Rural women playing vital roles in food security

Wed, 25 Mar 2015 Source: Hinneh, Samuel

By Samuel Hinneh

Women in Ghana, and for that matter, rural women play a vital role in the attainment of food security. Through the production, processing and marketing of food crops, women are seen as the main stay of the agricultural value chain business in the country.

In Ghana, women are said to produce between 70 and 80 per cent of food crops on small-scale basis and it is believed their empowerment will not only enhance the quality and quantity of the various food crops they produce but attract many more, especially the youth, into the venture, culminating in the much-desired positive change.

In spite of the contribution of rural women to ensure secured food for the entire population and export, not much seems to be desired of in terms of supporting rural women from the government level. Rural women farmers have over the years complained about lack of financial support, access to land, agricultural extension officers, among others.

Recognizing the important role played by rural women at the global level, the World Rural Women’s Day was instituted, to commemorate the effort of rural women in food production in over 100 countries worldwide. This takes place every October 15, of the year.

The annual celebration of World Rural Women’s Day (WRWD) is considered as a practical way of obtaining recognition and support for the multiple roles that rural women play in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.

The Development Action Association (DAA), a farmer based organisation that seeks to empower rural women farmers have over the years organized various activities to mark the occasion.

Women In Fish Production

Cecilia Agbesi, a 68 year old fish processor in Tsokome, a suburb in Accra, with more than 20 years of experience, raised six children from this trade.

During bumper harvest, she is able to process or ‘smokes’ between 100 and120 boxes of fish in a day and between 70 and 80 boxes when there is scarcity of the commodity.

She smokes both herrings and anchovies, known in the locally referred to as ‘Keta School Boys’.

Even though she does not have any formal education, Madam Cecilia seems to have a basic idea of what food security is all about.

According to her, after herrings and anchovies are dried and smoked, they can be stored and preserved between nine months to a year to ensure continuous supply even in the lean season.

She said tuna, salmon and some other fishes, however, cannot be stored or preserved for that long. By the time you keep them for a week and over they start breaking or going bad.

Cecilia takes her fish to markets in Mamprobi in Accra, Denu, Hohoe in the Volta Region and also attracts buyers from Temale and Yendi in the Northern part of Ghana.

Cecilia, who is President of the Tsokome Fish Smokers Association, uses improved ways for smoking and preserving her fish.

She has built a platform with a running water to wash the fish before drying. “This ensures that sand fails to get into the fish,’’ she noted.

Additionally, she uses the ‘Chorkor Smoker’- post-harvest processing technique, which the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assisted the women in developing to efficiently process the fish. Initially developed for Ghana, the Chorkor oven has been used in Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Madagascar

“Because my fish is devoid of sand, I have a good market for my produce. On any market day anywhere, my fish is so well patronized that I hardly bring anything back home,” she proudly said.

Cecilia further disclosed that she learnt her improved ways of processing fish from the DAA, as well as participated in an exchange programme in Italy with help from the farmer based organization.

Recounting how her fish business all started, Madam Cecilia said she could not even remember the initial capital she invested into it.

“But I do remember that I used to dry the fish on the bare floor before smoking them and this made sand to get into the fish.

“At the time, I had two children - none of which attended school because they had to help me with the work. Business was bad because I didn’t have a proper way to preserve my fish.

“Another major challenge I encountered at the time was accounting. I didn’t know how much I was investing in my work and the profit I was making, I just could not account for anything in my business,” she confessed.

Today, with the help of DAA, Cecilia has learnt book-keeping, and can now account for her entire work. She knows how much she has invested and how much profit she makes and can tell if things are going well or not.

Due to the various challenges confronting the fishery industry, Cecilia is now practicing alternative livelihood. She breeds and rears livestock and also does petty trading.

Madam Comfort Addo is also a fish smoker at Kokrobite, near Kasoa, and the President of the Kokrobite Fish Smokers Association, president of DAA, and second vice president of Farmers Organisation Network in Ghana. She has undertaken this profession for at least 30 years to cater for her seven children.

Just like Cecilia, Madam Comfort also smokes herrings and anchovies to promote food security since the two types of fishes are not easily perishable.

She also uses improved methods of fish processing which, she says, makes her product stand out in the market.

“I used to dry my fish on the bare floor but with the education I got from DAA I don’t do that anymore. I have improved the way I dry my fish. I used to get very tired when smoking fish but with the help of the ‘Chorkor Smoker’ that DAA together with FAO developed, fish smoking has become more convenient,” she added.

Additionally, she has also learnt a bit of book-keeping which helps her keep track of her business.

“Initially, I kept all my money in my room and my kids use to steal some but these days, I have a bank account so after selling my fish in Techiman or Bolgatanga I pay the money into my account before coming back to Accra. My customers also transfer whatever they owe me into my account and that helps me a great deal,” she added.

As part of her alternative livelihood, Madam Comfort provides water for her community through a water reservoir she has built at a cost. She is also into trading such as selling of maize.

Even though her job is lucrative, she said unapproved fishing methods like the use of light affects her livelihood.

She said in order to help promote the work of the women in the fishing industry, the DAA, led by Mrs Lydia Sasu, initiated the translation of the fisheries regulations into five local languages - Ga, Nsema, Fante, Ewe, and Twi - to help them understand the regulations, adding that move was, indeed, laudable.

Women in Traditional Farming

Since childhood, Eva Ametepey Agbovi, ventured into farming at Amuyaokope in Sege.

Over the years, she used to plant cassava and ‘bambara’ beans but says she also produces tomatoes, pepper, okro, corn, sweet potatoes, and cowpea.

But the real transformation in her farming career after an encounter with the Director of the DAA.

“When we met Aunty Lydia a few years ago, she advised that as farmers, we could go into the rearing of pigs in addition to our work. The Director of the DAA helped us in putting up the structures together and gave us four piglets each to start the project.

“At a point, some farmers in the community found the rearing of the pigs too cumbersome and decided to quit so I bought three additional ones to increase my stock to seven. Out of the seven piglets, I now have over 300 pigs.

“In addition to the pigs, I have about 500 sheep (I started with just five); and I also rear cattle, grasscutter, rabbits, and some poultry,’’ she says.

Her farm provides food for people in most of the neighbouring towns and also attracts buyers from various towns.

In order to continue with her production consistently she has also constructed a dam to provide water for her livestock and farm and some of the farms of her neighbours.

Even though she has no formal education, Madam Eva has used proceeds from her farm to educate her 10 of her 11 children. One has completed the university; two are currently in tertiary institutions, three in Senior High School and four in Junior High School.

In 2009, Madam Eva was adjudged the second best farmer in Ghana, an achievement she holds dear to her heart.

The following year with the help of DAA she had the opportunity to attend an exchange programme in Italy where she also learnt other improved ways of multiplying her farm produce.

She is extremely grateful to the DAA, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) as well as officials of The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Kumasi who helped them organize an innovative platform that brought together extension officers, buyers of agricultural products and farmers to share ideas on how to make the best out of agriculture.

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel