Farmers’ advocate pushes back against GMO ‘myths’ in Ghana

By Justin Cremer

January 22, 2018

In rural Ghana, roughly 85 percent of the population is involved in farming. But many subsistence farmers are unable to support themselves financially and in some cases cannot even produce enough food to feed their families.

King-David Kwao Amoah decided years ago that he wanted to help change the situation. Although his grandparents were farmers, Amoah grew up the son of a teacher father and a trader mother. He attended one of the best schools in northern Ghana and eventually went on to study veterinary medicine at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

He landed a job as the director of Methodist Church Ghana s agricultural projects and also worked with Habitat for Humanity. Both positions provided eye-opening experiences.

“It brought me into contact with poor and marginalized people who had no place to lay their heads,” he told the Alliance for Science. “After seeing the reality of how these people live, I became very concerned about the plight of the marginalized.”

This led him to take a position with an NGO called the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD), which put him into contact with smallholder farmers. When they told Amoah that they were not able to produce enough crops to sell or even to feed their own families, he found the situation unacceptable.

“These are the people who feed the nation, but they would often have nothing to eat themselves,” he said. “When you see that most of them are going hungry, you start to think about what you can do about it.”

Amoah led an initiative to form the Farmer Organization Network in Ghana (FONG) to tackle some of the problems that farmers face, from extension services that are stretched far too thin to limited access to good seeds. Hoping to help farmers increase productivity and raise their incomes, he also set about teaching them some of the agronomic practices he learned while working with the Methodist Church project and ECASARD.

By organizing workshops for local farmers, Amoah has introduced new information and new technology to those who otherwise might not get it. He said the most rewarding part of what he does is to see the farmers happy.

“The most satisfying aspect of it all is when you teach the farmers new technologies and they say, ‘Ah, this is wonderful’,” he said.

Amoah helped introduce drought-resistant maize to his village and put on a demonstration of its potential in collaboration with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

“Previously, farmers were not interested in growing maize because over the years their harvests had been very poor. But when we did this demonstration and brought the farmers together to see what they could do with this new variety of maize, they readily accepted it,” he said.

According to Amoah, around 40 percent of the local farmers who attended that initial demonstration are now producing maize.

Although he is a smallholder farmer himself, growing yams, cassava, citrus and palm oil, he sees his true calling as being an advocate for Ghana’s farmers.

“I want to be at the forefront of encouraging the smallholder farmers in Ghana to embrace the modern way of farming and to use improved seeds and other inputs in their production,” he said.

Part of his advocacy is aimed at those he calls “the doubting Thomases”, who warn about the perceived dangers of GMOs.

“There are serious campaigns against GMOs in Ghana. The airwaves are being used daily to deceive and mislead our unsuspecting farmers about biotechnological crops and their inputs,” he said.

Amoah hopes to spread a more accurate message by expanding his farmer workshops into all 216 local districts of Ghana.

“I strongly believe that by doing so and educating my people, we can dispel the myths, superstitions and suspicions that most people have about GMOs,” he said.

Photo of King-David Kwao Amoah by Robert Hazen