Since our plane touched down in SFO, the question: “How was Ghana?” has been posed to me an uncountable amount of times. To some, I can respond with a casual conversation, giving a background in social entrepreneurship, my host organizations, and the teammates I conducted research with. Others who have asked have received cryptic responses such as: “It was an adventure,” or, “I learned and grew a lot,” or, “The research process was really interesting.” However, most commonly when asked in passing, questioners receive “good” as an answer. To give these responses is frustrating, confusing, and has aided me in skipping over reflection. They have allowed me to disconnect from an 7 week experience that brought forth humility, challenged my notions, and pushed my understanding of global systems as well as where in them I belong. But how does anyone sum up such an experience to an acquaintance you pass by in the library?
Having the privilege to travel extensively throughout my childhood, I initially felt a heightened sense of preparedness for my team’s placement in Ghana. I had ideas of what to expect, and through extensive research preparation, felt as though this was a opportunity I could pursue with confidence. Our first interview immediately challenged this. Driving through dirt roads in punishing heat, my team visited one of MoringaConnect’s farmers, John. Pushing through thick weeds and brush, we eventually made our way to a large plot of land nestled in thick fauna. Though I had my list of questions and a notebook, suddenly none of them made sense in our newfound context. Instead of getting to sit down with John one on one and speak with him, we were circled with other extension officers, MoringaConnect’s regional manager, his wife and young daughter slung up in a fabric wrap. After several failed greetings and awkward smiles exchanged, we called over our regional manager to translate. Standing over John holding my pen and paper, I had never felt so out of place. I was suddenly unsure of what to do, and how I could even ask my questions. Squatting down to be at eye level, I did my best to quickly change our convoluted and out of place questions to something that was understandable and could elicit meaning. I’m sure I failed spectacularly. Sitting there, I felt overwhelmingly frustrated. Frustrated that I couldn’t show John that I was here to learn from him, and frustrated that I couldn’t communicate or obtain meaningful answers. I was no longer full of confidence. Instead I was deeply humbled and had little idea of how to proceed from there.
Our first interviewee, John. Upper Manya Krobo District, Eastern Region.
Mr. Nartey instructing a new community of farmers on how to plant moringa. Upper Manya Krobo District, Eastern Region.
But what happens when it doesn’t change lives? In fact it makes them worse? When working in the Ashanti region, we were able to visit a Ejura, a community that had been growing moringa for the past several years. When we arrived, we intended to go through our now standardized questions, ones which we could now confidently ask. Sitting with two farmers, the community chief, and the area’s regional manager Ibrahim, we quickly learned that our questions were again not appropriate for the context. Instead of getting answers about their extension officers, we heard stories of crop failure. The group told us about the initial group that started growing moringa, excited to take on a new opportunity. Each year this group had gotten smaller and smaller as pods turned moldy and were unable to be harvested. Some even set fire to their moringa trees, an investment they had to give up on. Hearing these stories made me feel a sense of betrayal. Why wasn’t this community being helped? What had allowed this to happen? Why did this fate come upon these farmers, one small piece in the large moringa network? Unable to do much besides listen to their stories with open hearts, we visited Ibrahim's field to see the moringa for ourselves. It too was either too moldy or too dry to be used, leaving Ibrahim without a profit. As we drove the two hours back to Kumasi, I felt sadness, guilt, and confusion. What is my role in this? What I can do to help farmers such as those in Ejura?
Ibrahim’s forest of moringa trees. Ejura, Ashanti Region.
My time in Ghana working with these farmers and field agents forced me to confront challenges I had never expected. Though some experiences were filled with sadness and discomfort as I reflected upon my privilege and positionality, others were filled with moments of joy and hope. While coming to understand the pervasive problems present in the Ghanaian agricultural system, I was able to witness the passion and dedication of individuals who believe in a better tomorrow.
Though difficult to communicate these complexities to those who ask, I will continue to try and tell these stories, and those of the field agents and farmers we met, connecting through the human emotions we all share.
Riding back from MoringaConnect's nucleus farm. New Longoro, Brong-Ahafo Region.