Empowering Rural Women Farmers Economically To Reduce Poverty
By Samuel Hinneh
Agriculture is the main pillar of Ghana?s development, the largest contributor to Gross Domestic Product, accounting for about 51%, providing 45% of all export earnings, 12% of tax revenue. (Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) (2003-2005).
Women are the most important actors in the food chain which begins from farm production, market and intra household distribution of food. They have much more limited access to resources than their male counterparts especially in areas of education, land, agricultural extension and access to credit, all of which combine to restrain their ability to increase productivity and incomes.
One individual, Mrs Lydia Sasu is making tremendous efforts to empower rural women farmers economically. Born into a family of farmers, she understands the sufferings of smallholder women farmers. Coming from such poor background, she recollects the same question posed by her ?mother, ?When will farmers become rich???, she said in a low tone in an interview.
It is important to relate poverty and trends in poverty to the economic activities in which households are engaged. In 1998-1999 in particular, poverty was highest by far among food crop farmers where women farmers are highly concentrated.
?We carry the cassava and other crops and walk for about two miles to the market but sometimes when we go the middle men credits. We are small-scale farmers and we are not making needs meet?’.
She offered agriculture (home extension) at the higher level of education which placed her at the centre to fight hunger and poverty among rural women farmers.
With the passion to drive the course of women in agriculture, she received an invitation from the FAO during World Day to assist in the developing of a proposal to assist women farmers, which led to the project, ?Chorkor Smoker?, an initiative which FAO also supported. The Chorkor Smoker she says is a fixed processing of fish using improved methods in the rural areas.
?So it became my first goal, to improve fish smoking using improved methods at the rural areas, I was trained in it and then put myself into it and I stared promoting it , so women who were drying fish on the ground by the road stopped and embraced the method??.
The initiative which operated on value chain process involved getting the fish from the beach, sent home for processing, afterwards goes into the smoking process and finally dried to give it a very good taste compared to the others that did not go through the process.
?We are looking at food security and the women became so much interested.? When they processed it is sent to the Techiman, Kumasi, Accra to sell but they regulate the time of selling it, and more essentially customers also come from outside Ghana to buy??.
She has also spread her wings to other cropping areas where women are engage immensely in vegetables which have led to farming programmes at Okushibide, Akramane, Pokuase, a project which is yielding great results.
With her projects executed with passion, she managed to have cassava production and processing along Obouon. This project ensures that grating of cassava into gari is done without much stress and on time to be sent to the Kasoa market.
?The machine is only one so I was able to have a programme to process it to reduce the amount of time they waste in processing to get good quality gari through self-mentorship in the training process??.
With no financial support at her disposal when her FAO projects came to an end, she went to Sege to transform the lives of some women farmers who were prepared to improve on what they were doing.
?So I went there for about four times but the people did not listen to me but I had time for them and then later on when they realised that I was serious I realised that they had local small pigs but? can improve on that by teaching them the improve method.
?Some women were given five pigs which they started with and those who were serious had a lot and lo and behold the 2009 second best farmer who is a woman came from that area and now can count 300 pigs??.
What makes her work involving is the fact that whatever meetings or travels, she goes with some of this women and where she fail to understand what is happening at the meetings, she translate into their local language, which she says ?what am about is to stop saying that 50% of rural people are women and most of them are illiterate hunger, poverty who is to help them and if nobody goes we will continue saying it so let?s have a remedy to stop all??.
The award winner, who has no formal education, together with other women farmers travelled to Italy with the support of Mrs Sasu, where she stayed with a daily farmer to learn some new techniques in rearing animals. Mrs Sasu says ?according to the man she wakes up early morning and follows them and to witness how they milk and feed the cow??.
Well, the husband of this woman even testifies that upon return a massive change have occurred in her work. This woman award winner never had a formal education now collects all left over vegetables, as part of the feed for her animals which increase production which eventually won her the award in 2009.
This year she received invitation to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW56) in New York to showcase the food processing project, the Chorkor Smoker, which won the interest of the experts. In this regard, this year?s meeting will focus on the challenges of the rural woman in agriculture.
Being a small scale farmer who cultivates cassava and yam she has been nominated to serve on advisory board of Ghana and Nigeria on yam of AGRA, as part of her own initiative she is training women through advocacy to ensure more women also get nominated into such positions.
Mrs Sasu is the leader of Development Action Association, a farmer based non-profit organisation which seek to reduce to poverty and sustainable development among members. The organisation is now operating in 50 communities in Greater Accra, Central, Eastern regions of Ghana with 98% of the beneficiaries being rural women with low education.
To ensure farmers are not cheated by middlemen, Mrs Sasu leads meetings with members of the association to look at the standardising of agricultural produce which will ensure that farmers get the right price for their produce.? With the law in place farmers will get the right price for their produce.
Women?s role in agriculture is growing at a faster pace than men and they are significantly taking over tasks which were traditionally thought to be the domain of men. This would mean therefore, that in the not too distant future, women will take over a significant proportion of the food chain processes beginning from intra-household distribution to market distribution. It logically follows that unless definite steps are taken to remove discriminatory practices and other barriers which confront women today, Ghana could be confronted with a looming national food security.