This case study examines GROW’s Women Sales Agent (WSA) model as one of several methodologies to achieve project goals of increased market linkages and sustainability for women farmers in the Upper West Region of Ghana. With a vested interest in the growth and empowerment of women farmers, WSAs provide women farmers with information and embedded services in order to better integrate farmers into markets. This woman-to-woman model addresses the unique skills required to be a successful woman-centric intermediary in the soy value chain and is proving to be empowering for women, generating evidence of increased agency and access for WSAs, and to some degree for women farmers themselves. WSAs have been able to improve their role within the market system, earn more money for their services, increase their status within their household and community, and achieve a greater role in decision making while also increasing access to vital services and products for women farmers. Challenges and lessons learned are discussed in this case study, which also features four profiles of WSAs.
Increasing Women Farmers’ Access to Financial Services
The GROW project used a combination of formal and informal financial services to meet the needs of clients with distinct needs and across disparate geographies. While clients in more densely populated peri-urban areas could access commercial savings and loan products, for female farmers located in more remote rural areas, and with lower levels of education, village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) proved to be the best way to begin to access financial services and build financial literacy. Offering these two options ensured that women unable to immediately access a loan from a financial services provider (FSP) could still borrow as well as save.
Women in northern Ghana have limited access to agricultural technology and are forced to do most of their farming activities manually, from clearing land to planting, harvesting and processing. In 2017, the GROW project launched a large-scale smart incentive program to increase women’s access to selected technologies through local commercial providers. MEDA worked to build a more sustainable market for the technologies by working on both the supply and demand side. Even with increased supply, the technologies are expensive for smallholder women farmers, many of whom would be unable to purchase even a single item of technology without financial support. For a limited period of time, the Technology Fund offered a smart incentive to women involved in the GROW project, allowing them to benefit from technology they could otherwise not afford. This paper focuses on a group of Women Sales Agents, market intermediaries who connect smallholder women farmers to markets, who have purchased several technologies. This paper examines the impact of purchasing technology on women’s time use, income, working capital and social position in their communities, and makes recommendations for future programming.
Most of the population in Ghana’s Upper West farm maize and soybeans, and farming is the primary economic activity for the women in the region. Due to the inconsistency of rainfall, crop yields in the region have become less predictable. However, very few farmers have diversified their livelihoods, due mainly to the remote and rural nature of the region.
The vulnerability of Ghana’s agriculture to climate change is largely due to its dependence on rainfall, particularly in the country’s semi-arid north, where GROW activities are implemented. Climate change is likely to intensify rainfall variation, leading to drought in some years, and floods in others. Since farmers make decisions and investments based on precedent, this lack of consistency in rainfall leaves farmers especially vulnerable to making poor production choices in an uncertain environment. Insurance is one way to mitigate this, and other risks.
Assurance-récolte et changement climatique
La majeure partie de la population du Haut Ghana occidental cultive le maïs et le soja. L’agriculture est la principale activité économique des femmes de la région. En raison de la variabilité des précipitations, les rendements des cultures sont devenus moins prévisibles. Cependant, très peu d’agriculteurs ont diversifié leurs moyens de subsistance, principalement en raison de l’éloignement et du caractère rural de la région.
La vulnérabilité de l’agriculture ghanéenne au changement climatique est due en grande partie à sa dépendance envers les précipitations, en particulier dans le nord semi-aride du pays, où GROW mène ses activités. Les changements climatiques vont probablement intensifier les variations pluviométriques, entraînant des sécheresses certaines années et des inondations dans d’autres. Étant donné que les agriculteurs prennent des décisions et investissent sur la base de précédents, ce manque d’uniformité dans les précipitations les rend particulièrement vulnérables à faire des choix de production médiocres dans un environnement incertain. L’assurance est un moyen d’atténuer ce risque et d’autres.
En coopération avec le Ghana Agricultural Insurance Pool (GAIP), le projet a adapté et proposé un régime d’assurance-récolte déjà existant aux femmes de GROW vivant dans des zones précédemment sous-desservies. Ce régime d’assurance protège de nombreux acteurs du marché, notamment les agricultrices, les entreprises de l’industrie agroalimentaire, les institutions financières et les fournisseurs d’intrants, en cas de mauvaises récoltes dues à des conditions climatiques extrêmes telles que sécheresse, précipitations excessives ou inondations. En outre, l’accès à l’assurance signifie que ces agricultrices ont toujours un risque de crédit relativement faible. Ainsi, malgré les incertitudes liées aux précipitations, elles continuent d’avoir accès à des prêts pour soutenir leurs activités et les développer. Chacun de ces acteurs économiques oeuvre pour soutenir les autres et en dépend.
GROW’s ultimate goal was to improve food security for 20,000 women farmers and their families in the Upper West Region of Ghana. Project activities centered around helping women improve the availability, access to and utilization of appropriate and nutritious foods. This paper uses a causal model to consider the pathways by which GROW impacted food security and nutrition. These pathways are not mutually exclusive but work together to strengthen the project towards better household food security and nutrition.
The paper finds that GROW increased food production by training on soy production, which steadily increased throughout the project lifecycle. The project also tackled seasonal food insecurity by focusing on dry season vegetable farming and training on keyhole gardens. Women used some of the resulting food for income, improving their ability to purchase better food, hygiene, technology or education for themselves and their children. Through GROW a variety of media, GROW provided care and nutrition education to further encourage these practices. The project held nutrition sensitization trainings for men in recognition of their role in household nutrition and food security and offered technology grants to women to reduce their time and energy burden in cultivating soy.
Compared to baseline, reported household food insecurity has decreased, with 14% of respondents reporting “often” or “sometimes” food insecure at endline in 2018, compared to 35% in 2012. The duration and severity of seasonal food insecurity has also decreased, with 90% of respondents reporting a state of food security for at least 9 months in 2018, compared only 4 months in 2012. Dietary diversity remained similar to endline, with 11 food groups consumed, and some indication of shifting towards more diverse foods. GROW’s success in improving food security can be attributed to its integration of food security and nutrition as cross cutting themes across its programming. The project not only empowered women economically but provided the education, enabling environment and resources necessary to allow continuous improvement in food security and nutrition after the project’s conclusion.
Typically, economic development projects focused on agriculture and food security ignore the issue of land tenure. This is because most economic development projects tend to be gender-neutral, which is often gender-blind in reality, focused on male heads-of-households, who tend to control economic resources with the assumption that the benefits will trickle down to women and children. For a women-centric project, like Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW), MEDA found that land tenure was critical and underpinned women’s ability to participate in agriculture, their agricultural productivity – that includes access to all natural resources whether it be water, trees for firewood or fruits from the tress themselves – and ultimately, their income. Once women are able to earn incomes, they are able to make decisions by increasing investments in children’s education and health, and reduced household poverty2 and improve their overall agency within their homes and community.
A gender lens or gender analysis is required for economic development projects, especially projects focused on agriculture, to identify gender-based constraints, along with general market constraints. Gender analysis can also contextualize and provide implementers and funders with an understanding of the enabling environment, that govern and drive women and men’s behavior and attitudes. Therefore, it is important to identify gender-based constraints, to develop mitigating strategies that reduce gender inequalities in access to and control over the resources and that benefit development. This paper will discuss Ghana’s enabling environment and gender-based constraints, as they relate to land tenure and security, and highlight project interventions, such as advocacy and increased gender awareness. It will also highlight project results, challenges faced by the project and lessons learned, which include designing an outcome around secure land access and conducting advocacy and sensitization events with customary leaders earlier in the project.