Feature by Samuel Adadi Akapule
Bolgatanga, Sept. 18, GNA - The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gender equality and women’s empowerment as its core, which include a target to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, especially women.
Indeed, rural women are critical to the success of almost all the 17 SDGs”, according to Ban Ki-moon, the former UN Secretary-General.
“We must build resilient social protection systems, labour and product markets, governance institutions, and civil society organizations so that rural women can both contribute to and benefit from sustainable development,” the Secretary-General once said.
From his assessment, it is worthy to note that the role of rural women particularly farmers, in the advancement of the SDGs cannot be overemphasised. Indeed rural women farmers are regarded as the main stay of the agricultural value chain business in the country and are said to produce between 70 and 80 per cent of food crops, thus contributing immensely to the attainment of the SDGs.
It is therefore believed that the empowerment of rural women farmers would not only enhance the quality and quantity of the various food crops they produce, but also contribute to impacting on almost all the 17 SDGs particularly Goals 1 and 2 which emphasises on the need to end poverty and hunger and all forms of malnutrition by the year 2030.
However, despite the enormous contributions of rural women to the agricultural sector, they are not adequately supported as compared to their male counterparts when it comes to formulation and implementation of agricultural policies and programmes.
Among the key constraints faced by them are unequal access to productive land, extension services, collateral requirements demanded by financial institutions which make it very difficult for them to get finance and credit facilities, education and training, technology, time and market access.
Illiteracy, high transaction costs coupled with the weak representation of women farmers especially those in the rural areas in agricultural decision-making processes with the negative view that women agriculturalists are not ‘real’ farmers are also among the hindrances that affect the efficient operation of the rural women farmers.
It should be pointed out that most of the problems that confront smallholder farmers in agriculture are rooted in the socio-cultural norms of communities particularly those in Northern Ghana where land titles and tenures are usually vested in men, making it extremely difficult for women agriculturalists, especially those in the rural areas to own or have access to fertile and vast lands to farm.
To complement the efforts of government to address the challenges facing smallholder women farmers, Madam Agnes Loriba, Programme Manager for Pathways Ghana, said CARE International, a non-governmental Organisation, through the “Pathways” project in 2012, initiated a number of interventions tailored towards empowering the rural women in agriculture in the Garu-Tempane and Lambussie Districts of the Upper East and West Regions.
This came to light when some of the Project Team conducted stakeholders’ fora to help address some of the challenges confronting women in the agricultural sector in the two project districts.
Mrs Loriba indicated that a baseline survey conducted by CARE International revealed that food and nutrition security were the priority in those districts where the “Pathways” project is being implemented.
The project focuses on improving poor smallholder women farmers’ productivity by empowering them to be fully engaged in equitable agriculture systems as well as improve their food security and livelihood resilience. It has engaged 10,000 poor women in 103 communities in the two districts throughout the five year implementation period.
Mrs Loriba indicated that the project interventions funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Big Lottery Fund, Jeff Peierls Foundation, the Sall Family Foundation and the Coca Cola Foundation was yielding positive results.
Majority of the smallholder rural farmers at separate fora held in the two districts gave testimonies on the impact of the project on their livelihoods. One common testimony given by some of the beneficiaries about the successes chalked by the project is that they now had access to productive land.
“Unlike before when we found it very difficult to access productive land for agriculture activities and sometimes travel distances to get land for farming, it is not so now. Through a series of advocacy programmes CARE International organised involving major stakeholders such as traditional rulers and landowners, majority of us can now get productive lands to farm” Mrs Alhassan Asibobo, a community member and a Gender Activist of Songo, said.
“Most of us smallholder women farmers are able to harvest between eight and 11 mini bags or more depending on the acres of land cultivated each farming season. With this we are able to feed and pay for our children’s education and health needs”, Mrs Asibobo said.
She added, through CARE’s intervention, most of the rural women had been empowered resulting in improved power sharing relations within households, communities and society at large.
“Women are now included in decision making processes both at the household and the community levels. They are also able to negotiate for parcels of land for widows, whose farm lands are always taken away from them after the demise of their husbands”.
Another significant achievement of the project is the creation of more opportunities for the women to market their farm produce without middlemen. This facilitated the marketing of produce across the two districts and reduced the drudgery women from the sale of produce.
The project established 196 Market Research Committees as leaders to among other things search the market for their fellow women.
“With the formation and the empowerment of the Market Research Committees and the introduction of weighing scales, women farmers are no longer cheated like before as they used to sell in the open market. “We now get good market through the companies and we make good sales and profit”, Ms Gifty Sambo, a 38 year-old farmer and a community women’s leader testified.
Additionally, more than 10,000 farmers have acquired good agronomic practices across the two districts, while 461 Community Based Extension Agents have been trained to augment the inadequate agriculture extension officers to provide on-site extension service to community the women.
In the quest to increase seed availability in the communities, the project also linked 40 seed growers to the Heritage Seed Company in Tamale to help boost the sources of income for the smallholder women farmers.
They no longer travel long distances for agriculture inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and agro chemicals, as zonal and community level input fairs are organised during each farming season. Input dealers have also been trained to provide them with guidance and the correct and safe use of pesticides, their harmful effects on the human body and environment, as well as the correct use of Personal protection Equipment.
Another unique achievement of the project is the integration of the Village Saving Loan Association (VSLAs). The VSLAs are usually made up of 25 to 30 women members and they are able to contribute in a group for a period of time which serves as a loan scheme less interest rate.
Naab Seidu Amadu, Chief of Kpatia in the Garu–Tempane District, who expressed happiness about the intervention, said apart from the agricultural value chain approach of the project, soya bean farming, promoted by the project was highly beneficial.
“The promotion of soya bean farming and the food demonstration of how to prepare the various dishes such as porridge, cakes, soup from soya, have contributed to the improvement of the nutritional status of people particularly children and pregnant women”, the chief said.
The Development Planning Officer for the District, Mr Iddrisu Kelly, who commended CARE International and its collaborators including funding agencies, said the promotion of soya and ground nut farming as climate resilience crops was appropriate.
Speaking to the GNA about the success story, Madam Gladys Assibi Atiah, Gender Advisor of CARE International, explained that meetings with major stakeholders including traditional authorities and landowners were held on the need to empower the women and strengthen collaboration among stakeholders to assist rural women to have access to land and its control.
Madam Atiah said the project had formed community gender champions and built their capacity to advocate for empowering women in the agriculture sector to improve on community relations, household relations and women’s contribution in decision making at both community and household levels as well as making women get access to productive resources such as land.
Whilst lauding the efforts of CARE International and the funding agencies and other stakeholders such as the district assemblies, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Presbyterian Agriculture Station, there is no doubt that the replication or the scaling up of the project in other communities in the Region would help empower more smallholder women farmers economically.