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Empowering women in agric, time to address gender disparity

Ghanaian women constitute the bedrock of agriculture, forming over half of the labour force and continue to contribute enormously to the sector by producing 70 per cent of the country’s food stock.

They are highly represented in rural agric which is key to the sustainability of the sector generally, and they play a key role from production to distribution and to marketing.

They constitute about 95 per cent of those involved in agro-processing and 85 per cent of those in food distribution, states a research by the Peasant Farmers Association (PFAG), SEND-Ghana and Action Aid Ghana on “Women and Smallholder Agriculture in Ghana”.

The research has shown that the relative growth in the sector, over the last five years, with the highest at 12.7 per cent, with its benefits accruing thereof to smallholder farmers, has not been fairly distributed between men and women farmers.

It emerged that men farmers have benefited more than women in government programmes such as Youth in Agric and the National Fertiliser Subsidy programmes.

Their contribution to agric varies even more widely depending on the specific crops under cultivation and type of involvement.

Many of these women in food production are considered repositories of knowledge on cultivation, processing and preservation of crop variety.

Ghana’s agric sector is rapidly changing; presents opportunities, challenges and risks to women and men farmers with regard to knowledge, advancement in innovations and technology, climate and market changes and food security.

Research by the Civil Society Coalition on Land have shown that on the average, only 10 per cent of women farmers in Ghana own land compared to 23 per cent, and which reflects deep-rooted land tenure customary practices and laws.

Madam Juliana Kelle at Ko in the Nandom Municipal in the Upper West Region cultivates groundnut, yam and tomatoes on a portion of her husband’s land, and has limited access to credit and so is unable to increase productivity.

“Without access to credit at low interest rates we are unable to invest in future production and diversify into producing new crops,” she said.

The National Women’s Leader of the Farmers Organisation Network in Ghana (FONG), Madam Lydia Sasu, lamented that although rural women were hardly recognised in the agricultural sector, they contributed a great deal of their labour to support the weeding, harvesting and carrying of the final product to the marketing centres for sale.

“We may be insignificant, but our efforts can’t also go unrecognised. We need simple inputs, good storage facilities and access to credit to make it in agric,” she said.

Ms Sasu called for a strong partnership with the private sector in order to have financial resources by way of loans to undertake agricultural activities.

Market availability and access are constraints to women farmers and agro-processors.

Producing gari (a staple made from fresh cassava, which is grated, the excess liquid is squeezed out and the remaining cassava is then fried over an open fire) has been a lifetime business for Faustina Levi and her mother for the past 40 years, at Odumase, Dodowa in the Shai Osudoku District in the Greater Accra Region.

She said the difficulty in accessing market information has resulted in weak bargaining power which forces them to use intermediaries to market their products, which leads to cheating and distortion in prices of agric products.

“We don’t get much as a result of these issues, but we continue to do it so as to survive,” she lamented.

Madam Comfort Bortsi, a cassava dough producer, also at Odumase Dodowa, said she and her colleagues in the business have never received any assistance from the government or other stakeholders to improve their work.

To her, any assistance to them in the form of simple technologies such as a processing plant would help most of the youth in the area, and they as women especially to be self-sufficient and improve their socio-economic development.

“It has always been vain promises. All we need are simple things such as structures and machines for peeling and grinding cassava and we can do more in contributing to food security,” she explained.

The demand for extension service delivery has increased over the years but availability remains low for both women and men, with less than 1,600 Agric Extension Officers (AEOs) countrywide as of January 2017, and which did not augur well for effective farming, especially for women smallholder farmers who badly need the assistance of these officers.

Previously, AEO farmer ratio was 1:1,500 coupled with low AEO running motor bike ratio (0.5).

However, the government through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) recruited additional 2,700 AEOs across the country in 2017 and distributed 3,000 motorbikes to officers.

Farming in Ghana remains largely subsistence in nature with limited availability of tractors for ploughing. As a result, women farmers continue to heavily rely on the hand hoe and human labour.

MOFA has established Agricultural Mechanisation Service Centres (AMSEC) to enable farmers who cannot afford to own agricultural equipment and machinery to have access to timely mechanised services.

Studies have shown that few farmers benefit from the scheme.

Difficulties in agric financing

The agricultural sector is perceived as a highly risky one; the effect of changing trends such as climate change and improper record keeping by farmers among many other things are all but a few of the reasons why funding to the sector by banks is often not attractive.

Although the banks insist on providing lending to the sector, a bulk of the loans go to support the importation of agriculture products, including poultry but they do little or nothing when it comes to crop production.

The Annual Percentage Rates (APR) and Average Interest (AI) released by the Bank of Ghana (BoG) revealed an average interest rate on agricultural loans by banks has increased marginally to 33.2 per cent.

There is also the lack of market access especially for perishable goods and poor infrastructure such as warehousing and feeder roads to facilitate market access, which causes farmers to make losses from production, hence their inability to repay loans.

The General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for pragmatic means to alleviate the challenges facing women in the agricultural sector.

Its General Secretary, Mr Edward Kareweh, said women in the sector faced enormous challenges which, when targeted, would eventually alleviate the challenges facing men and all others involved in agric.

“We can’t seek to grow agric when we do not focus on addressing the needs of women as major stakeholders.

We simply have to address their needs in terms of distributing at the marketing level and we will do a great service to them than mere rhetoric,” he said.

He added that the farmers awards programme should consider special prizes for women in various aspects of agric to take cognisance of the gender inequalities and different levels of access to opportunities within the sector.

The Women in Agriculture Development Directorate (WIAD) is a technical directorate under MOFA and exists to address specific gender issues in agriculture.

It is primarily responsible for policy formulation; developing and implementation of policies which are beneficial to women farmers and agro-processors in the rural, suburban and urban communities.

It has four units, namely: nutrition; value addition; food safety; and gender mainstreaming of all agricultural policies, programmes and projects.

The acting Director of WIAD, Ms Paulina Addy, said WIAD also carry out new product/recipe development and sensory evaluation on new crops.

“We have given a lot of women businesses in the sector.

Soybean for example has been promoted so much and some have added it to gari.

They are self-reliant now. Some have improved packaging while others use new crop variety such as orange flesh sweet potato to do bread, drinks, etc.,” she stated.

She said WIAD tries to give women in agric opportunities in skill training, mentoring and entrepreneurship.

Nevertheless, its own challenges of limited funding, inadequate human resource and logistics have restricted it in attaining its vision of being “a highly competent public institution that supports livelihoods and well-being of especially women in the agricultural sector”.

“Women in agric are important to the entire agric value chain.

We are in production and post-production, and so I think we should look at the prospects and see how best we can get good business out of agric.

It may not be easy due to lack of funding but with determination and right technology we can make it,” she urged.

Experts say agricultural policies and programmes that exclude the primary producers of food are self-defeating. Eradicating gender discrimination is one of the key ways to increase the supply of food and income of farmers.

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