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 on the world by the pandemic.

The consequence of the pandemic according to local economists has left Ghana’s socio-economic foundation wobbly-impacting many crucial industries.

Agriculture, the lifeblood of the economy has not  been spared the brunt of the marauding pandemic .Covid-19 has sank its manifold fangs deep into the agro-value chain system-ensuring that food security and other positive milestones recently chalked could soon be upturned.

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 slated for August 6-7, 2020 at the Golden Bean Hotel, Kumasi, Ashanti region will feature a webinar segment this year to ensure 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 fueled 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 works, expand their horizon, provide recognize and award their works 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 recognizes, encourages and empowers small holder women farmers and women agripreneurs through motivational, training and mentoring sessions. It also recognizes and celebrate the social, economic cultural and agricultural achievements of women, support the advance women entrepreneurship, inspire and build role models, motivate and develop business skills, champion change and innovation, support in breaking down gender stereotype while building economic independence and security, inspire change and ignite interest of women aspiring to go into agriculture and contribute in sowing seed 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 contribution of women, young female ‘agripreneurs’, female students and women with disabilities for their role towards 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 Regional Capital.

Training sessions bothering on finance will also address: “Identity – Access and Appraisal for obtaining credit or loan- Value Chain Optimizations” while another training presentation will bequeath practical knowledge on: “How can women build long-term resilience in future crisis through sustainable mechanization 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”, “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 for participants.

The highlight of the event would be an award presentation dubbed: Gold in the Soil Awards, where various deserving women farmers would be recognized for their astounding contributions to the growth of agriculture in their community and the country.

The Gold in the soil awards is opened for nominations and is spread across fifteen(15) categories that 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, Digital & Innovative Marketing sessions.

Enthralling sessions dubbed: Gathering of the Royals (queen mothers from various regions, to discuss and share issues on………) 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 itinerary for the event.

In 2019, approximately eight hundred and thirty-five (835) women participated in the event, held in the Volta Region.

Organizing partners and Sponsors for this year’s edition include, The Canadian High Commission to Ghana, the 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 downwards following spikes influenced by an inter-city lockdown that stifled the movement of crops from the fields to the market.

Within the agric value chain, the pervasive effect of the pandemic has and continues to have a telling effect on actors – plundering the investment 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 fallout of the pandemic, there still pool of opportunities that can be innovatively taken advantage of to ensure that 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 in 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 the upkeep of the home.

Boost Irrigation

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 yield and ensure seamless supply of income to livelihood and business growth.


Increase the Use of Fertilizers

As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. Women need to ensure the right type of fertilizers are used, and at the right times. Fertilizer education lessens the environmental impact and an analysis of such some training programs in East Africa found they boosted average incomes by 61%.
 

Make Better Use of Information Technology

Information technology can support better crop, fertilizer 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 same 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 increased 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 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 towards 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 the 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 the 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 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.

Affirmative action

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.

Conclusion

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 robs off on almost everyone. Women are naturally wire to be producers and sources- we must collectively acknowledge this traits and fully tap into them as Ghana seeks to get her 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-policy-making and implementation Post Covid-19 and beyond.