Women farmers, key to reducing hunger and poverty

A member of the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, Madam Cecilia Appianim, is the future of smallholder and family farming.

She ran for election and won the position of National Financial Secretary of the cooperative. 

She has taken two trips to the United States to promote Divine Chocolate, Kuapa Kokoo’s own brand, and she enjoys financial security and independence as a woman in a country where men hold most positions of power.

As 2014 has been designated as the International Year of Family Farming by the United Nations, and as we look forward to it, it is important to consider all the ways in which opportunities for smallholder and family farmers can be improved. 

Supporting female participation in smallholder agriculture – particularly in positions of leadership – could be a huge step towards improving the lives of more than one million food insecured Ghanaians. 

Women more sensitive
Study after study shows that when women make more money, household food security and nutrition are improved. A landmark study from the World Bank in 2008 showed that women were more likely than men to put their income towards buying food for the family, rather than on personal needs or material goods.

Women make up more than 42 per cent of the farmers in Ghana, but lack many of the resources of their male counterparts, including access to extension services, land and credit. Women farmers produce less than their male counterparts. 

Research from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has indicated that if women had the same access to resources that men had, global malnutrition could be reduced by at least 12 per cent.

Breaking barriers
Farming cooperatives can break down some of these barriers for women. Kuapa Kokoo, for example, established a Gender Programme in 1998 to support women in income-building activities, including leadership training, instruction in specialised skills such as milling and fabric-making, and access to credit without requirement of any collateral— many rural women lack the resources to come up with any kind of backing for a loan.

Women in positions of leadership and instruction in agricultural organisation can improve participation of women in farming. Studies from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and World Bank show that the low participation of women as extension service officers results in fewer women farmers getting the information they need about farming technologies. This service is intended to provide smallholder farmers with valuable information about new technologies.

Women as extension officers
As a recent survey of family farmers in Ghana commissioned by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) showed, farmers (both men and women) actually prefer women officers in the agricultural extension service because they take more time to explain issues in farming than their male counterparts. 

The recommendations of the survey were that rates of female extension officer training should be increased tenfold, from the current rate of five per cent to 50 per cent.

Not all of the ways to support women in smallholder agriculture need to happen through major policy changes, though even seemingly small efforts make a difference. For example, Vivus Limited, a social enterprise in Accra, is working to provide women in the Nkenkasu Organic Vegetable Growers Association in the Ashanti Region with bicycle-driven carts. 

These will help women farmers transport the fruits and vegetables that they grow much more easily – the standard method of transportation is for them to carry their produce on their head. The bicycle carts will not only help them transport more at a time but also alleviate pain and discomfort. 

Small-scale women farmers carry the potential to nourish the world’s hungry. During the International Year of Family Farming and beyond, policy makers in Accra, farmers, researchers and donors across the world all need to work together to make sure this becomes a reality. 

By giving women the tools they need to take the reins, progress will be made in reducing poverty, feeding the hungry and promoting equality. When nourishing the world is what is at stake, there’s no time to wait.

The article was written by Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank and Eve Andrews a former Food Tank Research Director.

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