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Student Voice - Ghana - 2017

Roberta Ezike
Roberta Ezike

To say that my time in Ghana this summer was simply “amazing” would be an understatement and would also not fully encapsulate the full range of experiences and emotions that I had and felt while being there. There were difficult and exciting times, but altogether, interning in Ghana has been very rewarding. This past summer I interned at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the Horticulture unit within the Directorate of Crop Services. On the weekends, our host, Dr. Anthony Akunzule made sure that we got to see outside of Accra by arranging trips for me and my peers.

Prior to my arrival in Ghana, I felt quite confident in my ability to quickly adapt to the country since I am from a Nigerian background and grew up in a very culturally Nigerian household. I figured that the two would have very similar cultures. That was true for the most part and the similarities helped me navigate and adjust to the country but there were some instances where the similarities did not. For example, the humid weather was something I knew and felt before but was not quite used to. In the beginning of my stay there were times I took three showers a day to cool down! I also found the transportation system to be quite confusing but after a few rides I was able to get used to it. While I had no trouble hailing a car by myself, admittedly, there were times where I would get in one only to find out halfway through the trip that I was taking the wrong one! Thankfully, those were my “biggest” and only cultural challenges.

The biggest success of my trip to Ghana, thankfully, was my internship. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) was about a thirty-minute car ride from my host family’s home. Every morning, I took the local transportation called the tro-tro to the Horticulture office. There, my supervisor, Esther Agyekum, would have an assignment for me to help her with. If I was not working on an assignment, I was accompanying her to meetings with local farmers or meetings with other agriculture agencies.

One meeting that I vividly remember attending with Esther was in the farming district, Ashaiman. The project that my supervisor was tasked with was to establish a farmers’ field school in the district. This project was a subproject within a greater initiative whose aim was to equip Accra farmers hit the hardest in the 2014/2015 floods with knowledge and some inputs so that they can better deal with the difficulties of climate change and to help farmers obtain bigger crop yields. As it stands Ghana is an underproducer in the crop sub-sector. This is a national problem and a problem across sub-Saharan Africa. Sitting in on the Ashaiman meeting was very rewarding in that I got to hear small farmers selected for the field school discuss how they usually run their farm. This informed Esther of their regular practices and helped her in perfecting her budgets and plans for the Farmer Field School Project. When agriculture and food policy issues are addressed, large farmers are usually the ones who get the most attention, but it was reassuring to see that MoFA also had initiatives to improve the productivity and knowledge of farming for their small farmers.

I also participated in a series of meetings with major fruit and vegetable farmers and the Minister of Food and Agriculture that lasted a span of three days. MoFA had arranged these meetings so that they could come up with ways to improve Ghana’s productivity and to decrease the amount of produce they had to import from other countries. I heard about the many problems that impeded these farmers’ ability to grow and meet the demands of the country. Some issues mentioned were pests, crop diseases, lack of inputs, low governmental support, poor seed varieties, poor irrigation systems, weather irregularities, and marketing issues. After relaying their concerns to the Minister, they suggested ways that the Ministry could help them become more productive. The Minister accepted their suggestions and promised to put their concerns on his and the Ministry’s agenda. These meetings were the first steps to repairing the agriculture system in Ghana and would need further logistical planning and support for them to improve their agricultural endeavors, however, most of the attendees were hopeful that these initial meetings would steer Ghana in the right direction in accomplishing their goals.

I never expected that I would create great friendships and colleagues at my work site but I did and now feel that I would be welcomed back anytime to visit. I also never expected to be so involved with the work being done in MoFA. The staff at MoFA were very kind and put a lot of trust in me to complete tasks that seemed daunting at first. They were open to any questions I had and helped me understand the inner workings of MoFA and how it operates in Ghana. By the end of it, I had attended multiple meetings--some that included vegetable and fruit farmers in Ghana, helped complete mini projects and wrote the report on the large farmers/stakeholder meetings with the Minister of Food and Agriculture.

I believe that my summer in Ghana has marked a very pivotal and deciding point of my professional life. I have always been interested in food, agriculture and development, but working in MoFA has solidified my desires to continue on this career path. Interning in a country that was not based in the United States and learning about issues that plagued Ghana and West Africa reminded me of the importance of travel and being able to see how certain things work in different contexts than my own. It also reminded me of the influences of major economies on smaller ones. The decisions that the US government makes in terms of food and agricultural policy has so many implications and effects on other countries. From decisions on green labeling, and the organic/natural food movement to regulations and pricing on imported crops. It has opened my eyes to the importance of being a global citizen and participating in a way that benefits not just my own community but communities that lie beyond my back yard.

I believe that I have grown as a person after my summer in Ghana. Travel has always been a part of my life but in a different way than it was on my trip to Ghana. I came to Ghana knowing that I was there to learn, grow personally and to contribute to a place where I may not have been completely familiar with but had a desire to work in. Thankfully, I could do all of that in my short time there. I think because of this experience I am less afraid of putting myself in new positions. I have always known this, but I am even more cognizant that the world does not revolve around a few regions but that a few regions can influence much smaller ones. Finally, this experience has taught me that it is okay to not live in the same place for our entire lives. I do not think we were put on this earth to stay where we are. If we can, I think we should all strive to live in different parts of the world for long periods of time (much longer than 8 weeks) so that we can become a more rounded and understanding people.       

Finally, I give a lot of credit to my host family and Dr. Akunzule for creating an environment where I can partake in so much of the Ghanaian culture while also taking me to events that I feel really supplemented my internship (for example, I attended a food bazaar where speakers spoke on nutrition in Ghana, specifically for pregnant women and children). My host family made it easier for me to adjust by teaching us how to take the local transportation and on how to properly interact with people. They encouraged us to put ourselves “out there” by encouraging us to go on trips during the weekends. They also reminded us to never be afraid to ask questions if we did not know something, because after all, we are new to this country. They also helped us immensely with daily activities like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and going grocery shopping. I’m sure that without our family’s help, I would have had a much more difficult time in Ghana.

In all, I’m extremely grateful that I went to Ghana this summer. It was truly the best decision for me as a person who loves travel and learning about food policy. If I could take this trip again, I would go in a heartbeat.