Baala Ajara has many titles. She is a mother, a wife, a seamstress, a farmer, and a businesswoman. Recently she added best soybean farmer in the Lambussie/Karni district to the list.
Based on the criteria of record keeping, acreage cultivated, and farmer adoption and contribution towards agricultural extension, Ajara was nominated by MoFA (Ministry of Food and Agriculture) as the 2013 Best District Soybean Farmer on the 29th Farmers Day Celebration. She received a bicycle, two machetes, a pair of Wellington boots, a bar of key soap, a certificate, and two sacks in prizes.
37-year old Ajara lives in the village of Suke, Ghana, with her husband Baala Harunah, four children, and two relatives. In addition to farming, she sells purified water and doughnuts and mends torn clothing during market days to support her children and husband. Her husband farms and works on the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) staff.
Ajara is in her first year with MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project, designed to improve access to quality inputs, technical assistance, and sustainable markets. Partnerships for Rural Development Action (PRUDA), one of MEDA's Key Facilitating Partners, implements this project in the Lambussie-Karni District. This isn't Ajara's first time cultivating soybeans. Three years ago, she supported her husband to grow the legume under a NADMO-sponsored soybean project that gave preference to men. However, they were both disappointed to find there was no market for their harvested soybeans. Despite this frustrating experience, Ajara embraced the opportunity to grow soybeans when PRUDA arrived with GROW earlier this year. Says Ajara:
"I trust in PRUDA. So when they told us that MEDA is supporting them to assist women farmers to farm soya and that we will get market and training on how to process soya into nutritious products, I accepted to cultivate soya with the aim of doing 3 things: To get more money to take care of my 4 children in school, to support my husband to be able to feed our household, and to be able to process soya into various products and engage in it as a business."
With these goals in mind, Ajara, with support from the GROW project, cultivated two acres of soybeans. Despite bad rains, she harvested 368kg from one acre. The other acre is yet to be threshed. Because of her knowledge and farming expertise Ajara was a natural choice as lead farmer in the GROW project. After the farming trainings provided by PRUDA (GROW), she went back and applied them to her field, working with her group members to share what she had learned. "We were advised to use good seed, sow in line, sow on fertile and flat land, and shown how to prevent insects and other animals from spoiling our soya. I taught my group members all these things." And now that work has paid off. Ajara adds, "This opportunity [award] alone has allowed me to see that both me and my husband's toil are not in vain."
Now that she won the prize for the best farmer in her district, what's next for Ajara? More farming and more training. Her farming profits and awards from this year have allowed her to meet all of her household's food and educational needs so she can look to the future. Next year she plans to expand, cultivating four acres of soybeans. She sees the award as both a motivation and a challenge to work harder in soybean cultivation and to support more women as lead farmers so they can experience similar success.
"I am happy that most people, particularly men and our leaders, are now seeing some of the big things we women are doing. Women have been in darkness for far too long. Why was PRUDA not formed earlier to build up women in this way?" Through the GROW project, Ajara, PRUDA and MEDA look forward to continuing successes such as these and to building the capacity of women and their families.