Studying agriculture in Ghana

Colin interviewing a farmer after a day of work.
2019-06-18 14:44:00

This summer I have the incredible opportunity to conduct qualitative research on changes in land use practices with smallholder farmers in the Bono East region of Ghana thanks to the generous support from the Coca-Cola World Fund at Yale through the MacMillan Center. Over the past five years, I have immersed myself in work related to agriculture and the environment both in West Africa and the United States. My interest in agriculture sprouted from a general interest in sustainability paired with a horticulture class I took during my last semester of college. Since then, I have been fascinated by how agricultural landscapes affect and are affected by environmental, economic, and political factors. It was this interest that led me to pursue a Master in Environmental Science degree at Yale’s School of the Environment. In order to complete my degree, I am conducting research which will be used in fulfilling my thesis requirement. My research focuses on Ghana because it is a context in which I have worked previously and the nation is making serious efforts to industrialize their agriculture sector which may have interesting consequences.

I am working in collaboration with farmer-centered local NGO “Nature Development Ghana.” With their assistance I have chosen one community in the Kintampo South District where I will live and conduct my research project this summer. I have chosen this particular area of the country because it is north of the “Cocoa Zone” where cocoa production dominates the agriculture sector, Instead, most farmers here still practice traditional yam cultivation. However, as I am observing thus far in my research, these practices are changing. Cashew has been introduced as a cash crop that is suited to the climate, and agri-chemicals have become readily accessible as a labor-saving alternative for small farmers. These new developments have dramatic consequences for both the landscape and the communities who call these landscapes home.

My primary method for exploring these issues has been to spend as much time on the farm as possible. I have been shadowing farmers throughout their typical farm days. This has often meant waking up at dawn, hand-weeding under a hot sun, and planting peanuts in pouring rain. The work is grueling and satisfying. I have enjoyed being a student of the locally time-honored techniques of cultivation and environmental protection. It is at the end of a day of work, hands covered in soil, that we have discussions about how land management practices are changing due to various factors. In addition to the farm work, I cherish the opportunity to immerse myself in the incredible diversity of culture and cuisine here in Ghana. As an adventurous eater, I haven’t been shy to try the numerous flavors which I have never encountered before.

From a macro perspective, the future of agriculture in Ghana rests squarely at the intersection of agricultural policy and international agribusiness, as the government of Ghana seeks multi-national partners in their quest to modernize the agricultural sector. I argue through my project that without better understanding the perspectives, knowledge, and objectives of the current smallholder farmers who have been managing the landscape for centuries, these initiatives may ultimately fall short of their economic, social, and environmental goals. I will continue to build upon this experience by working with the faculty at the Yale School of the Environment when I return to campus this August.

Written by Colin Korst, MA student, Yale School of the Environment.