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INCREASING AWARENESS OF IMPROVED SEEDS AND NEW AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGIES:

AN INCLUSIVE STRATEGY FOR RURAL WOMEN FARMERS IN GHANA

The Problem

Achieving food security continues to be a challenge, particularly for many African

countries -including Ghana. The country has an underdeveloped agricultural sector, which is

characterized by over-reliance on rain-fed farming, low fertility soils, minimal use of external

farm inputs, environmental degradation, significant food crop loss both pre and post-harvest,

minimal value addition, and inadequate food storage and preservation that result in

significant commodity price fluctuation. The World Bank Development Report (2008) argued

that poverty reduction could be best achieved if agricultural growth is centered on

smallholder farmers, particularly women, who can be made more competitive and sustainable

through the introduction of technological innovations. The Ghanaian Food and Agricultural

Sector Development Policy (FASDEP) II which focuses on the value chain approach,

emphasizing value addition and market access, categorically states that gender inequality in

the agricultural sector has undermined the achievement of sustainable agricultural

development because programs and projects are not systematically formulated around the

different needs of women and men. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s (MOFA’s)

review report of the medium-term Agricultural Sector Investment Plan (METASIP) in 2015

also indicates that the approximate male to female coverage ratio of all projects mapped to

the METASIP was 2:1. Few of the projects had gender inclusiveness as part of the areas of

focus within the project objectives.

Women farmers in Ghana are on a daily basis confronted with challenges such as

unequal access to land, extension services, finance and credit, education and training,

technology, time and market. An FAO research report presented by its Agriculture

development Economics Division in March 2011 shows that women in rural areas reap fewer

benefits in agriculture than men and are less recognized compared to their male counterparts.

There is also an overall decline in agricultural investment including fertilizers, seeds and

technology adoption.

The Need

This calls for efficient land management and the involvement of all agricultural

enterprises and stakeholders together with access to high-quality seeds of improved, adapted

varieties and associated technologies. In all of this, there is also clearly a need to integrate

rural women farmers, who form approximately 40% of the farm labour force in Ghana

(FAO), into the commercial agriculture value chains. Integrating rural women farmers into

these value chains requires their active participation in the market. This means that they must

graduate from the traditional subsistence, self-sufficiency goals most commonly practiced, to

a profit and income-oriented paradigm.

This paradigm shift needs to take into account the gap that exists between researchers

and farmers. Although significant investment has been made in agricultural research that

could positively affect rural women farmers, these findings are not being implemented by

farmers. Part of the challenge is that information on seeds of improved varieties, better

farming techniques, post-harvest handling, and marketing are not reaching farmers. A further

challenge is that when information is disseminated to farmers, the information is not always

clearly communicated. Therefore, the gap between the researcher and the farmer continues to

widen, particularly in the rural areas where physical distance separates the researcher from

the rural farmer. Another barrier to entry is language. All of these factors make it even more

difficult for research findings to reach the intended audiences.

Working in this information vacuum creates uncertainty for both the farmers and the

other agribusiness service providers. This in turn hinders business development around

agriculture thereby depressing the potential value chains that can otherwise emerge within the

rural communities. The result is that active participation of the rural female farmers in the

agribusiness markets is hampered.

Strategy

A number of information dissemination platforms have been proposed to address

these challenges. One of them is information communication technologies (ICTs), which

facilitates exchange and flow of information among actors in the value chain; and can be used

to manage transactions, arrange logistics, and ensure that quality specifications are clearly

understood (Soham Sen and Vikas Choudhary, 2011). Television and radio are highly

successful platforms that hold great potential for addressing this “communication gap”. They

can be used to disseminate agricultural research information to (i) Farmers, the chief end

users of the technologies, , (ii) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing in

agriculture, who facilitate the work of the farmers (iii) extension workers, providing advisory

services to the farmers, and (iv) academic Institutions and other researchers who can advance

and improve on the innovations. These media avenues can make the crucial link between

researchers and extension workers by offering critical information on where research

outputs/innovations can be obtained, how they are used, and serve as a feedback platform,

giving upstream feedback through getting communities’ feedback regarding research and

conveying them back to the innovators.

The ways in which people access information are rapidly evolving all over the world.

Africa is no exception, as television outlets proliferate and new media expand the range of

potential information sources. The reach of traditional media (television and print) is far from

uniform throughout the country, Ghana. Mobile phones, however, are opening up a powerful

new avenue of communication and information-sharing for the population, but mobile’s full

promise as an empowering communication tool is yet to be fulfilled. Television has grown

rapidly in recent years to reach many people in some of the very poorest parts of the world. It

is believed that television has the greatest impact on young people and, as such, has the

potential to shape values, attitudes and perceptions of farming and stem down the rural-urban

migration. Television is regarded as a prestigious, powerful and empowering tool that can

raise awareness, generate discussion and increase knowledge. It is an important channel for

advocacy, for drawing policy-makers’ attention to the potential of rural agriculture to the

development of Ghana. Although television is not generally available to communities in very

isolated rural areas, increasingly in many developing countries, it is becoming a reality in the

countryside. Further, rural cinema can be used to take television to the people with

pre-recorded information and series. Radio remains the most powerful, and yet the cheapest,

mass medium for reaching large numbers of people in isolated areas.

Television/print media can be used to collect feedback from communities through

programs where farmers give their responses to researchers, share experiences on the use of

research, providing a platform for farmers’ views/recommendations on how to improve the

research, and provide alternatives depending on their experiences. The media can also be

used to announce processes of research and extension work, advice on where to get

input/services, and advise on where to get technical support.

The use of radio and television has gained currency in East Africa and has shown to

be a very useful tool when combined with other ICT platforms. A notable example is Shamba

Shape Up , produced by Mediae (Kenya). Shamba Shape Up is a reality TV, make-over series

that guides small scale farmers on topics such as improved pest management, irrigation, cattle

rearing, poultry keeping, financial education, crop management techniques, in an engaging

yet informative way. Each series’ content is structured according to what the audience wants

and needs information on. An impact evaluation showed that 89% of the audience learned

something new, and that 46% actually adopted a new practice or improvement directly from

the show. Almost all of the changers said the change had directly improved their productivity

and/or incomes.

Conclusion

In light of this, a comprehensive information dissemination program that targets

female farmers and those involved in the agricultural value chain – providing practical advice

on how to improve agricultural practices through the adoption of new and existing

technologies holds the potential for transformation. Most importantly, it will promote

cooperation among international development agencies, government departments and

directorates, research institutions and agencies, NGOs, media and commercial partners and

farmers all in a bid to modernize agriculture, address the issue of food security, create

employment opportunities and reduce poverty. It would be a novelty to inspire rural women

farmers and the agricultural landscape in Ghana through creating awareness around the

existence of new improved technologies and high quality seeds of improved varieties that

could directly improve the livelihoods of these women farmers. This, I believe, will go a long

way towards influencing policy makers to create opportunities for female farmers to fulfill

their dreams and reach their potential.

By Isaac Mawuko Adusu

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