Anatoli and I send you greetings from our Accra oasis–the Afia Beach Hotel. It feels wonderful to be back in Ghana again–while I know I have not given many of you the best explanations of why we love this country so much and why we desire to spend so much time here–I will be here for 9 months and Anatoli for 7–I think it is because it is difficult to use words to describe the energy of the place, the warm smiles of the people. However, hopefully with this blog we will be better able to describe Ghana and the many reasons why we find this place and the people here so enchanting…
Anatoli and I are both here to conduct dissertation research to complete our PhDs in Political Science (mine is with an emphasis in International Relations and Environmental Politics, Anatoli’s is Political Theory and International Relations). We have both, quite miraculously, been able to obtain full funding (!) to support our research in Ghana: I have received a Fulbright grant to support nine months of research in Ghana; Anatoli has received departmental support and a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship for the Spring (which is why Anatoli will be returning to Baltimore a couple months before me). I am obliged to tell you that the views here expressed are those of my own (and Anatoli’s when he posts) and not those of the U.S. Department of State or Fulbright Program, though that is probably not a surprise to those of you that know us well.
In Ghana, I will be researching the debate over the cultivation of genetically-modified (GM or often referred to as GMO) crops in Africa. The debate over GM crops is a global one and is one in which proponents and opponents of this new agricultural technology often make highly inflated claims: GM seeds can be conceived on the one hand as the “technological savior” or on the the other as the “terminator seed.” That is to say that GM crops can be presented as the means to address hunger and the effects of climate change, or as undermining social and ecological resilience through patents and the reduction of biodiversity. In the African context the debate is further intensified as the stakes are, in many senses, greater. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to experience more of the negative effects of climate change than nearly any other part of the world: irregular rainfall and drought hit hard in regions that already experience food shortages and famine. The introduction of smallholder farmers into a volatile global economy may further increase farmers’ economic vulnerability. And to further complicate the picture, industrial agriculture is widely recognized as being a major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change.
All this is to say that the debate over the cultivation of genetically-modified crops in the African context is multi-faceted–perhaps the one common thread expressed by many is that there needs to be improvements in the practice of farming in places like Ghana. What different actors think these improvements should look like is at the core of my research. On the one hand, you have interventions by organizations like USAID that want to expand access to biotechnology and GM crops in particular. On the other hand, you have other organizations like the African Biodiversity Network that want to reinvigorate the use of traditional knowledge by smallholder farmers across the African continent. In this sense, you have many different interventions from a variety of actors to improve agricultural practices and mitigate the effects of climate change. My research, primarily based in Tamale, capital of the Northern Region of Ghana, will be focused on how farmers view the agricultural challenges they face and what kinds of coping mechanisms they employ. How do these farmers respond to the interventions of external actors in their lives? The research will be conducted using the method of participant-observation. What this means for our blog followers is you can look forward to pictures of me farming (!!) cassava, millet, peppers and other staple foods enjoyed by people in Northern Ghana.
I look forward to sharing with you my experiences in Ghana. It promises to be a most exciting adventure! Anatoli will post soon a description of his fascinating research on earthen architecture and ecological sensibilities in Northern Ghana. In sum, when we come back to the U.S. expect that we will not only be closer to finishing our PhDs (at long last! 🙂 but will be able farmers and mud hut builders 😉
Warm wishes from Ghana….Jacqui