“The land is dead:” Fertilizers and Compost in the Upper East

“The land is dead,” said 61 year-old Isaiah, killed by an “addiction” to chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers were introduced to his community a few decades back by “the white man” and his church, who, he said with a bite of humor, preached the “goodness of the fertilizers.”

“It was very harmonious,” he noted, and with mischief in his eyes, tipped his head back, laughing.

About ten years ago Isaiah decided to stop using chemical fertilizers (except for his rice) after noticing a severe deterioration in soil and personal health.

He is now attempting to rehabilitate his farm with compost and crops that don’t require chemicals, like this type of corn [photo], and beans.


No One Seems Concerned

I was recently telling a friend about our brave, tiny outdoor cats who run up trees and sneak out the bamboo fence, and how no one seemed concerned about their wanderings. My friend remarked that “no one seems concerned” would be a good title for a blog about cross cultural communication (her field). Or anthropology, I offered.

So, in no particular order, here are some things I’m currently concerned about that have to do broadly with my field of study (Ghana, development, agriculture):

    1. Mediocre “development interventions” like these backpacks made out of re-used fertilizer bags or these “fortified” peanut butter bars by Hershey’s that are packed with sugar and other additives. Both projects seek to benefit a company (Yara or Hershey’s) by either getting kids to form habits (desiring and/or consuming candy) or appealing to their parents. This is not new in Ghana by any means; DuPont vis-a-vis 4-H gives out free hybrid corn seeds to Ghanaian school garden clubs in hopes that parents will be convinced to switch to hybrid seeds. Students of development and corporate social responsibility take note.
    2. Signs around Accra that are adorned with american flags and offer assistance getting rid of (Ghanaian) “your bad accent” or learning “U.S. slangs.” Or advertisements like one my friend heard on the radio that offered “American quality with Chinese prices.” All these examples indicate markers for bad/good, desirable/undesirable.
    3. It’s hot. Like, really hot. Accra hasn’t had good rain since the deadly June 4th floods last year. Boreholes are drying up and any rain-fed agriculturalist is out of luck. So that’s most farmers in Ghana. The rains, and/or massive, public irrigation works, need to come, and fast.

Joking in the dark

A friend (you know who you are) recently remarked that my blog doesn’t tell much about life in Accra. So let’s talk about dumsor.

Ghana (and Accra especially) has been suffering terrible power outages for the last three years. The shitty situation is nicknamed dumsor” – on/off. Here in Accra, dumsor is a daily topic: “how was your weekend, did you have dumsor?”

There are so many ways I could discuss dumsor — the way it has wreaked havoc on Ghana’s economy, or the thousands of generators that now line Accra’s commercial centers — but instead I want to focus on jokes.

In September Elizabeth Ohene published an excellent article on joking as a coping mechanism in Ghana. I want to add two examples to her list:

1. Mahama in New York
This was shared by a colleague after sitting in the dark at lunch:

President Mahama was recently in New York for the UN meetings. He was walking around Manhattan and saw a building with the lights off – “Ah! You see? Even in American they do not have lights!”

“Mr. President,’”an aide slowly said, “that is the Ghanaian consulate.”

2. Adele (Dumsor remix)
ECG, the state power company, is also a daily topic, frustration, and joke. A satirical twitter account regularly tweets amazing things like this spoof on the first line from Adele’s earth-shattering new single:

Hello…. it’s me….

Temporary Injunction on GM Rice and Cowpea Overturned in Ghana

Accra, Ghana – A ruling in Ghana’s High Court Thursday morning overturned a temporary injunction on the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) rice and cowpea.

This was the first legal contest over GM seed in Ghana, where a heated debate over the legality and desirability of GM seeds has been raging over the last few years. Field trials are currently underway for GM rice, cotton and cowpea.

Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour,  FSG Communication Director, speaks to the media (photo by author).
Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour, FSG Communication Director, speaks to the media (photo by author).

