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Opinions Wed, 28 Oct 2015

Addressing Poverty In Northern Ghana

… How Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture (CRSA) can make the difference

Almost a decade ago, Ghana became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to halve extreme poverty. Parts of the population living below the national poverty line was cut down from 36.5% to 18.2% between 1991 and 2006.

Currently, the United Nations measures extreme poverty as people living on less than $1.25 daily, presently less than Ghc5 in Ghana.

When Ghana reached this Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of halving extreme poverty, we received international recognition and accolades for this feat.

All across the country, news of Ghana’s achievement, which happened well ahead of the 2015 deadline, circulated within the media, dominating discussions and generating enthusiasm and optimism about the remaining goals.

However, the reduction of extreme poverty in Ghana was largely concentrated in seven of the ten regions. Poverty is still very much endemic in the rural areas and the three northern areas of the country, Upper East, Upper West and the Northern Region.

The Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS 6, 2013) estimates that about 2.2 million people, consisting of 8.4% of the population, live in extreme poverty in Ghana. This does not include the significant portion of the population that is still living without access to basic needs, but who make enough money and therefore are not considered “extremely poor”

The World Bank Group in October launched a report titled: “Poverty in a Rising Africa” to honour the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17th October.

The report re-emphasises the situation of poverty by stating that although poverty in Africa may be lower than currently estimated, more people are poor today than they were 25 years ago. It also states that although poverty in Africa has declined, the number of poor has increased. This can be attributed to the widening income gap between high-income and low-income populations, causing even greater inequality.

In Ghana, rapid urbanisation has resulted in poverty rates going down but the case is not the same in the northern part of the country.

ActionAid Ghana’s Country Strategy Paper (CSP) V outlines that 70% of people with income that falls below the poverty line are found in the northern and savannah areas.

One of the reasons for this is the fixation by policy-makers on developing urban areas within the country, which has created immense development disparities, resulting in people from the rural communities migrating to the urban areas in search of better standards of living.

The livelihood of the majority of people from northern Ghana is also largely dependent on farming. This reliance on rainfall, due to climate change, has become threatened over the years.

Ghana has experienced an increase in weather extremities such as unpredictable and aggravated rains and droughts in subsequent years which has affected farming. According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, about 1.2 million people are food insecure.

Access to land is dependent on land tenure agreements, inheritance and land use patterns.

Women in northern Ghana are given land by their husbands and most at times, these plots of land are less fertile and unable to produce sufficient yield to enhance their livelihoods. This situation makes women vulnerable, by preventing them from gaining economic freedom and independence.

On average, 10% of female farmers own land compared to their male counterparts of which 23% are landowners. By sensitising women about the existing policies on land ownership and engaging in training programmes with rural communities, ActionAid Ghana and its partners have assisted 256 widows and female-headed household farmers to acquire 80 acres of fertile land for farming and other productive activities.

For the next five years, ActionAid Ghana will be increasing its special focus on smallholder women farmers.

During the CSP V period (2015-2019), one of the key mission objectives will be the promotion of Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture (CSRA), which will enable women to secure access and exercise control over lands and other productive resources.

Working in line with the Ghana Strategic Growth Development Agenda (GSGDA), 100,000 smallholder women farmers will be supported within the next 5 years to advocate and receive direct support from government and policy-makers so they can access CRSA extension services.

In 2014, ActionAid Ghana trained Female Extension Volunteers (FEV) in CRSA practices such as composting, improvement of soil fertility and promoted mixed cropping by rotating planting of legumes with cereals. This was to reduce crop failure, improve pest management, mulching, soil and water conservation among many others.

The lives of smallholder women farmers like Mariam Seidu have been significantly impacted. She was one of many women who mobilised six groups consisting of 120 smallholder farmers to benefit from education on CRSA extension services in the Sissala East District of the Upper East Region.

Mariam testified that, “the support that we received on CRSA has really made it very easy for me to deliver basic CRSA extension services to over 120 women farmers this year alone. My groups have reported an increase in crop yield with less cost as compared to the conventional agricultural practices of burning crop residues, using inorganic fertilisers and mono cropping, which we were practicing in the past” (ActionAid Ghana, CSP V).

In Sub-Saharan Africa, women are responsible for over 80% of food production (International Business Times), however only 15% of these women are landowners.

Empowering smallholder women farmers in Ghana and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa is crucial to ensuring food security in these areas.

To guarantee that every form of poverty is eradicated once and for all in the northern area, the use of CRSA practices needs to be encouraged not only by Civil Society Organisations but also by policy makers. It is Ghana’s responsibility to reduce and eliminate the negative impact of climate change, as it has such a detrimental effect on farming and threatens food security.

Deborah Lomotey

Communications Officer

ActionAid Ghana
Columnist: Lomotey, Deborah