Innovative ideas are often cultivated from a very young age – often without us even knowing it. However, it takes experience, insight, passion and intelligence to harness them into reality. Helen Gyasi is a textbook example of this. She moved to The Netherlands from Ghana after working in the telecom industry for five years and seven years in agriculture. Passionate about food sustainability, she proceeded to work in the Agriculture Industry developing strategies for Africa Agriculture on special projects. She founded Nyamekeye Farms which, helps female farmers in Ghana form cooperatives and connect to markets while providing training on farming trends, financial management, innovations and sustainability.
When did your passion for sustainability begin?
It began during my primary school days when I was selected to lead a team of four students to grow vegetables on the school farm. It was a joy to see that we could grow food and sell to our canteens for our agriculture club. At the same time at home, we depended on the home garden for vegetables for several years, saving us costly trips to the market.
An energy crisis in the early 2000s in my home country Ghana brought about a need to conserve and save for tomorrow. It was discovered that most households misused resources such as electricity and water. I, however, was brought up in a home where living economically was a daily thing. You could take only what you needed and not what you wanted. Ironing clothes in bulk, sharing transport costs, sharing food with friends, and passing on clothes to younger siblings were all things that I did but never thought of as sustainable. I remember that, as a child, our mum would spank us if we wasted food. Her mantra was and still is: “someone is hungry somewhere, and what you waste can be a meal to another.” So, I grew up with such mindset not to waste.
A real awareness of sustainability was brought about when I became part of helping women in Dodowa to earn a livelihood through farming. For me, farming was a hobby and a self-sufficient way of saving money and being healthy. These women had been farming, but could not make a meaningful income from the venture because of the waste they get after every harvest. They were taught to do rotational farming of corn and vegetables, which fetched income each crop cycle.
What does sustainable living look like in the Ghanaian context?
In the past, Ghanaians were not aware of sustainable living. We did practice it to some extent but were not actually conscious of it. More and more people are being mindful about of their use of electricity and water. In working towards meeting the SDG goals, the government of Ghana has made headway in the different sectors of the economy. A lot needs to be done though. Ghanaians need to make sustainability a fixed part of our lives. Your entire activity in a day accounts for you being sustainable or not, whether in unsustainable food consumption and purchasing, recycling, or energy use.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.