As morning draws near in Funsi, a community of about 7000 people in the Upper West Region, smallholder farmers can be seen hanging farm tools around their necks and shoulders. In what looks like an arranged march, these farmers are rushing to their farms to start digging and sowing in a bid to use their harvest – however little – to cover their domestic bills.
What is unique about this is the number of women who have joined in this daily activity.
Rather than being reduced to just cooking for the whole extended family at home, catering for the numerous kids, doing every house chore from fetching firewood to washing utensils and ultimately being made stay-at-home wives, these women have overlooked generation-old cultural norms to become active contributors of the nation’s economy. They play a critical role in supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security, generating income, and improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being.
Regardless of these successes, these women have continuously been presented with many challenges that have prevented them from independently owning or managing land. They are terribly short of basic tools and inputs, extension services and technical advice, credit logistics, relevant research, and appropriate infrastructure and technology. In short, they have not received the backing they need in order to succeed.
And this is not because they are less gifted than men. It is not because they are less capable. And it is certainly not because they’re less driven. Although they make up almost half the agricultural workforce in the country, they simply aren’t getting the same level of sustenance and investment as men.
Fatawu Haduma is a woman farmer and leader of the Amayaana Women’s Group in Yaala No.2. Irrespective of the hard work she puts into her daily farming routines, she does not own the piece of land she farms on. She shares in that problem with other women farmers who have not been able to increase their productions because they do not have enough lands.
Fatawu and the other women farmers also cannot afford to buy fertilizer, certified seeds or even have access to tractors for timely ploughing of their agricultural lands; a very worrying trend for a group which contributes largely to agriculture by providing labour for planting, weeding, harvesting and processing, resulting in 70 per cent of food crop production in the country.
“I’m making great efforts in growing soybean, groundnut, and bambara beans and hoping to also cultivate maize. But I make very little money because I don’t have a large farm to grow these crops on.” Fatawu says.
“In our culture, woman can only have control over small things, like the chickens, clothes, cooking pots and blankets. But not over something like land.”
In Funsi’s case, as per the custom and traditions of the area, men are the sole custodians of all lands available. This implies that the land open for use by women are only those that are provided for by the men. Without formal land titles, these women have a harder time feeding and educating their large household and children. In the end, agricultural productivity suffers as they are less likely to invest in improving the land.
In what was also a shocking revelation, turns out most of the men do not wish for their female counterparts to be ‘more successful’ than them and so will only make available a smaller portion of land as compared to theirs. Meanwhile, the little which is grown by the women is first consumed by the family and the rest sold, leaving them to very little profit. This way the women, even though may wish to do more, are in no position to do so.
Another inhibiting factor preventing women farmers in Funsi, and across the country, is the lack of basic literacy skills. This pushes them into making poor farming decisions, such as an uninformed inclination to purchase ordinary seeds from the market rather than certified seeds, which eventually affects their yield and profit.
Also goes without saying that the world has moved into a more digital phase. Several of the farming technologies and systems being used these days are either computer or mobile phone based. But about 30% of women farmers in Funsi do not own phones due to the abject poverty they find themselves in. The few who own phones only just understand the basic use of making and receiving calls. So anything above this becomes difficult for them.
If there’s ever the need to for instance send weather forecast to such a farmer via text message, most of them would not be able to understand, thus defeating the main aim of such an intervention.
But Farmerline, as part of its dedication to advancing the interests of Ghanaian farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole, has found a unique way of curbing this issue in the bud by providing content via voice messages in the local dialects understood by the farmers.
Farmerline has also partnered with organisations such as MEDA and TUDRIDEP to make the lives of the women in Funsi and their families better through workshops, training sessions and constant reminders through extension officers and mobile service mediations.
This will help empower them to have more control over their farming activities.