A Day in the Field: Harvesting Baobab with Women in Jakpahi

As I came about the project of CRES (Climate Resilience of ecoservice Systems), I was very
interested in the connection there was to be seen in consideration to gender and the
environment. During my first month in the field, I experienced that I didnt succeed in
having longer conversations or interaction with women in the communities, it seemed as if
it was not available to me. I was primarily talking with men, and I experienced having
relevant conversations on their views in the field. Therefore, I became more focused on
gaining the female perspective. In order to do that, my goal as a starting point in the field,
has been to look at the human-nature relationship of local people in Kumbungu, more
precisely the communities of Jakpahi, Gizaa Gundaa and Gbullung.

The CRES overall objectives are to increase food- and income diversity and climate change
resilience of agricultural systems in West Africa, by focusing on six highly important,
native multipurpose trees. As a student form Denmark, studying Educational
Anthropology and Globalization, I have been trying to follow everyday life of the people in
the communities, to try and understand how the connection to their environmental
surroundings is understood and learned.

As for this day, I was following two women from the community of Jakpahi, where we
would be harvesting the leaves of the Baobab tree, the Tua. They showed me how to pluck
the leaves and collect them in a big bowl. Hereafter we would go to their compound, where
we would scatter the leaves on the concrete floor to dry for the next day.
The next day we all cooked together. We were grinding the leaves into a powdered form
and added it with other ingredients, to make soup to be eaten with TZ (Tuo Zaafi). Eating
with the fingers is common but I used a spoon because I struggle eating with my fingers.
“It’s very nutritious”, one woman told me in a very proud tone.

After enjoying our nutritious meal, we started discussing about trees and what knowledge
they have learned growing up in the area. We focused mainly on Tua and the Baobab Tree.
Discussing on knowledge of trees, I asked if they have the same knowledge about trees as
their husbands. The women told me about their husbands having more knowledge about
the medicinal uses of the Tua, and the women focus more on the use for making food for
the family. The knowledge of how to harvest the trees was mainly passed down from their
mother, or other women of the community.

I then asked the same question about another tree species, that I know the women of the
communities rely on for income, mainly the Shea Butter tree(Kakpahili), “No”, they said.
“That’s only for the women, if men work with the Kakpahili they are weak”.
Though this interaction did not cover many participants, this activity provided a
foundation for an understanding of knowledge in the furthering of tree planting activities
in the project area. For instance, planting specific tree species might impact the genders differently, if the trees are being used for daily consumption or for livelihood income, more
than the other.

Gender group interactions may also further consider these knowledges for awareness and
education activities. Therefore, exploring how the nature-human relationship is
understood, and if it is understood differently between the genders, can help to create an
understanding of how to engage the local people in planting the native tree species.

My questions have been circulating around what this information means to me? Coming
into the field, not knowing much about trees, I keep on being surprised by the complexity
of the knowledge system surrounding the trees and what it means to the community. The
idea of planting trees to solve some of the local problems in the communities, as well as
global questions surrounding climate change; at first sight it seems simple and tangible,
but the more I talk with people in the community the more complex and political tree
planting seems to become.

Story by Katrine Holmdahl Larsen 
Masters Student of Educational Anthropology and Globalization, Aarhus University,