- On December 31, 2014
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Land remains the major source of livelihood for rural populations all over the world. In Ghana land is one of the most important productive assets for about 73.4% of the rural population whose major livelihood activity is predominantly agriculture (Based on 2010 Population and Housing Census). Nearly 30% of Ghanaians fall below the extreme poverty line and 70% of this number are food crop farmers who live and make a living from land (GLSS 2008).
Access to land and secured tenure therefore provides the poor with a source of livelihood, food security and opportunity for investment. Insecurity of land tenure has been shown in numerous studies to contribute to decline in agriculture production and entrenches poverty among poor farm families, particularly women who depend on land and natural resources for a living.
In northern Ghana, women’s main access to land is through their lineage, inheritance, marriage or by contractual arrangements and in recent times through outright purchase, albeit on a minimal scale. Women are the most important actors in the food production chain from land preparation, crop production, marketing and intra household distribution of food. They play major roles in post-harvest activities such as shelling of grains, storage, processing and marketing. They are also becoming increasingly visible in farming activities that were traditionally the preserve of men.
Women continue to play a central role in ensuring food security in their households even though they have much more limited access to services (education, agriculture extension services) and control over resources such as land, agriculture inputs and credit. An approach that provides equitable rights and security of land tenure to rural dwellers, especially women, therefore has the potential of contributing to poverty reduction among rural households.
SEND–GHANA with Support from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) of Canada and the Canadian Co-operative Association’s (CCA’s) Environmental Innovation Fund is implementing a project aimed at Building Women’s Resiliency for Climate Change in three communities spanning three districts in the Eastern Corridor of Northern Ghana.
These communities are Kalande in the East Gonja District, Mbowura in the Kpandai District and Biyundo in the Nanumba North District. The project seeks to equitably strengthen the resiliency levels of women co-operative members to climate change by increasing positive environmental inputs, reducing deforestation and increasing their access to economic opportunities. This is a women only initiative.
Climate variability in recent years is limiting farmers’ agricultural activities as they are experiencing irregular rainfall patterns culminating into lower levels of food crop productivity. There is also the issue of the inability of farmers to cope with the shocks that accompany changes in weather patterns.
Although communities in the eastern corridor of Northern Ghana are faced with the negative effects of climate change, the impacts felt by men and women is unequal.. Co-operative members, particularly women in communities in the eastern corridor of northern Ghana, are engaged in foraging activities (i.e. collection of firewood for sale, charcoal burning) for non-agriculture livelihoods. The changing weather patterns has increased women work load regarding foraging and these activities further impact negatively on the environment. There is emerging trending of increase in the number of female headed households as more men, unable to cope with crop failures, are migrating down south for non-existent economic opportunities. Moreover, women in these communities have differing and unequal access to adaptive capacity to cope with the impacts of changes in the climatic conditions.
To address these constraints, the project is tailored to build the capacity and confidence of women to be self-sufficient economically and socially. It will also provide opportunities for targeted women to access services that will enhance their abilities to adapt to the changing weather patterns. By boosting their confidence level, the project will further enable beneficiary women to challenge cultural norms that suppress their growth and wellbeing. In order to combat the spate of deforestation caused through the cutting and burning of wood for commercial purposes and domestic use, an embedded strategy of the project is to promote afforestation.
Dialogue and Sensitization
Through sensitization, dialogue and negotiations with the chiefs and elders of these communities, the women have secured five acres of land each and a lease signed for an indefinite period of time. These women can proudly call these parcels of land their own as traditionally men are the sole owners of land in northern Ghana. The land leased is to be used purposely for commercial woodlot site and nursery with documented agreement which is legally binding to all parties concerned.
Of the five acres for each group, one acre has economic trees such as mango and citrus (orange). The other four acres are used for Cassia plant species. The Cassia plants are fast growing and as such good for commercial woodlot. The women can harvest wood for charcoal and fuel wood at some specified period without depleting the woodlot. To maximize the benefit from the land and ensure short term income opportunities, the women intercrop soya beans in the woodlot as the trees are still ‘young’. The decision to select these specific tree species was guided primarily by the following factors:
• Women’s’ diversified economic pursuits and; production uses of the trees: fuel-wood, charcoal sale, fruit consumption/sale, among others.
