Women are the backbone of societal growth; and it’s difficult to think of any thriving sphere of life that is independent of a positive feminine influence.
In Ghana, the annals are strewn with outstanding women who have shone bright in often spectacular fashion. While this is refreshing, the prominences of women in a crucial facet of national life like agric remains underwhelming despite being central to the success of the hugely important sector.
Despite their central importance to agriculture, which sees women produce a great chunk of our food, women farmers are sadly excluded from conversations that determine agricultural policies, while unfair laws and practices deprive them of their land, their rights, and their livelihoods.
In Ghana, about 80% of agricultural production comes from small-scale farmers, who are mostly rural women. Women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, a situation that means we cannot afford to treat women in agric with hands of levity.
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 that 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 organizations and farmer cooperatives. This will ensure that the impact of training schemes is felt by the farmers- and in extension the 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 individual in society.
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Practicable affirmative action is by far one of the surest ways of safeguarding the interest of women in agriculture.
Instead of intermittent interventions, a solid affirmative action roadmap will 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 organizations are crucial to the conception of development programs. These organizations 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 targeting rural and farm women’s needs and recognizing 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.
Feminization of agriculture
Feminisation of agriculture refers to women’s increasing participation in the agricultural labor force, whether as independent producers, as unremunerated family workers, or as agricultural wage workers. Specifically, feminisation of agriculture entails:
1. An increase in women’s participation rates in the agricultural sector, either as self-employed or as agricultural wage workers; in other words, an increase in the percentage of women who are economically active in rural areas.
2. An increase in the percentage of women in the agricultural labor force relative to men, either because more women are working and/or because fewer men are working in agriculture.
[ Feminization of Agriculture: Trends and Driving Forces]
According to the FAO, while the proportion of the labor force working in agricultural declined over the 1990s, the proportion of women working in agriculture increased, particularly in developing countries. In some regions such as Africa and Asia, almost half of the labor force is women. This trend has been called the feminisation of agriculture. This feminisation of agriculture is caused by increased “casualization” of work, unprofitable crop production and distress migration of men “for higher casual work in agriculture and non-agriculture sectors”, leaving women to take up low paid casual work in agriculture.
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The Women in Agricultural Development Directorate (WIAD), one of the seven Technical Directorates of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has since inception contributed significantly to the cause of women in the agric discipline. Set up with the mandate to supports livelihood and well-being of women in the agricultural sector, the body has made encouraging strides.
The Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services is credited with improving access to extension services for a healthy number of women who hitherto were deprived such opportunities.
The Statistic Research and Information Directorate has in the last few years managed to develop a functional data bank that has proved crucial to identifying the peculiar challenges of different groups of women farmers across the country.
As the body continues to strive harder however, extra effort from other stakeholders remains crucial to achieving a highly functional women agricultural workforce that is fully equipped to alter the status quo.
Elsewhere in Africa
While efforts to promote women interest in agric is gaining ground elsewhere on the African continent, Ghana surely has to do more. Recently, the Global Fund for Women has helped to bring African women farmers to the center of debates aimed at stirring the wheels of advocacy in favour of women farmers on the continent, through the Rural Women Striding Forward initiative. Rural women in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Uganda received information, learned skills, and acquired networking opportunities – and as a result, they were able to provide more food for their families while advancing their human rights.
Key outcomes recorded as a result of the effort by the global fund for women included:
• 5-50% increase in crop yields.
• 30% increase in women’s income.
• 25% of women added one or more income-generating activities.
• The majority of households are now eating 3 meals per day.
• Women enjoyed more respect and became decision-makers in their homes.
• Women took on leadership roles in the community, joining village councils and forming advocacy networks.
There are significant gender disparities in the way that key resources essential for success in agriculture are distributed across Africa. Access to land, inputs, assets, markets, information and knowledge, time, decision-making authority and income still present a challenge for women in the sector.
Studies by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Farming First, and other organisations consistently show that throughout the world, women farmers control less land and make far less use of improved technologies and inputs such as fertiliser. They tend to have less access to credit and insurance and are less likely to receive extension services, which are the main source of information on new technologies in the developing world.
The mammoth effort put into our agric sector by women is too huge to ignore. It is so crucial that we must do everything in our power to safeguard .Failure to do this could see a catastrophic reversal of the massive gains that we have so painstakingly made since Ghana began putting together the foundations of a now burgeoning agric sector. First and crucially, legal and cultural barriers to ownership and access to land, information and extension services, inputs and other resources must give way to women friendly structures and rules that will aid the seamless rise of our women to the highest echelon of world agriculture.
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-policy-making and implementation. Our women are capable and must be encouraged to rise and rise!