Agricultural activities in the Northern Region have been alternative means of livelihood for most rural women who engage in them for survival and income generation.
It is also through the activities of these women that food security and job creation in the region and the country as a whole are enhanced and they, therefore, need to be commended and empowered to continue to contribute to dealing with the socio-economic needs of the country.
Farming, shea picking and related activities are said to be fundamental to Ghana’s economy because almost everybody depends on agricultural products either for domestic or commercial purposes.
Statistics show that the sector employs almost 45 percent of the population, of which most are women and contribute 21 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Government of Ghana (GoG) considers it a key sector and unveiled key flagship pro-poor programmes such as the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ), and Rearing for Food and Jobs (RFJ) among others with the aim of increasing productivity.
Another flagship programme is the Ghana Green Project where the government through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and the Forestry Commission committed to growing over 50,000 economic trees including shea trees to replace the aged ones to boost the activities of the rural women in the shea business.
Agricultural growth is said to be the major driver of poverty reduction, especially in Northern Ghana, an area characterised by high poverty and malnutrition and has attracted some non-governmental organisations to invade the area to help harness the potential to alleviate poverty.
Agriculture and its related activities have been noted as the largest source of employment for the rural communities who are mostly smallholder farmers with five or fewer acres of farmlands for their production, which means they have limited possibilities for commercial farming.
According to a report from the Department of Agriculture in the Northern region, nearly 1,000 women have been engaged in agricultural-related activities for job creation and empowerment through private initiatives that have enabled the beneficiaries to contribute to the upkeep of the families and the nation.
In the shea sector, some are engaged in shea picking, processing, marketing or selling while others are into the technicalities.
Women were noted to be only engaged in the picking but with the support from government and private initiatives, they have been able to add value to the business by not only picking but processing shea into various cosmetic products.
As of June 2022, the Savannah Agricultural Productivity Improvement Programme (SAPIP) with support from the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) has benefitted 3,600 women from 58 women and youth groups with an average of 25 members each in the household and nutrition project.
This is to improve nutrition at the household levels as well empower them financially via income generation, and improved vegetable garden projects to supplement their income and household nutrition.
With the Savannah Investment Programme (SIP) under the poultry household programme, about 1,000 rural women and youth have been supported with 120 layer birds each with a cage battery, free medication and feed to help them in their production.
The Value Chain and Agribusiness Specialist at SAPIP, Mr. Wilson Doku who disclosed this in an interview said the programme seeks to provide training to raise agricultural productivity to scientists, extension agents, agro-dealers, farmers, and community members.
SAPIP designed with a total cost of US$56.32 million was launched in May 2018 to support the effort of the government within the context of the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSODA-II 2014-2017), he said.
The project, he noted has a life span of five years (2018-2022), of which by the end of its five-year lifespan, the project would be reaching out to 50,000 direct beneficiaries and 500,000 indirect farmers nationwide through the input subsidy program of the PFJ.
Under the programme, 30 percent of them are women and youth focusing on promoting household nutrition and improved food security through vegetable production, he said.
We also liaise with the private sector to provide information to farmers on the available business opportunities and take full advantage to advance their business and livelihoods in the communities as well as organise training for the farmers to enhance their knowledge of their businesses, he added.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working with Ecom Agroindustrial Corp. (ECOM), a global commodity trading company, as well as their international brand name partners, including Hershey’s, to strengthen women’s land rights and economically empower women in the cocoa value chain in Ghana.
The agricultural sector in Ghana still faces key constraints that curtail it from becoming competitive to driving economic growth. These constraints include sub-optimal sector coordination; low yields; weak market linkages and high post-harvest losses and low access to finance. Others include a lack of storage facilities, a market, poor road networks, and in-service training.
Access to markets and integration in value chains also remains a challenge. This is exacerbated by the lack of finance available to the farmers or the pickers to invest in increasing their production or adding value to their products. Most of the farmers neither have savings nor access to finance in the rural areas, and this goes specifically for women.
The farmers also have several challenges that affect their productivity including a lack of skills, the use of improved seeds, access to tractor services or other machinery, access to land and productive resources especially for women, low soil quality, high post-harvest losses; access to water is limited because 96 percent of agriculture in the region is rain-fed.
The small-scale farmers also lack the capacity in finance and volume to start viable businesses and take part in the existing value chains.
Access to decent work and employment is a major challenge to some youth and women from rural communities.
As a result, there is widespread poverty, especially in the northern regions of Ghana among women and children. The small-scale farmers also lack the needed capacity to identify and take advantage of the few available business opportunities in the agricultural commodity value chain.
The few pockets of available potential business cases are challenged with; limited finances to propel their business growth, and capacity to effectively manage their businesses, among others so as to grow their businesses into competitive commercial businesses
Fertile land is another issue required to increase crop productivity, however, the experience is that almost all farmlands used continuously by the women farmers are low quality (infertile) but they still struggle to get something home while the fertilised ones in the care of the men
Inorganic fertilisers applied to farms are of little benefit to plant growth due to leaching. This is due to the lack of humus in the soil, poor porosity, and poor soil structure among others.
On climate-resilient farming, drip irrigation and SMART farming for sustainable agricultural productivity, the erratic rainfall patterns manifest their impacts in reduced crop yields since crops do not have enough water for the entire growing season.
Climate change vulnerability in Ghana is said to be greatest for those who already experience high poverty, have limited access to alternative livelihoods, are strongly dependent on natural resources and have the lowest capacity to cope with these changes.
Female-headed households and smallholder farmers are the most at-risk groups hence the need for the provision of irrigation dams to ensure year-round crop production to boost food security.
The plants and fertiliser Act of Ghana which seeks to provide information on the plants including the procedures and precautions in chemical applications are not well understood by the farmers and needed intensive awareness creation to educate the farmers on the adherence to the laws to patronise certified seeds for their productions.
Livestock production is a major source of livelihood, income and employment for many farmers and also a coping mechanism to reduce the climate change impacts. As a result, the government unveils a flagship program on Rearing for Food and Jobs to promote the livestock sector. This programme has also helped some farmers to generate some revenue for their families and also inject it into their productions to increase their businesses.
It is said that a lack of skills in good agronomic practices, access to tractor services or other machinery, access to land and productive resources especially for women, low soil quality, high post-harvest losses, access to water is limiting and agriculture is hampered by the activities of farmers to produce to meet the demands of the market.
There is therefore the need for government and stakeholders to adhere to the cry of the farmers who put food on the table to address their grievances.
Savannah Women Integrated Development Agency (SWIDA – GH), a non-governmental organisation, also called on stakeholders in the agricultural sector to empower rural women farmers with adequate information on modern agricultural practices for increased productivity.