Graphic Business News

Empowering women in agric • Time to address gender disparity

By: Ama Amankwah Baafi
Experts say empowering women in agriculture can  help to end hunger
Experts say empowering women in agriculture can help to end hunger

“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,” a woman farmer Madam Lydia Sasu said.

Madam Sasu, who is the National Women's Leader of the Farmers Organisation Network in Ghana (FONG), 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.

Ghanaian women are highly represented in rural agric which is key to the sustainability of the sector. They constitute about 95 per cent of those involved in agro-processing and 85 per cent in food distribution, states a research by the Peasant Farmers Association, 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, at a highest of 12.7 per cent, have benefited men more than women in initiatives such as Youth in Agric and the National Farm Input Subsidy programmes.

Constraints of women farmers
Their contribution to agric varies depending on the crop under cultivation and type of involvement. Many of these women in food production are considered repositories of knowledge on cultivation and preservation of crop variety.
Recent developments in the sector such as knowledge about sustainable intensification, advancement in innovations and technology, climate and market changes, have different impact on women.

Providing needed interventions to women in gari production will improve their livelihoods
The present methods of processing cassava into dough is not the best

Their constraints
Gender inequality is widespread in agric and shows in the limited access to assets, inputs and services including land. A study by the Civil Society Coalition on Land revealed that on the average, 10 per cent of women farmers in Ghana own land compared to 23 per cent of men, and which reflects deep-rooted land tenure customary practices.

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.

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.

“We don’t get much due to the above, 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 were yet to get any assistance from the government or other stakeholders although they needed it to improve their work and be self-sufficient.

“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,” she explained.
Inadequate extension services
Availability remains low for both women and men, with less than 1,600 Agric Extension Officers (AEOs) countrywide as of January 2017.Inadequate extension services
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.

Women farmers continue to rely heavily on the hand hoe and human labour due to limited availability machinery. MOFA has Agricultural Mechanisation Service Centres to enable farmers who cannot afford to own agric equipment to have access to timely mechanised services. Studies have shown that few farmers benefit from the scheme.

Difficulties in agric financing
Banks do not find it attractive to fund the sector because it is perceived to be highly risky with chances of default due to low level of productivity and profitability, and the lack of
assets which can be used as collateral. Even when they do, a bulk of the loans go to support the importation of agriculture products, particularly poultry.

The Annual Percentage Rates (APR) and Average Interest (AI) released by the Bank of Ghana (BoG), 2016 revealed eight out of the 31 banks in Ghana did not extend their financing to the sector.
Poor infrastructure such as warehousing and feeder roads to facilitate market access, causes farmers to make losses from production, hence their inability to repay loans. 

The leader of FONG, Madam Sasu called for a strong partnership with the private sector in order to have financial resources by way of loans to undertake agricultural activities.
The General Secretary of General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), 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 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.
Women Agric Directorate 
The Women in Agriculture Development Directorate (WIAD) is a technical directorate under MOFA and exists to address specific gender issues in agriculture through policy formulation and implementation.
The acting Director of WIAD, Ms Paulina Addy, said WIAD carries 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,” she stated.

Ms Paulina Addy, acting Director of WIADMs Paulina Addy, acting Director of WIAD

Nevertheless, its own challenges of limited funding, inadequate human resource and logistics have restricted it in supporting the livelihoods of women in agric.

“Women 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 but with determination and right technology we can make it,” she urged.

The United Nations projects the global population of around 7 billion now will be about 10 billion by 2050 and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) is on zero hunger.
With increasing population and a number of interests competing for same resources such as water and land space, it behooves stakeholders in the sector to find ways to ensure sustainable food production; make agric yield more with less or same resources. 

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