Farmers in Duko Village, northern Ghana engaged in serious gaming simulation and negotiations (photo credit: Mirja Michalscheck/Wageningen University & Research).

Most smallholder farm systems in Ghana are located on communally owned land, governed by customary laws. Within most communities, customary laws prescribe that land decisions are typically ‘taken’ by chiefs or male household-heads on behalf of the community, clan or family. 

But where does this prescribed decision hierarchy leave other members of the household like women and children? How different or similar are the interests and power positions among household members? How do the individual preferences on land allocation and the household-level decision-outcome compare in terms of the nutritional yield (food production), their economic (profitability), environmental (soil organic matter) and social (labor input) performance? 

A recent study led by Africa RISING researcher Mirja Michalscheck (Wageningen University & Research) and others explored these questions and more among smallholder farmers at Duko, a village in the Northern Region of Ghana. Using a serious game, different household and community members took part in a simulated land-use decision-making process. Game participants were invited to imagine being part of a medium resource endowed (MRE) farm household in their own community, facing the question of which crops to grow on their farmland. In separate groups, male household heads (HHHS), wives and sons were asked to develop a suggestion for land allocation. Each groups’ interests were then represented by a spokesperson during the simulation of a household-level negotiation, pursuing the general games’ goal of reaching a household-level decision on land allocation.

The findings

  • Wives and sons envisioned a more diverse cropping pattern than the HHHs, significantly influencing the household-level decision-outcome despite their power shares being evaluated as relatively small (12–14% respectively).
  • The wives’ suggestion was substantially more ambitious in terms of ‘own profits’ and female labor contributions than the vision of the HHHs and the sons, possibly indicating a desire for additional responsibilities and liberties in agricultural tasks.
  • While the HHH, like the patrilineal landowner, held the strongest power position, he gave substantial room to the wife and the son to bring forward their individual interests, possibly due to a dependency on their labor and financial support, as typical for MRE households in Duko.
  • Household members were found to actively deploy power to support one another and to build coalitions. The strong mutual support among household members is consistent with the social security system in most of rural Africa, with people relying on each other’s support, hoping for a return of favors when in need of help.

These findings on local decision dynamics help research and development projects (like Africa RISING) with out-scaling of agricultural interventions,  taking into account the possible intricacies of gender relations and youth/women empowerment in agriculture.

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