I decided to go back home to Ghana to do my summer research. Using focus group discussions, I investigated women’s local knowledge and practices of handling post-harvest peanuts to minimize aflatoxin contamination. Returning to my home country, I was familiar with the literature on peanuts in the region and could even relate to most of what I read. However, I was surprised to learn that there were still many unexplored questions regarding women and their peanuts! Because of this research, I have traveled to places I didn’t know existed and would never have visited. I have learnt new things about my people in a way that I couldn’t have imagined before. Within a space of two months, I have combed through the savanna grasslands of the northern region of Ghana. I have visited 24 communities in 12 districts.
I had a shocking experience during the very first focus group discussion I held in the first community. I had hoped to be told that the contaminated processing was an isolated practice unique to this community, but it wasn’t so. When I asked the women what they used sorted rotten peanuts for, they told me they mixed it with the seed meal of the African locust bean plant to make dawadawa.
I know dawadawa and I ate food prepared with dawadawa when I was growing up. I must admit, I didn’t like its offensive smell, but I ate it anyway. I knew that dawadawa was prepared using the seed meal of the African locust bean plant. Much has been written about how nutritious and healthy dawadawa is. But I didn’t know that some women added rotten peanuts (which tested positive for aflatoxin using AflaCheck in the field) to the seed meal of the African locust bean plant to make dawadawa. The locust bean is not in abundance in every community, so women add peanuts to increase the quantity of the dawadawa. The women find it wasteful to throw away rotten peanuts they have sorted.
“We don’t pour these rotten peanuts away, peanuts are not discarded that way unless they are totally rotten; even when you go to the market, the market women separate the various types of bad peanuts and sell them because they all have their purpose”.
Good peanuts can also be added to the seed meal to make dawadawa; however, women cannot afford to use good peanuts. Those are reserved for making peanut butter (for soup) – thus it is a luxury they cannot afford.
Most of the women admitted to using rotten peanuts for making dawadawa, however one or two communities strongly opposed the idea. They said they haven’t faced the dilemma of using rotten peanuts to make dawadawa because they have an abundance of the African locust bean plant in their communities. Other communities also claimed they used soybeans in place of peanuts when they don’t have enough locust beans. The women told me such rotten peanuts can’t be used for making soup because they smell bad and taste bitter in the mouth. Regardless, they used such peanuts to make dawadawa. The locust beans are allowed to “rot” – as the women would say it (or more appropriately to ferment) during processing, so what could go wrong if they added a few rotten peanuts to increase the quantity?
Rotten peanuts like those the women use in making dawadawa contained aflatoxin beyond the acceptable limits when I tested it in the field. These women were ignorant to the dangers that come with using these rotten peanuts. At the end of each focus group discussion, I try to advise women against such bad practices. However, I am careful about the advice I give, since some of the women use such rotten peanuts because they are poor and cannot afford to use good peanuts. They would rather sell their good peanuts to earn some cash.