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  • Kwame, Confidence, Ebenezer, Daniel, and Sabina

Feeding Ghana through the eyes of female farmers and efforts of open data

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

The agricultural sector in Ghana is known to offer immediate employment to over 50% of the nations’ active labour force. Indeed, this number is dominated with many small-scale farmers who tend to be women and also grow staple crops for subsistence. With current farming practices and relatively small sizes of land, yields of such farms may either be sufficient to meet the household food requirements and when not sufficient, farmers may have to acquire more grains from other family members, other farmers or buy them from the market. This is typically the case for most of the female farmers in the three northern regions of Ghana.

In light of the above, the Africa RISING Program, which forms part of the USAID Feed the Future Initiative, managed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) sought to introduce alternative farming technologies to selected farmers primarily aimed at increasing crop yield beyond the subsistence requirement of each household. This excess crop yield may be sold for extra income which will certainly increase women’s financial freedom and make women more self-reliant. Undertaking a program of this calibre requires a detailed profile of each farmer including the location and attribute of each farm. The outcome of such information may position the Africa RISING Program to offer specific interventions to particular categories of farmers based on their needs and affordability. Indeed, the Africa Rising program is opened to both male and female farmers but the narrative below will examine the survey from the perspectives of female farmers.

The search for an outfit with the needed experience and dedication to undertake such an exercise resulted in a collaboration between the UCC YouthMappers and Africa RISING. In the words of the Chief Scientist for the Program, the enthusiasm with which the UCC YouthMappers undertook a previous project in Kumasi and subsequent reports produced from that project were the main reasons Africa RISING agreed to collaborate with us in profiling the farmers. With no airport in Cape Coast, the team had to travel to Accra (the national Capital) where we joined an hour flight to Tamale. At our first meeting, we took the chance to inform our hosts (the Africa RISING Program) our intention to utilize open data platforms namely; KOBO toolbox, OSMtracker and the Java OpenStreetMap editor (JOSM). The choice of these platforms were informed by the numerous advantages that come with the use of open data as well as extensive experience gained from the use of these platforms.

Guided by the objectives of the Africa RISING Project in West Africa, the team jointly developed a string of questions which were segmented into 5 thematic areas ranging from the basic demographic information, farmers’ knowledge of existing Africa RISING interventions, post-harvest storage and sales as well as current farming practices. Indeed, most of these local farmers could not speak English so the team engaged the services of translators who tagged along with each of the 5 YouthMappers as seen in the image below. Following a successful pretesting, the Africa RISING staff were introduced to OSMtracker which was used to demarcate the boundaries of the farm lands for mapping in OSM at a later point.

YouthMappers, translator, and local farmer

The entire data collection exercise, which lasted for 10 days, covered 10 farming communities in 3 different regions of Northern Ghana, the Northern Region, the Upper East Region and the Upper West Region. From the targeted 216 farmers, nearly half of this number are females whose farm lands are not more than 3 acres and grow crops for basic subsistence survival since their yearly output could only cater for their family needs. Since they cultivate on a very little land, data from this study revealed that none of these women owned the land on which they farm. This was mainly due to customary practices that entrust properties with men as well as unbalanced power relations that make women financially dependent on men.

Having very little to sell for income means that not much income was available to procure some basic necessities of life and this was evident when most women did not own mobile phones which could cost as low as $5. With no mobile phones, the only way to contact these women was through other family members or friends who owned mobile phones. This situation also poses a challenge for the Africa RISING staff, in making access to information on weather and prevailing market prices of crops directly to the women a difficult task and further reinforced women's reliance on men.

Unlike the men who owned livestock and also engaged in other off-farm businesses, most the women surveyed did not find themselves in such a position. To make extra income, these women had to sell their labour to other farmers (usually male farmers who had large parcels of land) who required extra hands in harvesting their crops or preparing their lands for the farming season. Such opportunities did not come on a regular basis but still provided some income to these women.

Local female farmers who have engaged their services to harvest pepper for a fee

On the account of the parcel(s) of land under cultivation, only 1 acre of each farmers' land was dedicated to the Africa RISING program and at all levels, both men and women agreed that the yearly output from the Africa RISING interventions land was always higher when compared to similar crops from other 1-acre lands. With this knowledge, the women in the survey hoped for an expansion of the Africa RISING project to cover other parcels of lands. And it is our hope that the Africa RISING project would heed to the call of these women.

The second phase of the Africa RISING project required the use of the Open Source Map (OSM) tracker to map the farmlands for its respective beneficiaries. Prior to the use of the OSM tracker platform, local farmers employed indigenous technology like the use of sticks, stones, trees, footpaths and other techniques to demarcate their lands. Indeed, these existing techniques made it difficult for Africa RISING project to accurate estimate production data. While mapping farms under the Africa RISING project, evidence from the field indicated that women’s lands were known to be very close to their homes since this would afford them to quickly attend to both domestic and farm duties as compared to the men. The field mapping was mainly done with the help of the men since most women had to resume domestic chores right after the survey. Below is a picture of a team using OSMtracker to demarcate a farmland.

For the team, the experience from this data survey was one to die for. For the first time, we (UCC YouthMappers) had the rare opportunity to engage with the very people who have been feeding our nation for years. With this survey, we have provided valuable information on farmers knowing that the Africa RISING project can offer targeted interventions to various farmer groups. Aside profiling the farmers, we also mapped all the farm lands and each community visited and by this, we increased the visibility of these smallholder farmers on the global stage. The encounter with the female farmers has been peak of this survey since it afforded us the opportunity to highlight the gender perspective of Ghana’s agricultural system. We can’t wait to replicate this exercise in other parts of the country. We are grateful for the support received from Chad Blevins, the entire YouthMappers community, and the Africa RISING project. We can’t wait to share the full report from this survey. Below are group pictures of farmers in selected communities and the research team.

This guest post was written by University of Cape Coast YouthMappers (UCC YouthMappers) Kwame Odame, Confidence Kpodo, Ebenezer Boateng, Daniel Osei Agyemang and Sabina Abuga who participated in the IITA-UCC YM project. Follow @youthmappersucc on Twitter.

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