Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

The debate in Ghana over the cultivation of genetically modified seeds provided by international aid agencies demonstrates that foreign aid often comes with an agenda determined by foreign financial and political backers, not by the end-users of the assistance.

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 and improvement 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, Bono’s ONE campaign, Millennium Villages, and the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (Mittal and Moore 2009: 2). Discourses that emanate from celebrities, politicians, NGOs, political, financial and religious institutions help to replicate "the popular image of Africa today [that"> is of a hungry continent, a continent chronically unable to feed itself, [and"> one that continually requires massive infusions of charity to keep its citizens from starvation” (Carney and Rosomoff 2009: 1). Accordingly GM seeds and technology are promoted 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 biotechnology. 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) alongside with the Coalition of Farmers Against Genetically Modified Organisms Movement (COFAM). The broad coalition, comprised of NGOs, farmers, religious and political leaders is concerned with 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 the work of Ghanaian food sovereignty activists 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. Last 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. As the Convention People’s Party Chairperson Samia Nkrumah recently stated, the movement for food sovereignty is “closely linked to [the] struggle for genuine freedom, for [the] freedom to create wealth, to control our land, to control our resources.”

More recently, FSG and its allies have waged a successful campaign to stall Parliament in passing a controversial piece of legislation, the Plant Breeders Bill (PBB), which opponents argue would allow for the unfettered introduction of GMO technology in Ghana’s foodchains. Bills such as the PBB are not unique to Ghana, quite the contrary. As David Cleveland and Stephan Murray explain, “[p">lant breeders’ rights and utility patents” are common “legal mechanisms [which are"> used and adapted most forcefully by the private seed and biotechnology industry worldwide,” and respond to private “interests rather than concerns of indigenous farmers” (1997: 486). While Ghanaian MPs have denied this bill is meant to benefit foreign breeders, the text of the bill says otherwise. Admittedly, this short article has mainly focused on political and ideological opposition to GMOs, but it should be noted that FSG and its coalition are also deeply concerned over the economic, health, and cultural implications of the widespread use of GMOs in country.

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 may require re-orienting amongst major development practitioners and governmental bodies to incorporate agricultural programs which protect and enhance small-scale farming. Moreover, such debates call on governments to pass legislation which protects its farmers, peoples, and food-systems. Mali and Senegal have integrated food sovereignty ideals into their national legislation; the question now is whether other nations will follow suit.


Food Sovereignty Ghana (2013) ‘About Us’,, accessed 5 December, 2013
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (2013), accessed 8 December 2013
Harper, K. (2005) ‘“Wild Capitalism” and “Ecocolonialism”: A Tale of Two Rivers’, American Anthropologist, vol. 107, no. 2, pp. 221—233
Johnson, B.R. (1995) ‘Human Rights and the Environment’, Human Ecology, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 111—123
Mittal, A. and Moore, M. (eds) (2009) Voices from Africa: African Farmers and Environmentalists Speak out Against a New Green Revolution in Africa, Oakland, The Oakland Institute
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (2012) ‘Climate Change and Food Security’,

* Joeva Rock is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, focusing on colonial legacies in West Africa. Follow her on twitter: @southsidetrees


* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.