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Ecological Organic Agriculture in Northern Ghana; The Role of Women And The Youth

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Ecological Organic Agriculture in Northern Ghana; The Role of Women And The Youth

The world today is facing a deep and growing crisis as a result of the way we produce, process and distributes our food coupled with the ravaging effects of climate change. Our planet’s ecology, health of our people, societal stability, fairness and care are being threatened by a green industrial revolution driven by greed and profits. Sustainability has been thrown to the back burner and we bear children without their future in mind. Ghana, like many other African countries have adopted the green revolution theories and aided by foreign donor organizations with links to the promoters of the Green revolution.

Mabe, et al have noted that in recent times, the sector has witnessed continuous use of synthetic inputs mainly because of growing loss in soil fertility levels and the need to increase food production levels, enhance food security and reduce poverty levels. Farmers have particularly adopted strategies such as intensive use of land, agrochemical usage, irrigation, disease and pest resistant varieties and so forth to increase crops yields and guarantee food security. Farmers are highly motivated to using these strategies due to the emphasis placed by most agricultural development policies in Ghana which suggest the use of external inputs such as machinery and agrochemicals as the panacea to increasing food productivity. This has led to increasing the use of synthetic agrochemicals instead of the biological, cultural, and mechanical method for boosting production, controlling pest, weed, and disease (Mabe, Talabi and Danso-Abbeam, 2017) . Some of these chemical fertilizers according to Savci (2012) are agricultural pollutants that can pose health problems such as cancer.

Mabe, F. N., Talabi, K. and Danso-Abbeam, G. (2017). Awareness of Health Implications of Agrochemical Use: Effects on Maize Production in Ejura-Sekyedumase Municipality, Ghana. Advances in Agriculture. Volume 2017 (2017), Article ID 7960964, 11 pages.

Savci, S. (2012). An Agricultural Pollutant; Chemical Fertilizer. International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, 3, (1)

According to FiBL & IFOAM 2015,2018 , organic agriculture only used 0.2% of Ghana’s Agricultural land in 2015 and in 2018 the share of organic land decreased to 0.1%. This means that the share of agricultural land used for organic agriculture has been declining, therefore 99.9% of agriculture in Ghana is inorganic and uses various chemicals that are hazardous to human health and biodiversity.

In recent years the world has seen a growing awareness about health and environmental issues. Consumers world-wide are becoming concerned about the quality and safety of food that they eat. They are concerned about the effect of pesticides, fertilizers, livestock effluent and veterinary drugs on their health and livelihoods. Organic agriculture is considered to be a viable solution to most of these concerns. A study by Coalition for the Advancement of Organic Farming (CAOF) in 2016 showed that 91.3% of middle class consumers were willing to buy organic fruits and vegetables in Bolgatanga. Consumers were willing to buy organic fruits and vegetables at a premium price but cited limited availability and other factors that might make it too expensive for them. They were ready to pay up to 10% more for organic fruits and vegetables (CAOF,2016) .

Women and the agricultural sector in Ghana

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) is responsible for the overall development of the agricultural sector in Ghana and has one of its seven technical directorates being the Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD) Directorate. The mission of this directorate is to develop effective policies that promote delivery of improved technologies and information on agricultural production and post-production in an environmentally sustainable manner. However, the realities in Ghana does not show that this mission is being achieved as organic agriculture, which is proven to be environmentally sustainable has been given little attention by the directorate and the ministry in general. The directorate also has an impressive achievement on the ministry’s website, but a careful study of these achievement shows that the department did not initiate most of the projects that led to such achievements.

FiBL & IFOAM 2015: The World of Organic Agriculture 2015, Frick and Bonn
CAOF, 2016: Potential for the consumption of Organic/green fruits and vegetables among middle class consumers in Bolgatanga, A. Sturgeon and A. L Gerard

Discrimination against women in agriculture, especially smallholder women farmers, is a serious injustice which must be eschewed. There is a widening gender gap that exists in land acquisition, access to modern inputs, seedlings, education, livestock, financial and extension services that are against women. Women therefore have the least access to these means of increasing yields and find it impossible to move from the “stone-aged” subsistence farming to market-oriented production. This gender inequality hinders productivity and reduces women’s contribution to the agriculture sector and to the achievement of broader economic and social development goals.

