee injury but says that cycling frequently had fixed that.
Although the exact number of bikes in Ghana cannot be calculated, there are some 700, 000 vehicles registered, according to Ghana’s Driver’s License and Vehicle Authority (DVLA). “There are thousands of bicycles in use in Ghana, particularly within rural communities,” says Awuni William, an environmentalist. He believes that most people in urban centres would love to ride, but there are no bicycle lanes which would make it safer.
According to William, in rural Ghana almost everybody knows how to ride a bike. For women, cycling reduces the fatigue from carrying workloads and babies on their backs.
Adult Bicycling.com states that riding a bike increases cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance and flexibility, stamina and endurance and helps burn lots of calories, all of which improves the overall health of an individual. Cycling is also a stress releaser.
But for the poor rural farmer, health and environmental cleanness reasons are not the main concerns; for them, cycling is just a matter of necessity, a means of livelihood, transportation and communication.
Adams Fuseina, a farmer, said: “My farm is miles away [from my home]. Before, we used to sleep in our farms and come home over the weekends, but with the help of a bicycle we could easily visit our farms and come back the same day.” She wanted to be close to her children – a challenge successfully eliminated by the bicycle.
“You can go and come back to sleep with your family, so we don’t bother too much managing our farms and families at the same time. The bicycle has bridged the gap that previously existed between our farms and families,” she said.
Fuseina’s youngest child, 4-year-old Hafisatu Adams, is currently learning how to ride a bike. She will soon join her friends who ride their bicycles to and from the community school.