Project OKURASE promotes health through sustainable farming in Ghana

Center for Global Health
October 07, 2021

MUSC researcher, Dr. Cynthia Cupit Swenson, Ph.D., founder of Project OKURASE sustainable farming programs in Ghana discusses collaboration with the MUSC Urban Farm.

The village of Okurase is an area of serious economic disadvantage and has a population of approximately 3,500 people, whose main trades are subsistence farming and carving. The farmers of the village have long held the vision of converting to organic methods and raising their standards to be able to sell their produce beyond local markets. The Nkabom Organic Farming Project is a part of daily life and targets health and nutrition through farming, a primary profession of many village residents. For more than 15 years, Project OKURASE has been a community partner in researching sustainable agricultural practices. 

Collaboration with MUSC Urban Farm

Kids with carrots in a garden in Ghana.

When Ghanaian farmer Isaac Owus visited Charleston four years ago, he had the opportunity to learn organic methods by training under Carmen Ketron, educator at the MUSC Urban Farm. When Owu returned to Ghana, he was joined by Ketron and volunteers who were committed to bringing this knowledge back to Okurase.

Project Okurase and MUSC Urban Farm partnered to build a half-acre organic garden in Okurase beside the Montessori School. The Nkabom Organic Garden was designed to be a demonstration space and teaching facility to help local farmers return to organic farming methods without the use of harsh agro-checmicals and pesticides.

In 2018, the MUSC Center for Global Health funded a research study led by principal investigator Cynthia Swenson, Ph.D., MUSC Division of Global and Community Health to evaluate the success of small-scale farmers converting to organic farming practices through an intensive training program. In December 2018, a group of 42 farmers participated in training in organic methods led by co-investigators Ketron and Owu. 

Individualized farmer research interviews conducted in December 2018 and again in July 2019 indicate that 93% of farmers who participated in the Project OKURASE training are now growing solely organic.

Ghana Green Label Certification

Since the initial training, the farmers formed the Okurase Organic Farmers Association and have maintained their practice using organic methods. Two years ago with the support of Project OKURASE, they applied for certification with Ghana Green Label, the Ghana government’s standards for producing safe food in an environmentally sustainable and sound way. It is considered a move for growers towards organic, but the standard is not 100% organic. Similar to USDA approval in the United States, the certification involves training and rigorous audits.

On September 16, 2021, the Okurase Organic Farmers Association became certified under Ghana Green Label. This certification is a game-changer and will allow them to expand the markets from which they sell to include restaurants, European grocery stores in Ghana, hotels, and even export. The farmers are now working on certification in organic farming with an international group called Participatory Guarantee Systems. Their efforts will raise not only their economic standing but that of the village. With the village embracing organic methods for their farming and gardening, the health benefit will be vast.

About Project OKURASE

Project OKURASE is a nonprofit in the state of South Carolina and an NGO in the country of Ghana. The project takes place in the rural village of Okurase in the Upper West Akyem District of Ghana's eastern region. It was founded by Dr. Cynthia Cupit Swenson of MUSC and Samuel Nkrumah “Powerful” Yeboah, an instrument maker and musician from Ghana. It grew out of a local community violence prevention project that was a collaboration between MUSC Division of Global and Community Health and the Union Heights community in North Charleston with Ida Taylor and Iris Poole. Many of Project OKURASE’s programs target health, nutrition, and economic self-sufficiency. Charleston community members, MUSC students, and students from high schools and universities from around the world have been to Okurase to participate in the annual Village Health Outreach, an annual free medical clinic.

Learn more about Project OKURASE

Swenson, C.C., Yeboah, S.N., Yeboah, N.A., Spratt, E.G, Archie-Hudson, M., & Taylor, I.S. (2018). Sustainable change in rural Africa through village-guided interventions and global partnerships. Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, 12 (1), 373 – 394.

Swenson, C.C., Ketron, C., Akonde, M., Yeboah, S.N., Owu, I., Slaughter, G., Meryanos, S., & Vallabaneni, K. (2021). Changing practice from agro-chemical to organic methods in rural Ghana: The Nkabom Organic Farming Project, Organic Agriculture.  Read study