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International Programs News & Views Volume 22

Feb. 2001

Retracing Charles Kellogg’s Path in Ghana

Berman Hudson, National Leader, Soil Survey, National Soil Survey Center (NSSC), Lincoln, Nebraska, and I participated in a science and technology exchange mission to Ghana in November 2000. We discovered that Charles Kellogg had visited Ghana (Gold Coast) during August 1954 – 46 years earlier. Detailed notes in his African Journal provided day-by-day information for his one-week excursion. Kellogg’s mission was to interact with the British to assess whether swollen shoot disease of the coaco trees was soil borne. We traveled much of the same path as Charles Kellogg did in 1954.

Dr. Kellogg was Chief of the U.S. Soil Survey, a position he held under one title or another for more than 37 years until his retirement in 1971. He is regarded as the principal visionary for the current Soil Survey Division.

After arriving in Accra, we were introduced to our colleagues at the Ecological Research Laboratory at the University of Ghana in Legon. The international team consisted of Henrik Madsen and Mogens Greve from Denmark, Theodore Awadzi and Seth Danso from Ghana, and Berman and me from the NSSC. Our mission was to assess the Ghanaian soil survey program; sample soils at seven benchmark sites throughout the southern part of Ghana; and present two symposiums about the soil survey program in the United States.

With sampling equipment in hand, we left Legon and traveled the southern coastal region where we described and sampled an Oxisol (Tikobo). Then we traveled to Kumasi, home of the Soil Research Institute. Drs. C.H. Charter, Brammer, and Ahn (British soil scientists in Ghana during the 1950s and colleagues of Charles Kellogg) were still held in high regard. They had introduced the soil series concept and set up 360 series based on 25 soil descriptions for each series. When Theodore Awadzi presented us a series description for the Tikobo series, it was not the type one might expect, but a highly technical description matching many of our Official Series Descriptions in the U.S. In fact, we in the U.S. rarely take the time to define a soil series based on 25 descriptions.

In Kumasi, we tried to interpret Kellogg's journal entry about, "The calcium-collecting tree called Chlorophora excelsa, one of the emergents. Locally, it is called ‘odum.’ This tree collects calcium, which oozes into old wounds and cuts, probably as calcium malate. This changes to a kind of limestone that runs 80 to 90 percent calcium carbonate. The soils under such trees become neutral to alkaline while soils under adjacent trees may be strongly acid." While our colleagues in Ghana were familiar with this tree, it is now quite rare and the concretion that Kellogg observed in the Kumasi Soils Museum has now disappeared.

After our symposium in Kumasi, we sampled two soils rich in plinthite (Plinthustults). These were the Kobeda soil series in a teak plantation and the Dominase series in a bush fallow field. We also visited the soil correlation room where new soil scientists of Ghana are expected to memorize the soils of the area they are to map by examining soil correlation trays. The series concepts in Ghana are fixed. Being a relatively small country, they hold to the tradition of their 360 series being a totality. There is no provision to add any additional series in Ghana. Consequently, their series concepts are often transferred down to local farmers and do not migrate or shift with time. Changes in the Food and Agriculture Organization’s classification scheme do not split series either. It seems to be a rather rigid and fixed system in some ways but easier to train new scientists as to the concept of series.

After Kumasi, we followed Kellogg’s path back to Accra and saw upland rice similar to what he documented. We also saw the same rusted cannons at Elmina castle. In contrast to Kellogg’s writings, we noted accelerated erosion in and around villages. Kellogg stated that, "All the accelerated erosion I saw in over 200 miles could be found on one small Georgia farm." We doubt that Kellogg saw the aftermath of a rainstorm similar to what we saw in Kumasi where rivulets of red water were flowing on top of plinthite in the villages and in the gutters throughout the streets. In addition, we later saw clear evidence of 50 to 75 cm of erosion near a Danish plantation ruin in Sesemi.

One mystery of his writings was the anthropic thickets Kellogg noted. He wrote, "Within 13 miles of the sea, we pass into anthropic thicket. Only 15 to 20 feet high, these thickets are almost impenetrable." The local scientists had not heard of this term and we saw no evidence of what he might have been referring to. It is possible he might have been referring to the bush fallow areas but these are by no means impenetrable.

We also visited the Kpong Experiment Station. Kellogg wrote, "We start for Kpong with Mr. Brammer, Mr. MacKinnen, and Mr. Linton at 12:30 p.m. At 2:40 p.m., we have arrived at the site for the new irrigation experimental station and have a short time with Mr. Keyser, the European manager. The soils in this area formed in weathered garnet containing hornblende gneiss at 40 to 48 inches. The underlying rock is rich in soda-lime feldspar and deficient in potassium. We return to the Hogensborg Castle about 5:30 p.m., just in time to change and go with the Governor and his lady to the Prime Minister's cocktail party. I mingle with the people an hour or so and then Mr. Hamilton gets me and we return to the Castle for dinner at 8 p.m. I was impressed with the alertness of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He seemed especially interested in following up on my suggestions."

Though we didn’t meet with the current Prime Minister of Ghana during our excursion, we did describe and sample a Vertisol (Akuse) formed in hornblende gneiss at the Kpong Experiment Station. This Akuse soil mirrored what Kellogg mentioned in his notes 46 years earlier.

Our excursion to Anloga was similar to Kellogg’s trip to Ada. He wrote, "We start for the field at 7 o’clock with Brammer, Loxton, and Rose-Innes. We travel east along the coast on the main road from Accra to Ada. As we go along the Accra Plain, I see red soils with red termite mounds on the higher swells. We continue east through Dawhwenya and stop at about milepost 28 to look at the Tropical Black Clay in a very gently undulating landscape. We then drive on into the Accra Plain and pass on to some more soils from acidic gneiss with sandy surfaces and heavy clay B horizons. The grasses here grow in tussocks and these give the surface a fine micro-relief. At milepost 55, we stop to take a quick look at a friable red soil (2.5YR 4/4) of sandy loam to loam texture from Tertiary sand. Then we drive out toward the sea over some nearly pure white sandy soils derived from these Tertiary sandy, and out onto an old lagoon on where the soil is only a little above the sea. Finally, we turn back and return to Accra about 2:15 p.m."

Perhaps by accident or perhaps by fate, milepost 28 still remains in Ghana and we witnessed much the same views as Kellogg did. What started, as an incidental objective to our scientific mission became a daily experience of déjà vu. Traveling down the same path as Charles Kellogg and verifying similarities and differences from the distant past became more important as our trip unfolded. Before leaving Ghana, we informed our colleagues that we would present a paper about retracing Kellogg's path in Ghana at the 2002 American Society of Agronomy meetings in Indianapolis.

We concluded, in part, that the more things change in Ghana--the more they stayed the same. Thanks to the detailed documentation by Kellogg in 1954, we were able to confirm these similarities. We thank International Programs Division and hope that our trip to Ghana adds to the body of knowledge for the soils and management practices in West Africa.

Author: Henry R. Mount (retired), Soil Scientist NSSC, Lincoln, Nebraska

Editor:  Gail C. Roane (retired), International Programs Division