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Climate Change, Foreign Assistance, And Food Sovereignty In Ghana

May 4, 2014
Modern Ghana

Recent reports on climate change have continuously stressed the unequal burden small states experience in comparison to their relatively low energy consumption. For many developing and low-income nations, this imbalanced and undue drain is the continuance of on-going historical injustices. In countries like Ghana, environmental destruction by foreign forces is no recent phenomena. For hundreds of years Ghanaian soil has laid waste to mineral extraction, and its forests at the mercy of the timber market. Additional techniques of extraction have taken the form of gold, oil, bodies, and more.

Moreover, many land preservation schemes have been at the behest of western mediaries. Thus, many “green” projects, be it conservation or eco-tourism, have revolved around western logics and development discourses, which often frame problems “in tightly defined, bounded terms that suggest logical, linear solutions, strategies and methods used to achieve scientific objectivity” (Johnson 1995: 115). Approaching environmental conservation from a western and development standpoint not only infers the use of capitalist logics, but also creates what Barbara Rose Johnson calls a “conceptual distancing mechanism” (1995: 115), framing conservation in scientific, objective and achievable terms. Often times such distancing is without regard to the human and eco-systems implicated in conservation efforts.

Amidst the list of consequences of climate change are increased climate irregularities, droughts, warmer temperatures, and as such, food insecurity. In order to tackle current and future uncertainties, scientists and development practitioners are searching for ways to strengthen crop resilience and reduce risks to farmers. One solution that has been proposed is the use of genetically-modified (GM) and genetically-engineered (GE) seeds. Companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta are creating seeds which are meant to weather through climate crises, and are promoted under the promise of Africa’s ‘green revolution’ (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa).

The push for genetically engineered approaches to agricultural challenges is largely a Western effort, backed by big-name actors such as the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Bono’s ONE campaign, and Millennium Villages (Mittal and Moore 2009: 2). Accordingly, the United States incorporates GM seeds in their agricultural and food aid programs. Currently, Ghana is one of 19 countries receiving assistance from USAID’s newest food security venture, Feed the Future. USAID is promoting GM seeds and technology as innovative, smart products which “incorporate tolerance to disease, heat, and drought [in order] to increase production while maintaining or improving the nutritional quality of food” (USAID).

While at first glance modified seeds and improved crops appear to be a productive way to tackle agricultural insecurities, a large debate is taking place over the use of modern biotechnology in agriculture. Recently, adversaries have called for a more holistic approach to address hunger, and “concluded that agriculture policy and practice must be changed to [also] address … poverty, social inequalities, and environmental sustainability” (Mittal and Moore 2009: 1). The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development reported that “GM crops are unlikely to play a substantial role in addressing the needs of poor farmers” (Mittal and Moore 2009: 1).

In Ghana, the anti-GMO movement is led by Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG). The organization’s focus is multifaceted, having grown out of conversation surrounding the increasing phenomenon of land grabs, the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right, water privatization issues, deforestation, climate change, carbon trading and Africa’s atmospheric space, and in particular, the urgent issue of the introduction of GM food technology (“About Us”).

Core to FSG’s work is public education and placing pressure on the government to enact a moratorium on GM seeds. Along with allies, FSG and their wide coalition have testified before parliament, penned editorials and articles for Ghanaian print media, appeared on television and radio shows, organized protests, and regularly work across civil and political sectors to build partnerships and alliances. This past summer FSG turned down an invitation to the American embassy to discuss biotechnology, citing that the closed-door nature of the meeting was not conducive to engaging public conversation around the matter.

Similar to Krista Harper’s Hungarian subjects, FSG’s concerns partially “stem from a growing awareness that integration into the global economy [renders postcolonial] countries vulnerable to environmental degradation and other risks” (Harper 2005:230). Of course, environmental dilapidation for profit is nothing new, yet, its continuance is magnified in the current globalized, hyper-capitalist economy. Moreover, for FSG, Western encroachment on food sovereignty is a perpetuation of the colonial past. GE technology is colonial partially in that it “foster[s] dependency on a corporate, [foreign] seed supply” (Mittal and Moore 2009: 34).

In order to emphasize the coloniality of GM food aid, FSG regularly uses terms such as “genetically modified colonialism” to invoke colonial imaginations. Hence, the struggle against GM seeds and technology is much larger than addressing food safety: it is about moving towards true post-colonial independence.

FSG is not alone. The Oakland Institute explains that “Africa has been largely united against GM crops, [choosing] to protect biodiversity over accepting GM food aid” (Mittal and Moore 2009: 7). Thus, a conundrum arises: is USAID obligated to revise its programming if the host country rejects its means of implementation? In this case, if Ghanaian farmers do not want to use genetically modified seeds, are they automatically disqualified from USAID assistance, or does USAID have a mandate/obligation to work with them in other ways?

African actors have continually emphasized rights to their land, crops, and foodways, arguing that food security, sovereignty and development require structural changes. Such an undertaking does not necessarily correlate with development aid programs, and hence requires re-orienting amongst major development practitioners like USAID, the Gates Foundation, AGRA and the World Bank. Moreover, such debates call on governments to pass legislation which protects its farmers, peoples, and food-systems, and places value on national wants over foreign companies.