Challenges facing women in Northern agricultural supply chains & what can be done about them

Photo by Annie Spratt

This research article was put together by Dr. Abdul Samed Muntaka, Dr. (Mrs.) Matilda Owusu-Bio, Dr. John Manso Frimpong, Ms. Patience Bruce, Miss Christa Agyemang & Prof. Nathaniel Boso 

“Empowering women is key to building a future we want.”

– Amartya Sen, Economist, Philosopher and Nobel Prize Winner. 

The newly established Centre for Applied Research in Supply Chain-Africa (CARISCA) at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology recently sent a team of supply chain researchers to the North of Ghana, to engage with stakeholders to better understand the challenges facing women and disadvantaged groups in low-resource supply chain settings, where poverty incidence is among the highest in the country (Ghana Statistical Service Report).

Given that agriculture is the major source of income to communities in the Northern part of Ghana, the researchers focused on agriculture supply chains (including cultivating, harvesting, storage, processing/milling, packaging, labelling, transporting and marketing/selling) in this part of the country.

The research team uncovered three major challenges which contribute to high poverty incidence, and thus undermine prosperity and quality of life of this vulnerable and disadvantaged group.

The team recommends specific steps that policymakers and business leaders can take to improve the wellbeing of this group.

Challenge 1:

Women are held back by infrastructure inadequacy, obsolete machinery and equipment, and limited access to capital – leading to wasted food and lower wages along the agricultural supply chains in the North of Ghana.

In addition to the severe infrastructural challenges (including poor roads and unreliable power supply, and outmoded irrigation methods) facing this group, several female community leaders said women face difficulties in procuring modern machinery and equipment for mechanised farming, and are at a disadvantage.

They explained that because men always get first priority for financial support and non-land-owning, female farmers are not credit-worthy; hence, women are unable to access capital to finance and market farm produce to private buyers.

Some women said they need to access wholesalers for their produce who will sell it to markets in Southern Ghana, where profits are typically higher. Some women’s farming groups try to get weekly contributions from their members (ranging between GH₵5 to GH₵50) to buy produce in bulk to reap procurement savings; but unfortunately, many members cannot afford these contributions.

International and national Non-Governmental Organisations play an important role in providing revolving loans, but those loan amounts tend to be inadequate for the work needed.

Recommendation: Innovative supply chain financing and corporate investments are needed

While improvements in infrastructure conditions along the agriculture supply chains in rural communities are urgently needed, it is extremely important that locally-relevant and innovative approaches are designed to develop supply chain financing solutions to support vulnerable and disadvantaged suppliers.

New policies and structures are needed to give rural communities greater access to local financial services and capital. Building and protecting local investments and capital, lending circles, communal financing of capital-intensive machinery acquisition and servicing are some of the innovative activities which can help improve access to capital.

To overcome the difficulty of land and property ownership for women and disadvantaged groups, national and local government authorities can take on the role of non-traditional capital suppliers to directly finance local enterprises, lands and farms, which can help local women and disadvantaged groups participate in community capital mobilization and distribution.

Additionally, there is a need for the Ghana government, development partners and traditional financial institutions to develop machinery supply and financing schemes which do not require disadvantaged groups to provide collateral when accessing capital.

This disconnection process can be facilitated by new types of firms – such as Fintechs (financial technology firms) that can assist small suppliers to access resources throughout the supply chain.

There is an opportunity for business leaders in the agricultural wholesale/retail sector to rethink their procurement policies – such that businesses can begin to procure a significant percentage of agricultural produce (and at the right market price) from vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, and report this as a performance indicator.

Challenge 2:

Overcoming traditional gender roles that disenfranchise women’s ability to be active decision-makers in the production and distribution of wealth generated by supply chains

Female participation and wealth gains are shaped at the household level by gendered divisions of labour, time budgets and decision-making.

At the supply chain level, there are differential access to functions, services and resources, and gender-related power disparities in supply chain processes. These gender inequities arise from disparities in access to factors of production and education, gender disparities in time budgets (‘time poverty’), gendered labour markets, and power imbalances which adversely affect participation of females in decision-making.

