Africa RISING – focusing on women and children in Ghana
Charlie Pye-Smith reports from Ghana for Africa RISING
The Africa RISING program seeks to provide pathways out of hunger and poverty for smallholder families, and especially women and children, through the process of sustainable intensification. This involves producing more crops and livestock from the same piece of land, without degrading the natural resource base, thus generating more food and higher incomes.
When villagers in northern Ghana were asked about the main constraints to improving farm productivity, men and women cited many of the same issues. “When it comes to farming, we have three main problems,” explains Bariaisu Issahaku, a mother of six from Passe, Upper West Region. “First, there are very few tractors round here and they’re expensive to hire, which means it’s difficult for us to cultivate all our land. Second, the traditional crop varieties we use produce low yields. And third, we don’t have enough money to buy fertilisers, so our soils are getting more and more impoverished.”
However, the women also have other matters to think about apart from food production. “All of us here have small plots of land where we grow crops, but we have many other responsibilities too,” says Alimaty Iddrisy, a 25-year-old mother of three who lives in a small hamlet in Northern Region.
Alimaty and six other women – between them they have 37 children – have gathered beneath a tree in Tibognayali to discuss the challenges they face with Amadou Alhassan, a research technician with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the institute managing the Africa RISING project in Ghana.
“Every day, we have to fetch water from a well about a kilometre away, and we also have to collect firewood,” continues Alimaty. “That takes us about two hours. Then we have to get our children ready for school. By the time we get into the fields, the sun is often high in the sky, and we sometimes have to hire help.”
The women all agree that their biggest concerns relate to food and education: to growing sufficient crops to feed their families; and earning enough money to pay for their children’s school uniforms, books, exam fees and so forth. “At the moment, we are all short of food,” says Azaratu Alhassan, mother of five children. “At this time of year, our husbands should be providing food for the household, but because of the drought, many lost their crops.”
Not enough to eat
Even without this year’s drought and crop failures, the families here would be struggling. A study of nutritional issues in the Africa RISING target populations in Ghana found that 97% of the households interviewed experience significant ‘food-insecure’ periods during the year. On average, staple foods last just seven months, with Upper East Region being the worst affected. As a result, there are high levels of malnutrition in the three northern regions. For example, 27% of children in Upper East Region are underweight, compared to 13.9% for Ghana as a whole; and 13.9% of children in Upper West Region suffers from wasting, compared to 8.5% for Ghana.
Most of the women who have gathered here today are involved in the management of Africa RISING ‘mother trials’ and many have established their own ‘baby trials’. The trials have introduced the women to a wide range of improved varieties of maize, cowpea and soybean, and many have high hopes for the future.
“I think we will be able to get much better yields using these improved varieties,” says Azaratu. “We have also learnt many new skills. For example, we can now see that it’s possible to combine different crops on the same plot of land, so that it becomes more productive.” The women have also learned the importance of rotating cereal crops with legumes as a way of retaining soil fertility.
Women play an important role in northern Ghana when it comes to processing and marketing crops. A study of small- and medium-scale processors of maize, sorghum, soybean, groundnuts and cowpeas gathered information from 97 individuals and three associations in the Africa RISING project sites. Over 70% of the processers were married women. Two-thirds had received no formal education, and just 3% had completed secondary education.
Those interviewed listed their main problems as low crop yields, the lack of access to credit, and poor access to clean water and toilet facilities. Over half lived below the poverty line. They also cited the lack of storage facilities, post-harvest pests and diseases, the lack of knowledge about processing, and the lack of processing equipment as factors limiting their productivity and incomes.
During the coming year, Africa RISING will initiate a range of activities which will provide farmers in northern Ghana, and women in particular, with the knowledge, skills and means to expand their processing activities. In 2013, Africa RISING will also launch activities to increase cattle, sheep, goat, pig and poultry production. “We see livestock as a form of security,” says Azaratu, whose family owns 20 sheep and 10 goats. “If your crops fail, or your yields are low, you can always sell a sheep or a goat.” However, she admits that her livestock could be much more productive.
It is true that things are difficult at the moment, says Bariaisu Issahaku, but life now is better than it was 20 years ago. “Those were dark days. We never received any visits from extension officers, or any help from the government or NGOs,” she recalls, “and we were still using the tools our grandparents used.”
There are many things she still lacks. She would like to have a mobile phone, so she could get in touch with her eldest daughter, who is at secondary school in another district. She also wishes that she and her husband earned enough money to buy more meat. However, she is optimistic about the future. “I think the intervention that we are getting from Africa RISING will help to improve our lives tremendously. I’m expecting to get better crop yields, and then I’ll have enough money to buy fertilisers and more food for the family.”
This is the third of Charlie’s blog posts. Read the others in the series:
- Africa RISING in Ghana – learning from experience
- Africa RISING – promoting sustainable intensification in Northern Ghana