Why Do We Need Agroecology and Food Sovereignty in Ghana?

Ghana is culturally rich with a strong heritage of traditions. Part of these traditions is the indigenous knowledge developed over numerous generations. In recent years and decades, the cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge embedded within Ghanaian society has been degraded. There is an increasing move towards a global society and introduced knowledge which originated elsewhere. While there are many benefits of globalisation for a country like Ghana, we do not believe these benefits should be at the expense of our cultural heritage. We believe that Ghana’s diverse cultures and ethnicities, and the traditions and knowledge systems which originate with them, should be preserved. This is what makes our country Ghana.

As the food system becomes ever more globalised, the rights of farmers are being increasingly eroded. This particularly effects small-holder and subsistence farmers because they are often marginalised politically and economically. Farmers are often treated as recipients of agricultural knowledge, science, technology, and innovation. In fact, farmers are our greatest experts are farming. Instead of being recognised and respected for their expertise and knowledge, farmers rights to farm the way they want to are being degraded.

As the global food system develops new crop varieties, including genetically modified (GM) and hybrid crops, and the agro-chemicals which are required to grow them, they are “disseminated” to farmers in Ghana as part of a “modernised” food and agricultural system. Farmers have not requested these varieties. Instead, varieties which have been developed overseas replace indigenous crops in Ghana which have been bred in Ghana over centuries to be highly adapted to the environmental and cultural conditions across the country. Once these indigenous crops are lost, they cannot be replaced.

Just new crop varieties are “disseminated” to farmers in Ghana, new food products are also being imported and are taking over the shelves in our stores and markets. These are typically highly processed food which are high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt, but low in other nutrients. This side of the globalised food system is also degrading Ghanaian food systems by changing what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat. Imported, processed food is replacing our cultural dishes and the social way we “invite” others to share in our meal. To add to the loss of our cultural and social traditions, these processed foods are degrading our health as the rate of obesity rises and health complaints increase across the country. When we have the capacity to produce our own food which is healthy and adheres to our own cultural needs, why must we continue to conform to a global food system which is in crisis?

We need a Ghanaian food system for the Ghanaian people. It is time to look back to our past, our indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage, and shape our present and our future food system on what we know works in Ghana for Ghanaians.

Traditional and local knowledge about soil, water, seed, and crop management is technical knowledge and should be enhanced rather than discarded (cf. IAASTD, 2009). It is time to recognise the knowledge our farmers have and give this value in our food system. We need to let farmers have rights over their farms, crops, knowledge, and practices. This includes giving small-holder farmers a say over their food system regardless of their location, economic status, religion, or political persuasion.

The farming practices which are being promoted as ‘modern’ and ‘improved’ include the use of heavy machinery such as tractors. In the relatively poor soils, particularly in northern Ghana, the use of machinery for farming causes deforestation, soil erosion and water contamination, and a loss of biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity reduces productivity of land, particularly in marginal areas such as drylands. Agroecological farming practices can restore biodiversity and reverse land degradation.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD, 2009) identified agroecology and agroforestry to be a ‘win-win’ strategy for sustainable development while mitigating climate change. The report goes further by suggesting that policies which support sustainable agricultural production are those which advocate for reduced chemical inputs and facilitate diverse agroecological practices (p29). IAASTD advocate for increased opportunities for linking farmers to education and training on agroecological knowledge and innovations, suggesting that agroecology should be taught in schools and higher education institutions (ibid).