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An IFAD sponsored study in the Upper East region found that women undertake low-profit activities that men reject, as long as it helps contribute to the feeding of their families. Some of these low-profit activities include vegetable production. Traditionally, women would grow vegetables to supplement the staple crops such as millet and sorghum. However, women have much more limited access to resources than their male counterparts especially in the areas of education, land, agricultural extension and access to credit, all of which combine to restrain their ability to increase their productivity and incomes. Also, in some parts of Ghana especially the Northern part, it is culturally unaccepted for a woman to own a piece of land, making it difficult for them to possess and control their own farms.

Farming in Ghana, unfortunately, has remained a male dominated occupation with women playing very limited roles in the sector. Although the Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD) directorate of MoFA, is doing well to fulfil its mandate of mainstreaming all agricultural policies, programmes and projects through the implementation of the Gender and Agricultural Development Strategy (GADS) for the sector, they have more work to do in order to make this great strategy a reality.

IFAD – Office of Evaluation and Studies. 2004. Ghana: LACOSREP I, Mid-term Evaluation Report. Rome. July

Youth in the Agricultural Sector of Ghana

Over the past forty years, the population of youth in Ghana has increased from 1.1 million in 1960 to 2.3 million in 1984, and to 3.5 million in 2000. About 60 percent of the unemployed in Ghana can be found in the 15-24 years age group. This makes Ghana‘s youth unemployment rate one of the highest in the world (Amankrah, 2006). Youth unemployment is a major challenge facing both developed and developing countries including Ghana. Since youths constitute the economically active population, youth unemployment can lead to social discontent and instability. Other social costs of youth unemployment include increase in social vices such as drug abuse, prostitution, armed robbery and teenage pregnancies among others.

Ghana has a majority of its population being youthful (between the ages of 15 – 35 years) which calls for better youthful policies to maximize the energies of the youth. However, there is a high rate of youth unemployment in Ghana (27.2% of this age looking for jobs for the first time) and even higher in the northern part of the country (GSS, 2010). As a result of the high unemployment rates, most of the youth are idle and are often used by politicians/selfish leaders to foment conflict. This has accounted for the numerous conflicts in the northern part of the country. The situation is also causing rural-urban migration and its attendant social and economic problems in the urban areas.

Several governments have tried to tackle these problems of the youth of Ghana through the agricultural sector. The most notable of them is the Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP). YIAP is a Government of Ghana (GOG) agricultural sector initiative with an objective of motivating the youth to accept and appreciate farming/food production as a commercial venture, thereby taking up farming as a life time vocation. The programme was introduced in 2009 by the then government. According to MoFA (2011), the YIAP has the task and responsibility of mobilizing the youth to take up farming and its other related activities as life time vocation. The youth who engage in the programme are provided with tractor services and agro-inputs. The programme has four major components namely; crops/block farm, livestock and poultry, fisheries/aquaculture and agribusiness.

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This project though laudable is not without constraints and its whole strategy does not support organic farming practices. Two studies of the programme concluded that there was moderate participation of the youth in the programme and majority of the participants were male with low level of education and of a higher age group (between 31 to 35 years). It was further concluded that age, education, household size, farm size, membership of an FBO, farm income, access to credit facilities, location and distance from the farmers’ residence to the YIAP site/farm were the main determinants of participation in the YIAP (Ohene V. F, 2013 and Baah C, 2014). The youth just like the women face similar challenge of less access to land, credit facilities, farm inputs and others.

Ecological Organic Agriculture and the youth and Women

According to IFOAM Organics International, “Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.” With this definition, it is clear that in other to engage the youth and women in the agricultural sector, organic agriculture should be the pathway.