• Multi-functionality of the species
• Coppicing ability of the trees (to eliminate cost of regeneration)
• Ease of propagation/planting
• Environmental/climatic suitability of the species to the selected region:
• Adaptability to the local soil (determined by observing the local plant communities)
• Resistance to drought
• Resistance to wind, browsing, pests and diseases
• Pace of growth
• Period of leaf retention (for water)
Capacity Building for the women
The capacity building component of the project aims at equipping the women with the skills to manage and maintain the woodlot. In the pursuit of the objective, the women have had their capacity strengthened in the following areas:
• Financial literacy education
• Enterprise management skills (aimed at building the confidence of the women to ensure successful ownership of project and capabilities)
• Improvement in the adaptive capacity of co-operatives to climate change (alternative sources of income- nursery and woodlot)
• Education to promote organic alternatives to pest management and fertilizer inputs
• Proper tree planting, management and maintenance of woodlot
• Intercropping techniques with Soya bean
• Budgeting, auditing, and sustainability management
• Experience sharing forum on new national Policy on fire management
• Environmental stewardship
To manage and maintain the woodlot, the women have received financial literacy education.
A total of 5,200 kilograms of soya beans produced on the 5 acre plot in each of the 3 community woodlots was sold at GHC4, 160.00. The women have used this money to open group accounts which they control without any influence from their husbands. The Kalande group has been able to save GH? 1500.00 with the Salaga Community Co-operative Credit Union from soya beans sales intercropped in the woodlot (comprising mango, cassia spp and citrus).
The Mbowura women co-operative have saved GH? 600 with the Kpandai Community Co-operative Credit Union from their sales while the Biyuundo women co-operative have saved GH? 2100 with the Chamba Community Co-operative Credit Union. The revenue generated from the sale of the soya beans each year will be used as seed money for small loans for member’s economic activities.
The groups have also been given support to create a nursery site in each of the communities. It is highly anticipated that these nurseries would readily provide them with the seedlings they need for expansion of their woodlots; and also make some income through the sale of the seedlings to nearby communities in the course of the women leading the effort to create awareness on the need to protect the environment.
The groups have also been linked to other cooperatives to provide them with seedling at a subsidized price. Tree seedlings available in the nurseries include; Mango, Cassia sp, Albizia, Lucena, Teak, Neem and Mahogany.
To further improve the living standards of the women, the project has encouraged them to use the monies they accrued through the sales of the soya beans for a revolving microfinance among themselves. This would help them boost the other economic activities that the women are engaged in (soap making, trading, etc). The credit would be paid back with a little interest determined by the women themselves. The women have selected organized leaders to steer their affairs in the upkeep and running of the woodlot and nursery and also the microfinance.
Plans are underway to expand the project to some more communities to empower women, give them a source of income and improve the general well-being of families. However, insecurity of land tenure for women results in lower investment and potential environmental degradation; it compromises on future production potential and increases food insecurity. As a result the project has been able to work with community leaders to secure permanent land to these women members. The male leaders of each community signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) with the women to ensure that their ownership of the plots is guaranteed.
The woodlot project has over the past two years contributed tremendously to improving the economic resilience of rural community women through the proceeds generated from the production of soya bean and the potential to provide the women with regenerative firewood / charcoal production through tree plantation. Significantly, the project provides opportunities for climate change adaptive strategy as it has long term impact on environmental sustainability. Also, the project contributes to improving soil fertility in the area and at the same providing women with the opportunity to own land. Notwithstanding the contributions the project has made in improving the patriarchal system of land ownership in these communities, there is still the need for further dialogue, lobbying and mass education to guarantee sustainability of the initiative.
Story by Patience Ayamba, Gender Officer, SEND-GHANA