Cape Coast, May 21, GNA – Agriculture, indisputably, has been the main driving force behind Ghana's economy from pre-colonial times to date, contributing roughly 42 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
It also providing employment to an estimated 54 per cent of the work force. About 80 per cent of those engaged in this economic activity are smallholder farmers with women constituting a significant proportion of the smallholder farming population.
These women are playing vital role to keep many families going but they are faced with some gender-specific challenges including lack of access to land and financial credit.
Research conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) shows that women make up nearly 43 per cent of the agriculture labour force in developing countries.
Agriculture is critical to the life of any economy – providing not only food and raw material but job opportunities to many.
That is why every nation is eager to optimise its agricultural sector - enhance productivity and transform its economy.
Ghana has not been doing enough to grow its agriculture over the years but all that appears to be changing with the introduction of the government’s flagship “Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ)” programme.
At least, in the Central Region, we are seeing some progress – transformation.
Women farmers participating in the programme in the Cape Coast Metropolis, Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem (KEEA) Municipality, Assin North, Assin Central and Assin South, Gomoa East, Ajumako-Eyan-Essiam (AEE) and Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa Districts, have hailed it as a great intervention.
More rural women across the Region are increasingly taking to farming through the PFJ to lift themselves out of poverty.
They are becoming economically empowered, to better take care of their families and contribute to achievement of the United Nation (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly, the goals of ending poverty, malnutrition and enhance human development.
In most of the communities in the KEEA, there is clear evidence of bumper harvest of maize and pepper.
Some excited vegetable farmers confirmed to the Ghana News Agency that "the PFJ has significantly improved our lives."
Naomi Arthur said "last season, I sold over 20 bags of pepper and 56 bags of maize, compared with the five bags of pepper and 23 bags of maize in the previous year.
She added that she would also now be cultivating tomatoes, onion, pepper, lettuce and carrots.
Mr. Peter Dick, the KEEA Municipal Director of Agriculture, described the enthusiasm of the farmers as most refreshing.
He attributed the bumper harvest to farmers’ adherence to good agronomic practices, planting of disease resistant seeds and collaboration with the extension agents.
Most of the rural farmers are into the cultivation of maize, yams, cassava, cocoa, beans, palm oil, pineapples, tomatoes and plantain production considered as ‘men crops’ due to the tedious nature of their cultivation, the physical energy exerted in tilling the land.
The situation in the past where soya beans cultivation was popular with men because it is energy sapping has become radically different. Through capacity and training, women now appear to be taking over from the men.
Elizabeth Ewudzi, 42, said “I have gone through a lot of training, especially change for champions where a lot of different models have been introduced”.
“One of the key success stories is the boost in confidence of women - to venture into otherwise men crops. Women in Agribusiness need strong networking, learning and information sharing on opportunities and new technologies in agribusiness,” she added.
Cecilia Mensah, a young farmer, asked that women farmers were given the recognition they deserved and appreciated.
It is important to recognize that not much progress could be made, when over half of the nation's agricultural labour force are faced with a range of economic and social challenges - lack of access to land, market, outmoded agricultural technologies and inputs.
Women empowerment is one of the critical issues for stakeholders to consider in order to enable them to participate fully in agriculture and across the value chain.
Empowered women, can help Ghana achieve the Ghana Beyond Aid vision faster and more sustainably as noted by the late former UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, that: “there is no tool more effective than the empowerment of women”.
Promoting a broad-based, inclusive economic growth, means unlocking everyone’s potential including women and the youth.
They should be assisted to take advantage of major initiatives like the PFJ, Youth in Agriculture Programme, One District One Factory and the One Village, One Dam, to better their economic conditions.
Women in agribusiness in the region want increased financial support to expand their activities.
They say rural women in agribusiness should have unlimited "strings free" finance to drive women-led agriculture revolution.
Many of them, who have ventured into the production of crops often seen as ‘men crops’ require aggressive capacity building efforts that will lead to improved leadership skills.
To end the ‘no credit syndrome’ in agriculture, they are proposing strategic savings and loans facility for women to generate their own money and invest to transform their businesses.
