Empowering women to improve farming productivity in northern Ghana

Kukunansor Women Organization members demonstrate how to plant soybeans using a three-row planter technique that an ACDI/VOCA Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer taught them. Photo by: ACDI/VOCA

While Ghana has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa and is one of the few countries on track to meet its Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015, stark inequality exists between the northern and southern halves of the country — the north has myriad economic, health, environmental, and educational challenges, which have contributed to massive inequalities for the majority of the 4.3 million people living there.

Low levels of literacy, poor nutrition, inconsistent weather patterns, geographic isolation from market centers and little knowledge of modern farming practices have hindered northern Ghana’s productivity. This has also led to high volumes of imported staple foods. Cereal (maize, rice, millet and sorghum) and legume (soybean, cowpea and groundnuts) crops are predominantly grown by smallholder farmers. Up to 90 percent of these smallholders have land holdings of fewer than 2 hectares and employ traditional agricultural practices. Much of the work is done by hand and is extremely labor-intensive, which also limits production and opportunities for expansion.

There is little to no mechanization of farming operations, and the use of farm power sources is often limited to animals plowing and carting produce.

Approximately 50 percent of women in Ghana engage actively in agriculture, but they are typically even more disadvantaged than men, who also face challenges. Women smallholders have the added challenge of little power to improve their situation and limited access to resources, education, and training. In addition, they are not usually treated as equal participants in household decision-making.

The Kukunansor Women Organization is an association of roughly 1,000 female farmers engaged in microcredit and cultivating soybeans in Chereponi established in 2007 to improve the women’s livelihoods through better access to agricultural and financial services.

Since access to plowing services is a major constraint for women cultivating soybeans in the region, the organization provides its members with plowing services. Members repay in-kind after their harvests with 100-kg bags of soybean for every acre plowed. The association then sells the soybeans to Savannah Farmers Marketing Company in Tamale, one of its major buyers. The savings generated from the plowing service are put into a fund that makes interest-free microloans available to members for income-generating activities during the dry season.

Prior to the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program in West Africa, implemented by ACDI/VOCA with local partners, Kukunansor members had limited knowledge of how to prepare farm budgets and keep inventory along with other farming records. These business and record-keeping skills are crucial for the farmers to better manage their land — by measuring inputs and outputs and keeping costs down, they can grow their business and earn higher incomes.

In addition, the association’s leadership could not help members improve themselves since the organization did not even keep accurate records of its own activities. This lack of organizational capacity made it difficult for members to calculate their profitability each farming season and also to expand their operations.

Training trainers

In July 2012, ACDI/VOCA volunteer and agribusiness specialist Gerald Nolte traveled to northern Ghana to donate his time and expertise to help the association and its member take their work to the next level.

Nolte trained three Kukunansor leaders as a “trainer of trainers” assignment: they would first learn the skills and then conduct their own trainings among their fellow members, sharing the learning forward. The three leaders learned best management practices including record-keeping and preparing income statements and farm budgets, all key areas for helping farm operations become more technically and financially efficient.

Based on discussions with the association members on their challenges and plans for the future, Nolte made recommendations to the F2F program for Kukunansor to procure a second tractor. This addition would enable them to keep up with members’ high demand for plowing services, as well as improve agronomic practices for bigger harvests.

The association leadership acted on the advice and worked to secure a grant from the USAID-funded ADVANCE project — also implemented by ACDI/VOCA — to purchase a new Massey Ferguson tractor. With this additional tractor, the organization was able to plow on time for all members this farming season — a significant achievement and a big step forward for the association.

With this technical assistance and access to new technology, Kukunansor has been able to blossom into a more robust and effective organization, securing approximately $2,000 from donors in Germany to support its microcredit program.

The association’s members introduced new farming techniques, including crop rotation and cowpea production on their farms, as a means of improving soil fertility. This resulted in big gains — crop yields rose in one year by an outstanding 30 percent. Bigger harvests meant members could sell their soybeans for a good price to Vester Oil, one of Ghana’s major soybean processors.

Kukunansor’s success is just one example of how ACDI/VOCA’s F2F and ADVANCE programs worked together in Ghana. In addition to this work, all of the organization’s 1,000 female members were illiterate at the program’s start. Since numeracy is key to record-keeping and making budgets, ACDI/VOCA provided the women with numeracy training.

This training has helped to promote the women’s financial literacy and business acumen, empowering them to have more control over their farming activities.

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About the author

  • Catherine Alston

    Catherine Alston is regional program manager for USAID's Farmer-to-Farmer project in West Africa. Alston draws on her experience from volunteering with the Peace Corps to create meaningful people-to-people exchanges that enhance the lives and livelihoods of small-holder farmers. She is based in Ghana and supervises F2F program implementation the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia and Senegal.

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