IEE Newsletter No. 28

Joint PhD Programme and Key Findings from a Field Research in Ghana

Adwoa Yeboah Gyapong, a Visiting Fellow and PhD Student at the International Institute of Social Science (ISS) is reporting on her field research in Ghana

I am a  PhD Candidate at the ISS, undertaking a five-month Joint PhD Programme in IEE. The PhD exchange is sponsored by RUB Research. Currently, I am working with Anne Siebert to produce a joint paper centred on Alternative Food Systems in Ghana and South Africa.  My stay here also marks the initial phase of my post-fieldwork reflections and writing.

My research is broadly framed in the context of the socio-economic impacts of capitalist Agriculture. Specifically, it is set within the global land grab debates and I explore the labour dynamics of large-scale agricultural land acquisitions (land deals) in Ghana to find out how it impacts agrarian transitions and rural development. I am keen to share my findings in one of the IEE Cluster presentations and the upcoming PhD Conference.

The Enabling Environment for Large Scale Agriculture in Ghana

The drivers for land deals amount to three main factors. First is the convergence of crises on the international front-global demand for food, water, energy etc. vis -a-vis capital mobility. Second, policies on the promotion of export agriculture, jobs, and foreign direct investment of past, and present governments of Ghana have created an enabling environment for agriculture modernisation and industrialisation. Third, investors capitalise on the nature of the Ghanaian rural economy -customary land institutions, high unemployment rates, low returns from small scale agriculture etc. to promise benefits, while the local people premise their hopes on the promise of jobs and development.

Large Scale Agriculture for Rural Development?

Assessing the impacts of land deals is always a tough one. Yet, advocates often justify its positive impacts, while critics see everything wrong with it. In effect, it depends on a multiplicity of factors: Whose, and what development, the time dynamics of impacts, the before and after situations; and of course, the methods.

1A focus group discussion with some former farmworkers on the plantation (Photo : A. Y. Gyapong)

The need for Mixed, and Stylised Methods of Data Collection

My study was conducted in a rural district the north-eastern part of Ghana, where 3500ha of land has been acquired by foreign investors for an oil palm plantation. I gathered data from the wage workers on the plantation.  Even as a Ghanaian, I knew very little of the social organisation of this place, and I had to take time, and use every opportunity, to learn about the people’s way of life. The survey of workers gave me a broad understanding of the social context of my research.  It was particularly difficult to get in contact with farm workers because of the piece rate nature of the work and time constraints. This often meant walking around the field to find those on break or sometimes pleading with them for some time. Sundays were the best days to do home visits, and sometimes it meant doing interviews at odd hours. I also benefitted a lot from the penetration of mobile phones into rural areas- I couldn’t have done follow ups without it. In the end, I did not just go to ‘collect’ data, it was a period for sharing experiences, building relationships, and developing trust.

2Survey data collection on the farm (Photo by: A. Y. Gyapong)

Some Key findings and Reflection Points for Policy

•    The quantity and quality of jobs created is lower than expected
•    Women benefit the least in terms of job opportunities and income
•    Labour conditions are neither ‘slave-like’ nor benign, rather embedded in the existing local context
•    Land deals come with problematic trade-offs; yet they serves as short term livelihood strategies for many desperate people.
•    Workers use everyday forms of politics to negotiate benefits, yet it does not bring about transformational impacts

Adwoa Yeboah Gyapong
        Visiting Fellow and PhD Student, ISS
        E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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