One would wonder what ‘karko’ means and its use. Interestingly, we may have seen it in some Ghanaian markets; tasted it in delicious Ghanaian soups or stews in restaurants or ‘chop bars’ but may not have heard of the name, ‘karko’.
Even though the stench that comes along with it in its raw and dry state could sometimes be unbearable, when cooked in a sauce, we salivate and smack our lips at the mere aroma that swims in the open air from a pot of soup or stew through our nostril – are you baffled? This is the reason the writer takes his readers along with him to visit Mankessim, a town in the central region noted for the ‘karko’ business in order for them to find out all they do not know about ‘karko’.
Seasoning our sauce in Ghana did not start today. Years before now, Ghanaians have seasoned their sauce with various ingredients. Among these seasonings is ‘karko’. ‘Karko’ is a salted large fish caught and produced exclusively in The Gambia in West Africa. Some of the towns that produce it in The Gambia are Banju, Comju and Ghana Town (a place near the beach in The Gambia where lots of Ghanaians reside). The delicacy has names such as ‘sine’, ‘kosile’, ‘semine’ but predominantly called ‘karko’, an onomatopoetic word that means hardness due to its stiff nature. The fish used for ‘karko’ is large and often cut into wanted sizes and salted with large quantity of salt for about 24 hours. Then it is dried up under the scorched sun for days to make the salt stick and dry alongside to preserve it – don’t mistake “karko” for “mormorni” or “koobi” because the three are different from one another.
The product, karko has an appreciable large consumer base in Ghana (in Mankessim expecially) than The Gambia where it is produced. Mankessim remains the main centre for purchasing it because she has arguable the second biggest market in Ghana. Besides, the product had good market in Mankessim than any other market the first time it was brought to Ghana. An average size ‘karko’ is sold at thirty Ghana cedis and on retail, a chunk is sold at twenty pessawas. The writer was shown houses that were built out of ‘Karko’ proceeds in Mankessim in the early days when the product was introduced in the country. Presently, ‘karko’ business remains legacy for some families in Mankessim as some families are noted for trading in it. This explains the economic vibrancy of ‘karko’.
Ghanaians have come to like ‘karko’ because of its taste in a pot of okro stew, palm-nut soup, kontomire stew and the likes. More so, it has no side-effects; ‘karko’ is boiled or put in water for minutes in order to reduce the salt level, then it is put in the sauce thereby making it edible and tasty. Some people do not add salt to their sauce. It is anticipated that the salted ‘karko’ will balance the equation in the unsalted sauce. Again, ‘karko’ is a perfect substitute for exotic and well packaged seasonings which are most often than not preserved with chemical that may be reactive to people’s health.
It is said that some people feel shy to buy ‘karko’; expecially the consumer from affluent home because they are mocked at by their colleagues. It is perceived that ‘karko’ consumers are from less affluent homes and so anytime you bought it, you were branded poor. We pretend to dislike ‘karko’ but when prepared in a sauce for a meal, we are always found licking our fingers, smacking our lips and almost always the last to leave the dining table. What comes to mind at this point is why can’t we process the product and package it locally to make it attractive to the consumer? The Gambia can produce ‘karko’ alright, but Ghana can take advantage of the large consumer base, buys it, processes and packages it for export (to Ghanaian markets abroad). By this the business would be buoyant; jobs are created for the youth in the country.
Stories have been told about how Malaysia became world leading producer of palm-oil and consequently has a buoyant economy. Initially Malaysia was economically at same level as Ghana in the 1980s or so. However a palm tree from Ghana did the magic for them. Why can’t we chance on this ‘karko’ business to create something for ourselves?
The writer seeks to charge the minds of all business minded Ghanaians to take advantage of the growing ‘karko’ business and invest by way of industrializing (processing) the product into a more attractive and presentable end product for the consumer.