On Monday July 9th, the GROW project supported the Regional House of Chiefs of the Upper West Region in conducting a Land Tenure Advocacy Meeting hosted by the House of Chiefs. As a GROW staff member, I witnessed firsthand the momentous occasion of 26 Chiefs and 25 Queen Mothers coming together on a Monday morning specifically to discuss increasing land rights in the Upper West region.
The first few people to arrive at SemB Hotel’s Conference room were Queen Mothers; slowly, Chiefs from around 9 districts trickled in. By 10 AM, 100 attendees had arrived and were seated. The meeting started with a prayer by the Registrar, as is customary in Ghana. The Registrar was the formal facilitator of the meeting. Both the Paramount Chief of Tumu, Kuoro Richard Babini Kanton, and the President of the Upper West Queen Mothers Association, Hala Kuoro Hajaratu Limann, were in attendance.
At the head of the room, the Paramount Chief of Tumu was seated along with the legal advisor to the House of Chiefs. On the opposite end was Karen Walsh, the GROW Country Project Manager (CPM), representing MEDA. Alongside her was Rev. Father Clement Mweyang Aapengnuo, the Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies (CECOTAPS). He has been an outstanding advocate for improving land tenure rights for GROW Women. CECOTAPS has been a major player in organizing and co-facilitating mediations between different conflicting groups in Northern Ghana, which makes Rev. Father Clement an ideal spokesperson to facilitate this type of discussion. Like GROW, CECOTAPS also works on increasing economic stability in the Upper West region by investing in grassroots projects such as sustainably harvesting honey, training women in batik fabric businesses, and even setting up an internet café.
MEDA’s own Eric Dalinpuo, the GROW Gender Coordinator for the past 3 years, smoothly facilitated the land tenure meeting. Eric has been diligently working on delivering workshops for GROW’s key facilitating partners to ensure that they understand the gender context in which the project is working. He also identifies the unique constraints women farmers face and helps the key facilitating partners understand how GROW provides them support to overcome these gender-based barriers.
Karen Walsh, the GROW CPM, gave inspiring opening remarks highlighting the hard work GROW has done with our five key facilitating partners to improve farming practices and conditions for women in the Upper West Region. She also emphasized the positive impact that having better land tenure rights for women would have on the 21,500 GROW farmers. After Karen spoke, Rev. Father Clement laid out the current landscape and emphasized why this issue is important to discuss. This allowed time for an open conversation among all attendees to pose questions and raise their own concerns and experiences. Per the agenda it was time for a coffee break, but the discussion was in full force, so instead of pausing, the conversation continued while refreshments were passed around by the hotel staff. As an observer, I was impressed by this focused interest on the topic. This showed that the leadership was serious about discussing the issue. The President of the Upper West Regional House of Chiefs, Kuoro Richard Babini Kanton VI, spoke about eliminating outdated traditional practices to build an equitable society to make life better for all people in the Upper West Region.
Pictured here with CPM Karen Walsh is one of the two women that expressed their opinions and shared their stories working with GROW. She shared her experience of being a widow with four children to raise, and she expressed that had it not been for GROW’s training and assistance, she wasn’t sure how she would have cared for her family.
In Ghana, land is mainly owned communally along ethnotribal and familial lines, with designated traditional authorities, called Chiefs, responsible for its management. Planning proposals are prepared with the expectation of implementing them on largely communal land, which is private in nature (Yeboah, 2013). Female Chiefs are almost unheard of, thus putting all decisions concerning land into the hands of men. This creates a clear power imbalance. Revising land tenure laws on the communal and traditional level will allow GROW women farmers to cultivate land without worrying about a Chief or someone else in the community unexpectedly reclaiming the land they have worked so hard to prepare for good farming conditions. Without this anxiety, women can confidently know that their daily hard labor and effort will yield soya beans that they can sell in the market or use directly for their families to eat. It makes sense. Why would anyone invest time and physical labor into any type of work knowing it could be taken away without notice? This type of insecurity puts women farmers’ livelihoods at risk. This is why land tenure is such a vital matter.
The end goal of this meeting was to draft a Communique to secure longer access to land for GROW women. Due to time constraints and the passionate discussion, creating a Communique wasn’t feasible. Instead, the meeting ended with a commitment from the House of Chiefs to draft a Communique by late July or early August to move the conversation forward towards allowing women farmers to have more rights and security. A week after the meeting, a draft as already been submitted to MEDA, a very speedy turn around which is extremely quick for Ghanaian standards. With only a few months left for the GROW project, we hope to continue working on supporting this land tenure initiative that will have lasting impact on our women for years to come.