The youth and women are faced with similar challenges of low level of education, poor access to land, unemployment, low access to credit, low access to inputs and extension services. However, these women and youth have traditional knowledge of agriculture which can easily be build on to make organic farming a success. Organic farming as defined makes use of local resources and cycles adapted to local conditions. Due to the specific role of smallholder women farmers in food production, many of them are repositories of knowledge on cultivation, processing and preservation of nutritious and locally adapted crop varieties. It is estimated that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as their men counterpart, they could incresase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, and this could raise total agricultural output in Ghana by 4 percent, which in turn could reduce hunger by 17 percent. In the long run, this would improve family nutrition, food security, maternal and child health, promote environmental management, minimize poverty levels and reduce conflicts.

One of the key issues with youth in agriculture is the lack of interest in agriculture. This is as a result of the fact that the youth perceive agriculture as less rewarding and meant for the low educated people. The global market for organic agriculture is over 80 million euros and still expanding with USA, Germany and France as the leading market places. Organic agriculture could therefore be key for the Ghanaian youth to take part in this huge market. There is therefore the need for the youth to take up organic agriculture as means to reduce unemployment and earn a decent income.

Another area in which the youth and women of northern Ghana can take advantage of organic farming is the fact that the area is enriched with vast savanna lands that have been left fallow for long periods. Ghana’s total land area is 23,884,245 hectares, with agricultural land area being 14,038,224, representing 58.8% of the total land area of the country. The three northern regions of Ghana which is mainly a savanna zone has 40.9% of the total land area of Ghana. The area which mostly falls under the guinea savanna vegetation zone makes up 62% of the total land area of Ghana. The average rural population of the northern part of Ghana is over 80%. These statistics shows that the area has the potential to increase the organic market share of the country.

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Challenges of the Organic sector in Northern Ghana

The main challenges facing the organic sector in northern Ghana is access to organic inputs. These inputs such as land, fertilizers, seeds and pesticides are not readily available to smallholder farmers. Farmers are taught to prepare their own compost to fertilize their soils and to use organic pest control methods, however most farmers see the composting process as tedious, time consuming and inadequate materials to produce to meet farm demand.

Another challenge that is worth mentioning is the government agricultural policies such as Farm Input Support Program (FISP) and Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ). These policies provide subsidies for inorganic agricultural inputs and entice most farmers to go into conventional farming. This makes organic farming unattractive in the country.

The northern sector lies in the savanna vegetation zone and has only one rainy season and long dry season. The absence of rain, for a long time of the year means that, women and the youth have to find alternative livelihoods during this period. This leads to the rural-urban migration menace. The very few irrigation sides and rivers in the area are heavily polluted with pesticides and other pollutants which makes organic farming in the dry season very expensive.

The biggest issue of organic agriculture in northern Ghana is the undeveloped nature of the market. There is no segregated market for organic produce in the northern part of Ghana. Consumers therefore find it very difficult to locate organic produce. Most organic farmers have their own customer base and some mostly produce for the export market, however organic products are often mixed with the conventional products and sold on the open market, thereby denying the producers any premium on the products.
Conclusions and Recommendations

In conclusion, it should be noted that agricultural policies and programmes that exclude the youth and women are self-defeating. That organic agriculture can be the best way to eradicate the gender discrimination in agriculture and encourage the youth to take up agriculture as a lifetime career. Constraints of livelihoods security faced by women and the youth in agriculture are all related to inadequate access to the relevant resources, services, benefits and decision-making mechanisms in the agricultural sector.

Recommendations

1. The government and other development agencies should focus on organic agriculture in the northern part of Ghana in other to reverse the declining soil fertility, food insecurity, climate variability and change trend. The focus of government interventions in the region should be on women and the youth.

2. Government and customary stakeholders such as chiefs and Landlords (Tindaana’s) should stop the discrimination in land ownership and tenure by taking immediate steps to guarantee equal rights to land for men and women, independent of their civil status. Policies and programmes should also be implemented to facilitate access and control of agricultural resources by women and the youth.

3. WIAD should redesign its projects in northern Ghana to focus on organic agriculture among women. This will contribute to better nutrition, food security, health and employment among women in the region.

4. The YIAP in northern Ghana through its block farms project should focus on organic agriculture and include an export commodity in the region in the crops to be grown. This will help encourage the youth in the region to take up agriculture as a career. It will also help boost export of the country and increase its share in the growing world organic market and reduce youth unemployment.

 

By: Agana Lapointe Gerard

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