The case was brought forth by civil society organization Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) versus the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the National Biosafety Committee. Ghana’s 2011 Biosafety Act requires the creation of a National Biosafety Authority as a regulatory oversight body to handle issues pertaining to genetic modification. At the time the case was filed, a Biosafety Committee was instead in place.

FSG claimed that a Committee was not equivalent to an Authority, and was thus in violation of the 2011 Act and the Cartegena Protocol, of which Ghana is a signatory. FSG thus filed for an injunction on the commercialization of GM rice and cowpea, and a temporary injunction was granted for the course of the trial.

The case, which was first heard early this year, was further complicated when a National Biosafety Authority was inaugurated on February 17th, 2015, the same day the case was first heard in court.

Addressing a packed room, Justice Dennis Adjei dismissed FSG’s application for injunction, arguing that it was without merit and that the defendants would endure harm if the injunction was upheld. He did not specify what those harms might entail.

Speaking to the media after the ruling, FSG’s lawyer George Tetteh Wayo disagreed that an injunction would harm the defendants: “the defendants have not spent a dime; these monies have been given to us by so-called donors and corporate bodies who are fronting GMOs: Monsanto, Sygenta and DuPont.”

The judgment was welcomed by Kwabena Mantey Bosompem, board member of the Biosafety Authority, who said that Ghana has the “administrative[,]…policy and regulatory mechanisms” in place to safely regulate GM production and cultivation. He stressed that current research on GM seeds is happening within “recognized state research institutions.”

FSG has said they will appeal the court’s decision.

Reactions online

Soon after the ruling came in, people around the world began sharing reactions. The Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), a “global agricultural communications platform” who is “funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation” (who also funds GM trials in Ghana), called the court decision “breaking news.”

Rufai Ahmed Braimah, a Programming Assistant for OFAB Ghana and Technical Officer for CSIR-Food Research Institute tweeted “science wins in Ghana.” The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications AfriCenter echoed, tweeting: “Another win for Science in #Africa! Court dismisses #GMO case in #Ghana!”

Not everyone shared this excitement. Citizen journalist Nii Ayerty Aryeh called the decision “a major setback for the anti-GMO campaign in Ghana.” Jonathan Mairu tweeted “Ghana’s executive authority is in the pocket of the GM lobby & their lords. Obedience for donations.”

GM in Africa

Genetically modified crops are one of the “climate smart” interventions that are being endorsed by big name donors in many countries across Africa. Their introduction has created a whirlwind of controversy across the continent.

Critics say that GM trials and seeds are at the behest of foreign donors and corporations, and that they threaten the seed sovereignty of smallholder farmers. In Ghana, scientists involved with the projects have not denied their ties with donors, citing a lack of state research funds available. Adopting GM seeds, they argue, will increase food production and profit for farmers.

But some say that improved seeds and yield size are not the issue. Speaking after court last week, Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour, Communication Director for FSG, said that Ghanaian farmers produce more than enough, but that there are issues with storage, transit, and accessible markets. He called for government “investment in roads, warehouses, managing post-harvest loss,” and added, “this is not about the efficiency in agriculture, this is about the control of the food supply of nations.”

The Continent Writes Back

In my last post I discussed the way that certain discourses about the African continent circulate and reinforce structures of power and accumulation, and ultimately inequalities. At the end of the post I emphasized the need for those outside of the continent to pay more attention to voices coming from it. I’ve gathered a few examples that I will introduce but let speak for themselves.

First, push-back to the Africa Rising narrative, which situates Africa not as the Dark Continent but rather the final untouched economic market which promises riches to those “brave” enough to invest. Chibundu Onuzo discusses how this so-called “economic boom” has focused on urban centers, leaving rural communities widely untouched.

Next, in late September the Independent published an article on the Ghanaian art scene. In a cringe-worthy series of paragraphs, the author described the scene as lacking, misspelled kenkey, and mostly gave credit to expats for re-vamping the scene. A few days later Kofi Amoo-Gottfried took the Independent to task (“Oh, hello there, ‘white savior complex’… I was wondering where you’d gone.“), countering each of the article’s points with counter-examples and important analysis.