Government’s agriculture policies need to deliberately favour women – supply them with vital inputs to make farming less stressful.
Men should also accept to give support to women, keen to venture into farming to enable them increase production.
Again, it is important that women farming groups worked closely with the District Agriculture Directors in their various districts for smooth running of these groups.
The participation of more women farmers in the PFJ programme would make it more equitable, sustainable, and productive than one based on a large-scale farm model.
The government’s focus on private sector investments in the agriculture sector makes it critical to protect women’s rights.
To achieve gender equality in the sector demands that all stakeholders played they roles well in ensuring that agricultural policy interventions benefited women and men equally. There should be fair and equitable distribution of resources including land.
The woman farmer should receive planting materials on time to achieve high crop yield.
This I strongly believe is the way forward to increase crop production and returns. We should be mindful of the fact that one cannot increase crop yield when they do not have quality planting materials.
Gender segmentation in agriculture; weak protection of common property system; gender differential in care work, acquiring land and credit should not be allowed to continue.
Agricultural machines should be made women-friendly so as to attract more women into the sector.
There are few women in there with limited job opportunities in the operation of many of some farm machines and restricted to the most difficult tasks - weeding and planting.
Not only should they be trained in machine operations but in extension service as done in some other African countries.
Achieving gender balance in farming means having access to land, access to cheap technologies and inputs, digital access, micro-finance and basic savings and loans, more women extension officers and more innovative training programmes for women.
Africa has close to 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable lands, enough sunshine for long growing seasons, expanding market for foods and the youthful population.
Creating a generation of modern, competitive and environmentally sustainable agricultural sector that ensures food security, supports a middle class lifestyle for a growing number of farmers and power Africa’s economic transformation is the way to go.
Priority should be on modernising farming by boosting productivity and running farms as modern business, strengthening linkages between farms and other economic sectors and in utually beneficial process where farm output supports manufacturing (through agro-processing) and other sectors support farming with modern manufactured inputs and services.
Challenges with access to land and security of tenure, low farm productivity, weak value chain; storage, transport and aging farming population should be confronted head-on.
“We have to also fill-in the missing middle-educated youth; farmer education, finance and input, warehouse receipt system and storage, export markets, certification-cold storage at airport, processors, supermarkets, government food procurement and large contract farmers,” Mr Dick said.
Additionally, there should be improvement of the storage and transport infrastructure to reduce post-harvest losses.
More need to be done in the areas of packaging and branding for our agriculture products to favourably compete on the international market.
The solution to poor agriculture growth in Africa is the green revolution -improved seeds, fertilizers, improved farmer knowledge and irrigation. These should be readily available and affordable to African farmers.
For agriculture to power industry, there would have to be stronger collaboration between the ministries of agriculture, finance, trade and industry, export and investment promotion agencies.
It is recommended that the Gender Ministry and the School Feeding Secretariat (SFS) liaised with women groups across the country to buy their farm produce to boost production.
The SFS is working with over 24,000 women - caterers, agribusinesses and farmers, who have been supplying schools with rice, maize, beans, groundnuts, tomatoes and onions.
To forestall post-harvest losses, guaranteed markets must be provided to complement supply measures so that once enough produce is stored for domestic consumption, the surplus may be commercially processed and sold to domestic urban markets or exported to regional and international markets.
Value addition to our agricultural raw materials must be our topmost priority as it can spark off a chain of economic activities that will create direct and indirect jobs and also generate the needed revenue for development projects.
If we are able to transform agriculture in the country, we will not only be creating greater economic growth but also become self-sufficient.
We should measure the success or otherwise of policies by how well these are addressing issues like labour, credit and technology.
It is pertinent to also to pay attention to gender smallholder agrarian system.
We need to appreciate that until reforms in production go alongside with marketing reforms, it is going to be difficult to turn around the economic fortunes of Ghana through agriculture.
Ghana can attain its vision of self-reliance faster and more sustainably if it empowers the people, especially women, and particularly, those in agriculture.