A mesmerising photoseries and poetic visual film looking at the Akosombo and Atimpoku communities along the Volta River – as the two communities experience dramatic economic decline in the face of a shifting commercial and social landscape.
Akosombo is a community south of the Asougyaman district in the Eastern region of Ghana. Akosombo is almost 100 km away from Ghana’s capital, Accra. It takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive from Accra to Akosombo. Akosombo is located north of Atimpoku.
Atimpoku is the capital of the Asougyaman district and is located along the banks of the Volta River, which is a 5 to 7 minutes drive to Akosombo. In the township of Atimpoku and its surrounding towns, residents based their main source of revenue around the river and the Adomi Bridge.
The Adomi bridge formerly known as the Volta bridge is Ghana’s longest suspension bridge over the Volta River. It is the first permanent bridge to be built across the river. It provides road passage for commuters traveling from the Eastern region to the Volta region and also to those traveling south of the Akosombo dam. This iconic setting can be seen on some Ghanaian currency.
Akosombo is known for the production of electricity due to the construction of the dam which created the third largest man-made lake in the world, the Volta lake.
Akosombo dam is a hydroelectric facility which supplies Ghana and some neighbouring countries with electricity. The creation of the lake and the dam have provided other economic advantages such as fishing and tourism.
Aside from the production of electricity, Akosombo has another namesake which has over the years become a staple in Ghana’s identity, that is Akosombo Textile Limited.
Akosombo Textile Limited (ATL) now Akosombo Industrial Company Limited (AICL) is a textile company that is known for its production of real wax and fancy African prints using 100% cotton. It used to have weaving, spinning and finishing facilities. The company was founded in the year 1966. The textiles they produced are designed based on the cultural beliefs, values and heritage of Ghanaians.
Currently, the weaving and spinning facilities of Akosombo Textile Limited have been shut down. In December 2012, Joy News reported that the company was facing some challenges.
Ghana's textile industry has been on its knees for some time now. The industry, faced with threats from unfair competition and unbridled imports, has been struggling to keep up with the competition.
This was affecting staff since the company constantly laid off workers to be able to keep afloat. In 2012, the company was reported to employ a little over 1,400 people.
Statistics from the Textiles, Garment and Leather Employees Union (TEGLEU) in 2012 indicate that the textile industry used to employ over 25,000 people but now employs only 3,000, with a further reduction expected shortly.
The Graphic Business of August 29, 2011, reported that a study conducted by an economic research fellow, Dr Peter Quartey, in 2005 revealed that the market share of local textile manufacturers had decreased over the years to only 30 per cent, with pirated, smuggled and under-invoiced textiles enjoying 70 per cent market share.
This plight faced by textile companies such as Akosombo Textile Limited, resulted in the laying off of employees as predicted by the experts. This started when they began to close down some working stations, contributing to the unemployment status of the community.
We tried but could not get an ex-worker from these stations to find out what they were doing after they got laid off. We wanted to know what they are doing now after 10 years or less after losing their jobs at ATL.
Kpedzi is a small fishing community less than 10 minute walk down from the location of the ATL factory. This community has less than 5 people working in the factory. This cannot be said to be due to a lack of skilled personnel since some indigenes expressed concerns about university graduates who have been denied employment opportunities because they came from these communities. According to the local folks, the waters of the Volta River at Atimpoku were known for the big harvest of fish before the dam was created. Towns such as Atimpoku and Kpedzi lived solely on fishing. This is what made their forefathers migrate to live in and around Atimpoku.
Though the lands of Akosombo, Atimpoku, Kpedzi and other surrounding towns belong to the Akwamus, the current residents on the land are mostly Ewe and Krobo migrants who have settled on the land due to the river. The Akwamus are traditionally farmers, it is the immigrant settlers who are traditionally fishermen that fish in the river.
With the creation of the lake to construct the dam, residents say they no longer experience the bumper harvest of fish as told by their fathers. This is the case for those downstream.
Most of the fish are now upstream. This has forced young men who are interested in fishing to move upstream where they can actively engage in the fishing venture and make more profit.
Increased human migration especially among males is a unique thing within the area which is driven by unemployment and poverty. Females, including high school graduates, who desire to stay have no better prospects than hawking on the streets of Atimpoku to make a living.
Mr. Ernest (a middle-aged local from the Kpedzi) boldly told us that the current situation in their community has caused many young people to migrate to other towns and cities in search of greener pastures, and those who have chosen to stay have either ventured into fish farming or found other alternatives of living. But most of their young men are into tilapia fish farming.
They have been innovative by developing indigenous technology for their fish farming simply from observing the enhanced fish farming cage technology.
The size of the floating cage determines the type of material they would use.
The smaller cages use the yellow “Kufour” gallons, wood as support, ropes to tie them and a mosquito net to trap the fish. For the larger pens, they used the big blue barrels, and pipe metals for support.
They mostly engage in tilapia or catfish farming. They claimed there is a huge market for these fish. Though they had little knowledge about fish farming, they still find the fish farming venture a lucrative one.
They listed “bad water” – drainage from the dam, overfeeding of the fish, some symptoms (white substances that sometimes grow around the mouth of the fish), and predator birds as some challenges that affect their business.
According to Mr. Ernest and his companions, people living downstream who are still interested in fishing in the Volta River either in their fish farming like tilapia farming or catfish farming (like we saw them doing) or the fishing of “wovi” also known as “one man thousand”.
“Wovi” or “One man thousand” fish business is known to be a major source of income for the people in these areas.
Fishermen leave as late as 10pm to go fishing for these fish and women arrive as early as 4am at the “Wovi” port to buy the fish. The model of price determination for fish is highly influenced by the economic law of demand and supply since the field of harvest is determined by the seasons. Changes in the availability of a commodity or product affect its supply and price is a principle used to determine pricing at the “wovi” port.
During the Harmattan, they harvest more fish, the demand is low and the prices are low as well. But during the rainy season, when the catch is not that much, this increases the demand and affects prices as well.
Fishers and fishmongers all say that “wovi” has a very short life span. You cannot keep it fresh for long.
On days when the catch is so much that the women cannot afford to buy all, the fishermen return the fish to the river. When asked if the dead fish would not contaminate the water, they responded that they would rather serve as food for the bigger fishers in the river.
The women hawked staple foods and fish products, especially at the station with passengers traveling along the bridge being their main target customers.
Most people who visit Atimpoku always talk about their unique foods, especially the abolo.
A short narration by “Iron Lady” also known as Aunt Felicia who happens to be the head of the hawkers in the station, “abolo” historically was made using only sweet potato and maize. Now, with the commercialization of the product which has led to an increase in production to sell at a very considerable rate, they used maize, sugar, yeast, flour and baking powder. Historically, “abolo” was prepared for folks, especially when they had to travel long distances to either farm or fish.
The “abolo” is mainly served with the fried “one man thousand”. Others prefer to eat their “abolo” with ground pepper and shrimps, prawns, crabs or turkey tails (also called “tsofi”).
Education in fish farming, especially in Tilapia farming should be taught formally (in schools) and informally (with the use of agricultural extension officers) to educate the locals, especially the men of Kpedzi.
This could help reduce the mortality rate experienced by these farmers, especially at the fingerling stage. This could increase the yield for them and make the tilapia business more lucrative than it is now.
Young people such as Sarah who graduated high school after studying Agricultural Science could be agricultural extension officers to help the fish farmers and crop farmers in and around Atimpoku so they could increase yield and make more money from farming.