Unleashing the potential of women farmers in Ghana

Brenda Leis and MEDA board member Jenny Shantz were among the hikers walking to raise money in support of women entrepreneurs in Ghana.

MEDA staffer reflects on successes of the GROW project, looks to future efforts

In North America, food is often produced on medium or large-sized farms.

In the Global South — Africa, Asia, and Latin America — almost half the food grown comes from farmers who cultivate plots of less than two hectares in size.

Women provide half the labor for these farms, but they struggle to access the tools that they need to be productive and profitable farmers, MEDA staffer Jennifer Denomy says. “They have varying degrees of access to things like high-quality seeds, fertilizer, fertile land, training on agricultural techniques, information about what prices should be in the market, and the actual market where they can sell their product.”

Jennifer Denomy managed the Ghana GROW (Greater Opportunities for Rural Women) project.

Denomy, MEDA’s technical director for gender equality and social inclusion, managed the last two years of MEDA’s Ghana GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) project.

She recently visited Ghana to work with MEDA’s Ghana team. In a recent presentation to the Waterloo-based Women-Empowering-Women (WEW) group, she reflected on the impact of MEDA’s efforts to date in Ghana, and the goals of a new project.

Women Empowering Women is a group that gathers to hear about and raise funds for MEDA’s work in the Global South.
Studies show that if women could access these things at the same rates as men, yields on farms that women run would increase by 20 to 30 percent, Denomy said.

Having reliable and locally produced food is very important, particularly in a time of challenged supply chains and widespread inflation, she said.

“When women earn money, they’re much more likely to invest it in their family, in the education of their children, in the food that the family eats, and in the health care that keeps everybody healthy, working and active.”

Northern Ghana, where MEDA and its partners work, has the highest rates of poverty and food insecurity in the nation. Unlike the southern regions of Ghana, the north has little manufacturing and few export-oriented crops.

Historically, Ghana’s southern regions attracted investment because of their cash crops — rubber and cocoa among them — resulting in much better road and railroad infrastructure than what exists in the north.

Northern regions receive significantly less rainfall and have only one growing season, compared with two growing seasons in the south.

MEDA began implementing the GROW project in northern Ghana 10 years ago. For six years, the project supported small-scale farmers, particularly women, with a range of services.

Together with local partners, many of whom will work with MEDA again on the second phase of the GROW project, MEDA reached over 23,000 women and their families. GROW trained women to grow soy, a new crop in the region, but one that has huge markets.

The first GROW project linked women to a range of services. These included financial services through the formation of savings groups and connection to microfinance institutions and banks.

GROW provided environmental support, including promoting more sustainable agricultural practices and income generation through diversification. This included making soy kebabs, soy milk and growing high-value vegetables in keyhole gardens that could be maintained with kitchen wastewater.

A key aspect of GROW’s work was outreach to men to build their support for women’s business activities. “We found that was really important for the success of women’s farms.”

This work included supporting men to advocate for women on increased access to land.

GROW had a major impact on women’s involvement in household decision-making. At the beginning of the project, only 58 percent were involved in decisions in their household. “By the end of the project, 92 percent said they meaningfully participated in decisions in their household.”

The project also helped to more than double average household income among participants.

The recently launched GROW2 project aims to work with 40,000 women farmers (compared to 23,000 in the initial project), and 50 agri-businesses.

It will also move up the value chain and help farmers earn more money for their crops by working to build markets for soy and two new crops — groundnuts and vegetables.

GROW2 has three major goals, says Elvis Brenya, MEDA’s deputy project manager for the effort. It aims to:

  • Improve the business environment for women farmers,
  • Increase adoption and use of environmentally sustainable farming and nutrition practices, and
  • Promote gender equitable participation of women in decision-making in the household and their communities.

The project will work with three regions in northern Ghana, one of which overlaps with the original GROW efforts, Denomy said. It aims to further engage at least 30 percent of clients from the original project.

Lessons learned from GROW that will be applied to GROW2 include the fact that although the project targets women farmers, “it’s also really important to engage men in their homes and their communities,” she said.

That means that building men’s advocacy groups will be a more significant emphasis of the new project.
Encouraging the cultivation of multiple crops and intercropping will lead to more environmentally sustainable farming practices, she said.

Getting women to come to training services will require either scheduling these sessions while children are in school or in locations that will have space for young children to play and be cared for.

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