The tumultuous impact of COVID-19 around the world is no longer news. A new decade that began with overwhelming optimism soon dissipated in the face of socio-economic desolation visited upon the world by the pandemic.
The consequences of the pandemic, according to local economists, have left Ghana’s socio-economic foundation wobbly – impacting many crucial industries.
Agriculture, the lifeblood of the economy, has not been spared from bearing the brunt of the marauding pandemic. COVID-19 has sunk its manifold fangs deep into the agro-value chain system – ensuring that food security and other positive milestones recently chalked up are at risk of being overturned.
Following rallying calls by government for all to put their shoulders to the wheel in safeguarding what’s left of the economy, Agri-house Foundation has identified women as a cardinal pivot for this – particularly through agriculture.
This is demonstrated by a panel discussion segment dedicated to Assessing and understanding the challenges and opportunities for women in Agriculture Post COVID-19 and beyond’, at the Women in Food and Agric Leadership Training Forum & Expo (WOFAGRIC 2020) and the Gold in the Soil Awards event.
The event is slated for August 6-7, 2020 at the Golden Bean Hotel, Kumasi, Ashanti Region; and will feature a webinar segment this year, to ensure that the immense emphasis placed on social distancing as a key measure in the prevention of COVID-19 is guaranteed.
Since its inception, the event has fuelled a renewed sense of advocacy, recognition and capacity improvement for women who operate within the agriculture value chain.
The annual event is Agrihouse’s expert opinion-sharing, mentoring, networking and learning platform for women in agriculture, agripreneurs, key stakeholders, development partners, researchers, farmer groups, government agencies, businesses, civil society, investment and professional advisors, and corporate leaders.
The affirmative action-driven initiative forms part of efforts to empower women, promote their work, expand their horizon, provide recognition and award their work, and further mentor and inspire other women to venture into Agribusiness.
The event also serves as a leadership-building, soft skills and competence-based training platform that recognises, encourages and empowers smallholder women farmers and women agripreneurs through motivational training and mentoring sessions. It also recognises and celebrates the social, economic cultural and agricultural achievements of women, supports the advance women entrepreneurship, inspires and builds role-models, motivates and develops business skills, champions change and innovation, supports in breaking down gender stereotypes while building economic independence and security, inspires change and ignites the interest of women aspiring to go into agriculture, and contributes in sowing seeds for gender equality through agriculture.
Billed under the theme Transforming and Sustaining Women in Agriculture: The Role of Public, Private and Development Partners, the event will also pay tribute to the efforts and contributions of women, young female ‘agripreneurs’, female students and women with disabilities for their role toward ensuring food security, poverty alleviation and employment creation.
A panel presentation on ‘Post COVID-19 and beyond: Assessing and understanding the challenges and opportunities for women in Agriculture’, will open the event in the Ashanti Region capital.
Training sessions bordering on finance will also address ‘Identity – Access and Appraisal for obtaining credit or loan- Value Chain Optimisations’, while another training presentation will bequeath practical knowledge on ‘How can women build long-term resilience in future crises through sustainable mechanisation and Technology?’
A Market Accessibility training session will address the subject of ‘Giving women farmers support to enhance their productivity and market the food they produce, through e-commerce channels’.
Insightful subjects like ‘Effective ways for women in agriculture to increase their ability to produce food for their communities during COVID-19 and beyond’; and ‘How do we ensure that the primary drivers of the sector – the smallholder women farmers – are included and empowered, and their economic outcomes enhanced?’ will be treated as individual topics to allow for holistic knowledge-acquisition by participants.
The event’s highlight will be an award presentation dubbed ‘Gold in the Soil Awards’, wherein various deserving women farmers will be recognised for their astounding contributions to the growth of agriculture in their communities and the country.
The Gold in the Soil awards is open for nominations and is spread across fifteen(15) categories which include: Passion for Farm Award, She Innovates Award, Super Woman Farmer Award, Outstanding Woman in Extension Services Award, She-Operates, Star Woman Agripreneur Award, Diamond in the Rough Award, Feed to Food Award, Change Champion Award, Royal Agro Award (Queen mothers), Lady of the Region Export Award, Climate-Smart Women Project Award, Princess Carla Award, Development Partner Award, and the most-coveted Gold in the Soil Award.
Activities slated for the two-day event include exhibitions and other thematic subjects: namely At the Table – Agri Women Panel Discussion; The Wave-Maker (10:1) Mentorship Session; Leadership & best practices Training sessions; Identity and Financial Management Session; and Digital & Innovative Marketing sessions.
Enthralling sessions dubbed Gathering of the Royals (queen mothers from various regions, to discuss and share issues) Panel dialogue; Lead & Impact stories, Fire in My Heart; Grace in My Soul Motivational series and Experience sharing; Gold in the Soil Documentary & Awards, and Exhibitions complete the event’s itinerary.
In 2019, approximately eight hundred and thirty-ﬁve (835) women participated in the event, held in the Volta Region.
Organising Partners and Sponsors for this year’s edition include The Canadian High Commission to Ghana; Ministry of Food and Agriculture; Absa; Yara Ghana; Browngi; Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD); National Farmers & Fishermen Award Winners’ Association of Ghana; Business & Financial Times; Kumasi FM, Fox FM and Royal TV.
A ‘New Normal’ Agric- Industry
The unprecedented forced change being experienced by the world means we must all embrace the ‘new normal’. Indeed, the agribusiness world has been altered significantly – with people unable to congregate en mass for conferences and business meetings.
While crop production has gained some stability around the country, prices are only slowly being adjusted downward following spikes influenced by an inter-city lockdown that stifled the movement of crops from fields to the markets.
