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A Field Day for Joeva Rock

Anthropology PhD candidate Joeva Rock conducting researching in Ghana.

Anthropology PhD candidate Joeva Rock (right) conducting researching in Ghana.

Anthropology PhD student Joeva Rock spent the summer in Ghana researching the country’s emerging food sovereignty movement. Supporters are fighting for the right of the Ghanaian people to determine their own food and agriculture policies. The movement emerged in response to recently proposed legislation that would allow genetically modified (GM) crops and seeds to enter the country. A typical day of fieldwork, reports Rock, went something like this:

6 a.m.
I’m up early to head into the heart of Accra to meet a local food activist. I follow my morning routine of coffee, news, and writing. I rely on Nescafé in Ghana, often doubling the recommended amount in order to get an adequate amount of caffeine. I log on to a Ghanaian online news outlet to read that the minister of information and media relations has denied that Ghana is undergoing a serious economic crisis. I’m surprised to read this, as the crisis is no secret, with the national currency depreciating daily, rising inflation and prices, and a possible IMF bailout. 

9 a.m.
After breakfast of coffee and a meat pie, I head out. The drill goes like this: I walk to the taxi run, take a shared taxi to the junction of a busy road, and wait for a tro-tro (a van or bus used as unofficial public transportation) to get to the junction of an even busier road. There, I wait again for another tro-tro to take me to Kwame Nkrumah Circle, the bustling center of Accra. 

10 a.m.
To my surprise there is no traffic today, and I arrive early. Luckily, I am right by Busy Internet, a large café popular for its high-speed Internet access and air conditioning. Due to frequent power outages caused by load shedding (intentional rolling blackouts), my access to the Internet and computer is limited, so I take advantage of it while I can. 

11 a.m.
A food activist picks me up on his motorbike and takes me to his office. We sit for a few hours and talk about the Plant Breeders’ Bill that is sitting in Parliament. Activists say its purpose is to usher in genetically modified seeds and foodstuffs to Ghana, a prospect that is opposed by a broad coalition of NGOs, faith-based organizations, trade unions, politicians, and other individuals. Opponents argue that the bill will allow foreign companies to dominate seed systems and harm Ghana’s small-scale farmers. They are also worried about potential health implications of GM seeds. 

1 p.m.
The activist offers to introduce me to a well-known local journalist whose office is nearby. I spend the next hour speaking with the journalist about Ghanaian and international politics. 

2 p.m.
I take a break at the chop bar (a small restaurant that serves Ghanaian dishes). I find a table in the shade and order jollof rice (a spicy tomato stew-based dish) and catch up on my field notes for the day so far.

3 p.m.
I’m off for another unexpected meeting, this one with a lawyer who has been active in the food sovereignty movement. We talk about my research intentions. I tell him my parents have always wanted me to be a lawyer. He tells me it’s not too late. 

4 p.m.
Another break, which happens to coincide with a soccer match on television. I sit in a breezy room and watch. 

6:30 p.m.
I meet a friend at a local center that screens documentaries. This week’s film is about the foreign-dominated copper industry in Zambia. The discussion afterwards focuses on extractive industries in Ghana: 95 percent of gold reserves and 87 percent of oil reserves are held by foreign companies. The wealth created by such operations flows out of the country. 

8 p.m.
Finally make the two-hour trek home — arrive exhausted and crawl into bed.