Have you ever enjoyed a piece of delicious, aromatic chocolate purchased in Canada? If so, its likely that chocolate was comprised of tasty cocoa imported from Ghana . As chocolate lovers around the globe continue to multiply, so does the cocoa supply chain. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are two of the world’s largest cocoa-growing countries  and they supply cocoa to chocolate giants, such as Hershey’s and Nestle .Despite the growing demand for cocoa, many women cocoa farmers are unable to own and access the land needed to cultivate cocoa due to patriarchal customary laws. In both countries, farmland is held and transferred according to the rules and norms of customary law  and custom excludes women from land ownership even though they produce and market most of the food in Côte d’Ivoire .
Much research has been conducted to highlight the importance of land ownership for smallholder farmers. Winrock International teamed up with USAID to investigate customary land agreements and their effect on farmers. After many discussions with farmers, lawyers, and local chiefs, they learned that documentation of land ownership provided farmers the sense of security needed to make long-term investments into their land . When farmers are not afraid of losing their land, they will make improvements to it in order to increase yields and provide communities with greater food security – something to benefit everyone. For example, in Rwanda it was reported that women who held formalized land ownership were much more likely to implement sustainable soil conservation with their crops (at 19%) over their male counterparts (at only 10%) .
Land is a crucial economic resource, providing vital livelihood opportunities for much of the rural poor.
Women, in particular, are active in agriculture globally, and are the providers for their families’ food supply, and often for their communities as well. According to LandLinks, an USAID initiative, women make up a vast majority of agricultural labourers, yet only a staggering percentage actually own the land they cultivate: only 15% of sub-Saharan African women own land out of the 48.7% working in the sector; 11% of women own the land they cultivate out of 42% of Asian women in the sector; and only 5% of the 40% of women labourers own land in the Middle East and North Africa regions . Even in Latin America where 20% of agricultural labour is achieved by women, only 18% are landowners . These are important statistics to discuss in the development industry, as women have frequently been viewed as valuable economic actors in poverty reduction.
Although it has already been highlighted above that land owners invest more into their land, it should also be stressed that women’s land ownership contributes to greater women empowerment. In Nepal, for example, it was reported that the 37% of women landowners said they made the final decision on household affairs over their husbands, compared to only 20% of women who were not landowners .
MEDA has seen barriers to land ownership hinder productivity for smallholder women farmers in their Ghana GROW project. Many of GROW’s clients grow soy on land that is not under their ownership, and instead is owned by community or family members – who are often men. Typically, these women farmers work on land allotted to them for a year and then are moved to a new plot. Therefore, all their time and effort managing the land, such as crop rotation, soil conservation and appropriate fertilizer use, is done in vain as the women cannot benefit from the long-term affects they invested into their plots (to read more about GROW’s efforts on land access for women, read this blog).
Land ownership for women has been a concern for the GROW project and the project team has hosted two Land Tenure Forums to discuss the growing importance in supporting land ownership for women. Attendees included chiefs, queen mothers, and community members all whom were active in discussions surrounding land rights for women and the benefits to their community. The most recent event, hosted in July 2018, ended with a commitment from the House of Chiefs to draft a Communique to move discussions forward for women’s land rights.
The seriousness of this issue was seen in the fast turnaround of the Communique, proving that the House of Chiefs were very supportive of this issue. The three-page Communique was signed by the President of the Upper West Region house of Chiefs, as well as by GROW’s Field Project Manager, Karen Walsh. The Communique highlighted the concerns surrounding the customary system, which accounts for 80% of land deals in the area and which impede on the insecurity of access to land by women. The Communique ends with a pledge to work with all stakeholders (including traditional authorities, the government, and NGOs) to map out strategies to support women with land access in the Upper West Region. The strategies of support include: advocating for easy access to land for women, seeking support from executive and legislative resources, and by building the institutional capacity to assist all stakeholders.
GROW continues to work towards progressive change for land access for women. MEDA sees this as a vital issue as everyone can benefit from improved access to land.
- To read more about the first ever Land Tenure Forum held in Northern Ghana read this blog
- To read more about the second Land Tenure event read this blog.
- Government of Canada. High Commission of Canada in Ghana - Trade Relations. Retrieved from: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/ghana/bilateral_relations_bilaterales/canada_ghana.aspx?lang=eng
- Oxfam Discussion Papers. (March 2016). Women’s Rights in the Cocoa Sector. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/Womens_Rights_in_the_Cocoa_Sector_paper.pdf
- Peyton, Nellie. (Aug 30, 2018). Can land rights for farmers save Ghana’s cocoa sector? Retrieved from: http://www.thisisplace.org/i/?id=eb0d20b9-c7db-4a0b-b819-1a8686b5e036
- LandLinks. (December 2016). Fact Sheet: Land Tenure and Women’s Empowerment. Retrieved from: https://www.land-links.org/issue-brief/fact-sheet-land-tenure-womens-empowerment/