Within the agric value chain, the pervasive effect of the pandemic has had and continues to have a telling effect on actors – plundering the investments of many.
This has necessitated a paradigm shift in how business and other related activities are conducted within the local agric sector. The onus is therefore on all stakeholders to accept the ‘new normal’, and work out practical modalities to ensure that the entire industry comes to appreciate the need to innovate in order to remain afloat and relevant in business.
Opportunities despite the muddle
Though business and related activities have not fared greatly for agric-industry practitioners, the story is not one of total gloom.
The indomitable Ghanaian spirit and a knack to innovate are a potent mix of what is required to overcome.
While women practitioners are some of the hardest hit from the pandemic’s fallout, there is still a pool of opportunities that can be innovatively taken advantage of to ensure we collectively get the industry back on its feet.
Specifically, women can take advantage of the following basic methodologies to revive their agro enterprises and ensure continued relevance:
Invest in High-Yield Crops
To survive the economic challenges that the world will have to grapple with for the foreseeable future, women agri-prenuers must deliberately identify high-yielding crops and invest in same. Most women in Ghana are breadwinners, so it is important to ensure a steady supply of resources for upkeep of the home.
With the growing effects of climate change on weather patterns, more irrigation will be needed. Average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of nearby rain-fed farms. This means women in areas with sparse rainfall must rely heavily on irrigation for expansion. This will guarantee bountiful yields and ensure a seamless supply of income to livelihood and business growth.
Increase the Use of Fertilisers
As soil fertility deteriorates, fertiliser-use must increase. Women need to ensure the right type of fertilisers are used, and at the right times. Fertiliser education lessens the environmental impact, and an analysis of such some training programmes in East Africa found they boosted average incomes by 61%.
Make Better Use of Information Technology
Information technology can support better crop, fertiliser and pesticide selection. It also improves land and water management, provides access to weather information, and connects farmers to sources of credit. Women in the industry will have to improve understanding of new technology and rely on it to make the most of agriculture. Reliance on technology will help give women-farmers information about crop prices in different markets, among other benefits, and consequently increase their bargaining power during and post COVID-19.
Explore genetically modified (GM) crops
The adoption of GM crops in Africa and indeed Ghana remains limited. But with the fallout of the pandemic and Africa’s rapid population growth, high-yield GM crops that are resistant to weather-shocks provide an opportunity for women to actively participate in efforts to address food insecurity, as well as securing their livelihoods and investments. An analysis of more than one hundred studies found that GM crops reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased yields by 22%, and farmer profits by 68%.
Step up integration into Agricultural Value Chains (AVCs
Women groups must support and coordinate the integration of smallholder farmers into larger cooperatives and groups to help with value chain penetration.
It is important that women move progressively toward a more diversified area of dominance instead of the prevailing reliance on traditional cash crops and areas of investments.
Hurdles on the pathway/Challenges
Despite their central importance to agriculture, which sees women produce a great chunk of our food, women are confronted by age-old challenges that could be further exacerbated by effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant disruptions.
Research suggests that about 80% of agricultural production comes from small-scale farmers, who are mostly rural women. This means no effort should be spared in putting women in good stead to thrive in the industry, as this ultimately has ripple-effects on society.
Training is crucial
The training of rural women is very important, especially with the adoption of modern agricultural techniques that are tailored to local conditions and use natural resources in a sustainable manner, with a view to achieving economic development without degrading the environment. The traditional and sometimes obsolete farming practices must give way to new forward-looking practices that will consequently lead to improved livelihood for these women and their dependents.
Training efforts must be backed by the provision of extension services, storage facilities, rural infrastructure (roads, electricity, and information and communication technologies), access to markets and access to credit, as well as supporting organisations and farmer cooperatives. This will ensure that the impact of training schemes is felt by the farmers – and in extension by society.
A commitment to training women farmers is a guaranteed means of breaking the vicious cycle that leads to rural poverty. Because of the nurturing role that women play in families, any intellectual investment made goes a long way to help build the capacity of several individuals in society.
Practicable affirmative action is by far one of the surest ways of safeguarding the interests of women in agriculture.
Instead of intermittent interventions, a solid affirmative action roadmap would go a long way to ensure that concrete success is achieved in efforts to improve the lot of women who have committed themselves to working hard to feed the country through the noble art of farming.
Networks operating in rural areas, especially rural women’s organisations, are crucial to the conception of development programmes. These organisations must partner in crafting any policies for women farmers, as experience has shown that contributions from such actors are often invaluable.
A number of other changes will strengthen women’s contributions to agricultural production and sustainability. These include support for investment in rural areas in order to improve women’s living and working conditions; giving priority to technological development policies targetting rural and farm women’s needs, and recognising their knowledge, skills and experience in the production of food and the conservation of biodiversity; and assessing the negative effects and risks of farming practices and technology, including pesticides on women’s health, and taking measures to reduce use and exposure.
The immense contribution of women to the agric sector is too huge to ignore. Because of their dynamic nature and proven resourcefulness, efforts either being made or conceived to strengthen the agric sector must focus on empowering them. The rationale behind this line of thought is simple – when a woman is empowered to succeed, it rubs-off onto almost everyone. Women are naturally wired to be producers and sources – we must collectively acknowledge these traits and fully tap into them as Ghana seeks to get its economy back, and stronger.
Also important is the need to usher-in a new epoch that will see women venture into agricultural education and training, research and extension services – as well as supply chain logistics, agri-technology, agric-policymaking and implementation post COVID-19 and beyond. FIN