Lastly, this video of Ory Okolloh explaining the ‘fetishization’ of entrepreneurship went viral last month, and is a powerful reminder that “hacks” and “innovation” do not confront the structural issues that create and sustain poverty and massive global inequalities.

Coloniality: Africa as a “frontier”

The Last Frontier

Back in May I published a short post on the discursive renderings of the African continent in major US publications. A cowboy riding a zebra, a giraffe with a cell tower for a head, the “scramble” for Africa by foreign investors. These images and words, I argued, replicate ideologies of space, race, and technology, and structures of power.

I’m now in Accra, Ghana conducting my dissertation research, and I find myself once again floored (but at this point my surprise should be the real surprise) at not only blatant descriptions of Africa as a place of unimaginable wealth to be extracted by the West, but also articles which seek to debunk stereotypical notions of the continent, but end up reifying them in the end. Here are some examples that have caught my attention as of late:

The Economist

The Last Frontier
The article is actually titled “Climbing Aboard the African Train”

October starts with this short article by the Economist, which discusses Africa “as the last great frontier market.” The imaginary of a frontier draws on notions of vast space and natural resources of the wild wild US West. These riches were considered by some a “destiny,” but could only be accumulated through the “pacification” of local populations.

Last week CNN did a report on the construction industry in Ghana, and declared that despite the 3-year old financial slump and chronic lack of electricity, now is “a great time to build in Ghana“. The reporter, all smiles, signed off the report by referring to [Ghana] by its colonial name, the Gold Coast. I read this linguistic choice not as accidental, but rather, a blatant connection between construction, investment, wealth and power– an utterance that is not nostalgic for the colonial past, but a reassurance of the colonial future.

In early September NPR covered a segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In the clip, Oliver welcomed US students back to school with a lamentation on how by and large students do not learn about Africa. NPR’s Goats and Soda blog responded with “a crash course in Africa,” an 11-point list of “trivia” that may come in handy at “future cocktail parties.”

The list starts well, first declaring that Africa is not, in fact, a country, and then providing a brief history on borders. Yet, the 11-point primer quickly replicates stereotypical, racist tropes of Africa: war, poverty, death, disease, animals, youth (bulge), and economic growth despite all odds (the problematic Africa Rising narrative).

Bill Gates makes an appearance in point 4 (re: mosquitos) because it’s not a story about Africa without the authoritative voice of Gates or Bono. And perhaps that’s part of the reason why students don’t learn, because the narrative isn’t expanded outside a few authoritative voices, often white, American and neoliberal.

If people want young Americans to seriously engage with the continent, then it is time for the narrative around Africa to change. That starts with 1) those of us who are constructing such narratives, and 2) expanding the reading list to actually include folks from the continent. I’ll write about that next.

Africa, Rising and Militarized

Discourse, both textual and visual, is a key component for maintaining and replicating everyday ideologies, processes, and structures of power. Lately I’ve been coming across images accompanying articles about Africa in major U.S. publications (e.g. the Economist and New York Times) that have caused my jaw to drop a bit. Here are a few:

A sub-Saharan scramble
From an article in the Economist entitled “Foreign investment in Africa: A sub-Saharan scramble”.

“In much of the rich world, bringing the profit motive into public services is controversial; in Africa, where there is so much unmet need for such services, there is less of a taboo.”

From an op-ed in the New York Times last summer on U.S. security policy in Africa
From an op-ed in the New York Times last summer on U.S. security policy in Africa
This photo from an Economist piece on tech in Africa is captioned
This photo from an Economist piece on tech in Africa is captioned “self-improvement.” What that might be is unclear.

“ARE small cargo drones the answer to some of Africa’s most pressing problems? A group of European engineers supported by IBM thinks so.”