In a second floor cafe at an upmarket mall in Ghana’s capital Accra, a customer asks Dorys Fagbohoun for a straw for his fresh smoothie. With a smile, she politely tells him no.
“Please just open the cup and enjoy it, we don’t want to keep wasting plastics,” she tells him.
The customer obliges, but looks perplexed.
Her vegan cafe and natural health goods shop, Mahorgany Boutique and Cafe, reflects a growing demand for healthy, sustainable food and goods in this West African city. But it also reflects the issues that come with advocating for this lifestyle in Ghana. While the capital Accra has yoga studios, organic produce deliveries, and weekly green markets to get handmade soaps or bags from recycled materials, it’s hard to ignore the reality on the ground for the vast majority.
More often than not, the streets of Accra are clogged with traffic, and gutters sometimes overflow with rubbish and plastics. Toxic fumes linger across the city from car exhausts. An investigation in 2016 found Ghana was flooded with dirty diesel—Ghana was importing diesel with sulphur levels banned in European countries, but allowed in a number of African countries.
When it rains heavily in Accra, parts of the city flood which experts and residents attribute to poor waste management. Plastic is everywhere, from the 500-milliliter filtered water sachets drunk and dropped on the ground to quench thirsts under the sweltering sun, to small black plastic bags that hold single servings of rice and local stew, purchased from street vendors—also often dumped on streets or into open drains.
Fagbohoun finds that, generally, conscious consumption is not a top priority for the masses. But this is something she and other environmentalists in Accra want to change.
More education, more awareness
Joshua Amponsem, Executive Director of Green Africa Youth Organization and Research Director of Ghana Youth Climate Coalition, says it’s “just a handful of the population in Accra—mostly environmental activists, expatriates, and returnees” who are championing this movement. While there is a growing atmosphere of environmentalism in Accra, he says, it needs to be more inclusive across an increasingly divided society.
Amponsem notes that across Accra there are new architectural designs considering a green outlook—either with rooftop plants or hanging gardens. The rise of vegan restaurants like Fagbohoun’s also shows there is an increased demand for sustainable living, he adds. “There is a desire for some of us to contribute our quota to solving the environmental mess in Ghana, and that’s what drives a personal commitment for some individuals to go green,” he says.
“Consumer needs have been revolving around reduction in the use of plastics, paper packing, composting in households, and waste segregation. As there are efforts as these, there is still a huge infrastructural gap which doesn’t permit the middle class person to practice the above with ease.”
Organic farmer Solomon Amuzu supplies Fagbohoun’s cafe with produce grown in his farm up on a hill overlooking Accra. He has a non-governmental organization focusing on organic growing “to make sure our people get access to healthy and fresh organic produce.” He also has a tree planting project to combat climate.
Amuzu supplies schools in his area with his organic produce to supplement a government feeding program. He sells about 30 percent of his produce to customers in Accra and his surrounding area as well as at farmers’ markets in Accra.
He finds those who buy his produce “are highly educated people who care about their eating style and their health.”
But Amuzu wants to reach more people—he has children come to his farm to learn about organic farming and health.
“Ghanaians are becoming more aware of sustainable and green living (in) Ghana, but mostly angled to the educated ones. We still have to do more in order to get this education—more understanding—to the uneducated people.”
Amuzu also worries about poor sanitation, but he sees a lack of trees in the city and not enough home gardening as bigger issues facing the capital. He wants there to be a bigger focus on attracting more people to sustaining living—and using local dialects will help with this, he says.
“More education in the local tongue must be raised to the standard at which our uneducated people understand, in order to embrace an environment of green living,” Amuzu notes.
Clean up Accra
The government also needed to play its part, Amuzu adds—as an organic farmer, he wants to see a cut in the amount of chemicals imported into Ghana and legislation to encourage Ghanaians to have green spaces on their property.
According to Amponsem, while consumer efforts were a good place to start to affect real change, the government needs to crack down on the city’s waste management. “It is the leading cause of most of the health problems in our cities and it must be resolved the soonest. Indiscriminate disposal, burning of refuse, and inadequate sanitary facilities is a big problem.”
Amponsem wanted to see the government establish strong infrastructural support for the waste management sector to meet the growing demands of the population who understand the need for a clean environment and want to separate their waste.
Like Amuzu, he wants to see better access and education across society to green living. Yoga, composting, and vegan diets shouldn’t just be for the middle classes.
“A little bit to help”
In May, Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo promised to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa in the next four years. City authorities have pledged to work to this goal, cracking down on excessive trash generation and the indiscriminate disposal of all types of wastes.
For Fagbohoun, cutting down on plastics and meats is a great place to start to clean up Accra. She tries to encourage others into sustainable living, even if it is just saying no to that extra plastic.
When one of her own customers asked her why she was giving out straws—deemed unnecessary plastic by environmentalists around the world—she was surprised she had never thought about it.
“I had never thought about that…it made total sense to me, so I explain it to clients,” she says. She found most were okay to forgo a straw, seeing it as “their little bit to help.”
Fagbohoun also works to educate people on the benefits of meat-free diets or even how to make local, oil and starch-heavy dishes healthier.
Alongside cleaning the streets and cutting down on plastic consumption, there also need to be initiatives to bring green lifestyles to the masses, Amponsem says.
His organization is playing their part. Earlier in 2016, Amponsem led the Green Africa Youth Organization to commence an organic family farming project, focused on helping a few households separate their waste and guiding them to set up a compost to be used to start a small backyard garden.
While idling traffic creates toxic fumes through the city and piles of plastic waste sit in gutters or along the beaches, Amponsem says his actions, with those of other environmentalists like him, will help create a green revolution in Accra, involving everyone.
“In Accra, the few environmentalists are gradually influencing the lifestyles of others…There is a need for constant education and change in individual lifestyles to contribute to the growing green revolution in Accra,” he says.