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Ghana. Land of the Gold Coast.

After gaining independence from Britain in 1957, Ghana swiftly became one of the most stable countries in West Africa since transitioning to a multi-party democracy in 1992.

With a population of 25.5 million, Ghana is growing economic powerhouse with the ability to transform lives within its borders.

Although Ghana is experiencing unprecedented economic growth, one demographic is being left out of the equation.

Women.

Although Ghana has been committed to gender equality for over 50 years, the country continues to grapple with inclusivity and representation. This is compounded in the north, where the majority still live in poverty and are regularly prone to food insecurity.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women’s farms in by 20 to 30 percent, reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent, or 100 to 150 million people. 

MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project was a seven-year project funded by Global Affairs Canada. The overall project goal was to improve food security for 20,000 women farmers and their families in Northern Ghana. Project activities included helping women improve the availability, access to and utilization of appropriate and nutritious food by strengthening production, processing and linkages to markets.

To achieve this, women Lead Farmers are identified to help train others in their communities on good agronomic practices to maximize crop yields, with a special focus on soybean cultivation. Entrepreneurial women farmers are trained and supported to become Sales Agents, buying and aggregating soy from other women and selling it to processors and markets.

How are these Lead Farmers and Sales Agents trained?

The GROW team led workshops and seminars in households and communities in northern Ghana. They also partnered with Literacy Bridge, an organization creates mass communication learning technology that can be used in remote areas.

Mariama and her husband are farmers with 6 children. For over 30 years, the couple played different roles in the household: Mariama cooked, cleaned, cared for the children and worked on the farm. Her husband was the leader and she had not right to challenge him.

“I had to obey whatever my husband said without complaint to prevent humiliation. There were days I had to even absence myself from my women’s farming group because he would not allow me to attend because I had to attend to the farm.”

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Enter the Talking Book.

The Talking Book is an inexpensive, mass communications technology that promotes learning opportunities for women, men and children. Literacy Bridge provides the “book” to the GROW program at no cost. Talking Books share critical information related to agriculture, nutrition, finance, buyers and suppliers and other matters that affect the farmers they work with.

Talking Books are a powerful extension tool because multiple messages are recorded in the appropriate local dialect and uploaded to the device for people to listen and use.

Messages are updated quarterly as necessary on emergency issues such as disease outbreaks or pest problems.

The GROW clients then listen to messages during their village savings and loan association meetings, and also at the individual or household level, as the device can be shared among group members.

In addition to having lessons on finance and good agricultural practices, the GROW team included lessons on gender, equality and communication to the Talking Book technology. These lessons educated and challenged families in the way they think of gender roles.

The impact was impressive.

After joining the GROW project in 2013, Mariama reported that the psychological anguish she had been experiencing previously from her husband came to an end. He began attending GROW’s gender sensitization workshops and listening to messages on the Talking Book that encouraged women’s empowerment.

Mariama’s husband now sees the financial and relational benefits of his wife being a Lead Farmer in her community.

I can’t believe it, my husband has changed completely, he even listens to the messages and talks with me about them. We now communicate as a couple; my husband now wakes me up early on meeting days, so I can attend. He now takes good care of the children in my absence,” said a happy Mariama.

This substantial change has not gone unnoticed.

The couple’s children now observe a more healthy and positive relationship between their parents. The six children are also no longer intimidated by their father and see him as a source of love and advice.

For some, the Talking Book in addition to GROW’s gender sensitization work simply shifted family responsibilities and sparked conversation.

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Abina Bagiro is 64-year-old lead farmer with the Neeweri group, which means “where is better.” Bagiro has found that her participation in the GROW program, and use of the Talking Book, has led to positive changes in attitudes around gender roles in her 14-member household, which includes 5 children and her husband.

Prior to the start of the project, she was responsible for cooking, fetching water and caring for household needs. Her husband, Fatawu, decided which crops to plant, took care of the farming and household decision-making.

Now she and her husband work together to achieve the common goal of improving living standards for the household.

“The Talking Book teaches me how to take care of my children and the roles of a man, a woman and children,” she said.

More household members now share responsibilities equally. Males pitch in with cooking, washing utensils and fetching water. Women help with farming and caring for livestock.

Fatawu, realized he could count on Abina. He is now supportive of her choice of land to farm and gives free access to the farm, which allows the family to plan their agricultural activities together.

“In my household, there is nothing like this work is mine and other is not mine,” Abina says proudly.

Her two married sons have also heard the Talking Book messages about gender and spouse relationships and have happy and peaceful relationships with their wives and families.

When women are supported, their potential is realized.

In the 2017 harvest season, GROW supported 21,500 farmers to harvest 13,643 hectares of soybean, producing a yield of 14,632 metric tons. GROW farmers sold 11,169 tons of this soya at an average price of GHS 200 per 100kg, earning a total of over GHS 22.3 million, or approximately CAD 6.7 million (2017 harvest figures).