Community leaders say that women often have family and household obligations which inhibit them from fully participating in the workforce.  When they can fully participate, they believe their husbands often do not understand the importance of their involvement in the workforce because of the benefits to both their families and communities.

To socialise the idea of women taking an active role in supply chains, one woman said there needs to be a cultural shift toward allowing women to fully participate in economic activities.


Rethink traditional economic models which do not capture women’s engagement in the workforce, and develop and sustain educational strategies that inform Ghanaian society about the benefits of women’s participation and success in supply chains.

While the traditional African family structure sees benefits of women being limited to care-giving, home-schooling and domestic duties (Gender Equity Starts in the Home), evidence shows that increasing women’s involvement in economic (including supply chain) activities brings families greater benefits: family prosperity improves as additional funding streams to the house help with resiliency and increase overall income. Quite often, women are the more responsible parent and provider within the home.

There are also benefits beyond the family: increased female roles are good for business, as greater female involvement in leadership contributes to higher productivity and growth (see leave no one behind report).

It is recommended education and gender policymakers in Ghana devise evidence-based educational strategies which are premised on dismantling cultural norms that have historically justified traditional roles of women.

Besides, educational institutions at all levels as well as traditional kinship institutions should be at the forefront of educating Ghanaian society about the socio-economic benefits of increasing women’s roles in economic activities.

Challenge 3:

Limited technological awareness, knowledge of market conditions, and supply chain educational opportunities has created market mismatches, and subsequent waste.

Only 20% of the women in one farming community have access to a mobile phone, and the ones who do own a phone said they did not know how to maximise it for their economic gain.

The team finds that most women involved in agriculture supply chains have only basic knowledge of using mobile devices for personal communication, and no understanding of how to use their phones for business purposes.

For women who do not have mobile devices or experience of using one, they tend to rely on relatives for support. Female leaders in these communities expressed a desire to take supply chain training courses on their phones, to learn how to process, package and market their produce to generate additional revenue.

Some indicated a strong desire to learn how to market their produce and capitalise on market trends, as well as learn English for business purposes. Some women said they did not have enough money to pay for training courses or send their children to school, so they would be interested in opportunities and scholarships that provide access to needed information.


Leverage new and existing knowledge and technology to improve supply chains

The team recommends two major ways to increase knowledge and benefits of technology use for this group:

First, it is important to develop easy-to-use, accessible and affordable mobile-based toolkits and training manuals to educate vulnerable and disadvantaged groups about supply chains (e.g., ShipShape supply chain mobile application for healthcare supply chain practitioners).

These toolkits and training manuals can also help improve supply chain activities of disadvantaged groups in low-resource supply chain settings. Second, given that this group suffers high post-harvest losses at the tail-end of the supply chain, it is important for appropriate technologies using locally available materials to be developed to improve agricultural supply chains in these settings.

Currently, KNUST postgraduate students and faculty are experimenting with solar-based and wood-ash-based technologies to increase the lifespan of fresh agricultural produce; and there is another technology being experimented on for converting vegetables and fruit into powder forms. These technologies need refining and scaling for them to make significant impacts on the livelihood of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

This is where business leaders, NGOs, development partners and research institutions have a role to play in terms of partnering with CARISCA and KNUST to further refine and finance these technologies and toolkits.

CARISCA is leading the way to improve educational opportunities for women and other disadvantaged groups in underdeveloped supply chains. It has launched a quarterly gender webinar, awarded over 60 Masters’ and PhD scholarships to women and individuals from disadvantaged groups, and is developing a series of digital toolkits and training manuals to assist non-traditional learners learn about how to improve supply chain activities so as to maximise their incomes and profits.

The toolkits and training manuals will help build their skills in time management and scheduling; technology-use in supply chains, marketing and branding; financial management; quality control; product development; and logistics management in low-resource supply chain settings.

CARISCA would like to know your thoughts. Please reach out to [email protected] to learn more about CARISCA research projects, educational programmes and engagement activities, and for opportunities to collaborate with the CARISCA team.

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