IMANI Alert: the very sad reality of Ghanaian women in agriculture and what must be changed by politicians

A 2012 report by the Food and Agricultural organization on The Role of Women in Agriculture estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 70-90% make up the agricultural labour force. In Ghana, nearly 45% of all agricultural labour is supplied by women, according to the report.

By Maud Martei  and Marianne Asante


Agriculture being the primary occupation of rural Ghana naturally employs a large number of women. A 2012 report by the Food and Agricultural organization on The Role of Women in Agriculture estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 70-90% make up the agricultural labour force. In Ghana, nearly 45% of all agricultural labour is supplied by women, according to the report. Despite this primary role, women are rarely recognized as key players in the sector. They have the least access to productive resources and benefit the least from the agricultural economy, when compared to men. One of the direct manifestation is the lower incomes women earn because most of the labour and services they provide on farms are unpaid. Majority of the women have no ownership or stake in the agricultural value chain which consequently erodes their decision making power, job security, asset ownership and access to credit, productive resources and agency. Recognizing and providing the necessary resources to support women in the agricultural sector will promote the fight for equality, women empowerment and also directly contribute to the reduction in food insecurity. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization in its 2010-11 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture report, “If women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million”.

One of the major obstacles to promoting and capitalization on the productive capabilities of women in agriculture is their lack of access to land. Ghana being a patrilineal society practices an inheritance system whereby men in the households are the owners of custodians of assets including land. Even though laws like the Interstate Succession Law and the Property Rights of Spouses Bill are designed to protect women especially, most of these women are located in rural parts of the country where there is minimal legal knowledge or penetration, as such culture supersedes the statutes. Unfortunately, few of these women may even have the knowledge or means to challenge the customary laws. Where such opportunities exist, some women retreat from such measures for fear of backlash and stigma from the community.

Legally speaking, women in Ghana enjoy rights and privileges akin to men in several regards. And several dedicated resources exist to reduce inequity. However, on the ground and especially in the rural informal economy, women do not receive returns commensurate to their efforts and investments. In agriculture, it is important that women have access to land, technology, extension services, and financing in order to socially empower them and also contribute to reduction in global food insecurity.

Farmlands for agricultural use by women

The Ghana Living Standard Survey, 2005 figures show that men own 73% of the small farms (below 5 acres) and 89% of large farms (above 5 acres) with 76% of total farms belonging to men and 24% belonging to females. There is minimal evidence to suggest an improvement in these over the last decade. Blocher (2006)[1], indicates that nearly three quarters of underdeveloped land in Ghana is held through customary law by individuals, families, stools and ‘tendamba’.  Women can come into ownership of farmlands primarily through purchase or inheritance although the former is highly unlikely due to capital considerations.

In the case of ownership through inheritance, because Ghana practices a patrilineal inheritance system, in most parts of the country widows are dispossessed of their husband’s lands once they are deceased. The Interstate Succession Law and Property Rights of Spouses Bill aims to prevent such occurrences although inadequate education, social and financial constraints, and fear of societal backlash are limitations.

The majority of women farmers cultivate lands through very informal lease or sub lease agreements whereby a parcel of land is granted women to cultivate in farm share agreements. Most of these lands are owned my male heads of their family. Because of the informal nature of the agreements, the same risks exist where if land ownership changes the women may be left vulnerable with no recognizable entitlements. In these cases, it is important that farm share arrangements be witnessed by traditional authorities such that disputes may be properly settled. And where women act solely on their own, they should be able to negotiate land lease agreements directly with a land owners and not necessarily through a male intermediary.

Ultimately, before the land ownership and land lease agreements can improve for women, the entire framework of land use for agricultural purposes must be sanitized. And this will require a hybrid of customary and statutory law. Presently, to mitigate the risk associated with the current systems and to protect women, the practice of writing wills should be widely advocated to make sure women inherit what is due them. Secondly, farm lease agreements should bear elements of formality by involving traditional authorities.

Without the right legal hold to farmland, women are riskier groups to lend to thereby hampering their access to capital. Quantum of investments by women will be lower due to risk aversion, and these robs them of income and job security. These factors indirectly cap the productive capacity and affect the aggregate development of the sector as a whole.

About 98% of women farmers have no access to extension services

A 2010 publication in Agriculture and Rural Development Notes by the World Bank estimates that roughly 2% of women farmers have access to extension officers. This is much lower than access for their male counterpart which is approximately 12%. The ratio compared to men means that for women, it is six times less likely that farming practices will employ appropriate technology, and scientific methods and six times more likely that there will be misapplication of technique and concepts than for counterpart male.  Women also face more difficulties and even receive less subsidized fertilizers than their male counterparts from the government.

Farming cooperatives and access to credit by women

Limited access to credit by women farmers hinders their productivity. As indicated in SEND Ghana’s policy brief on Women and Smallholder Agriculture in Ghana in 2014, only 16% of smallholder farmers are able to access credit. And within the country, regional variations exist with the northern regions disproportionately affected. The research by SEND depicts that while 20% women farmers in Greater Accra have access to credit, for the Upper East Region, less than 10% do.

Due to the higher risk with agricultural investment, formal sources of capital is limited and until the macro-economy of the country shapes up, formal sources of capital will not be forthcoming. Where such options exist, women are constrained by a lack of collateral, usually land. These factors cumulatively make women a riskier group to lend to. For instance, for every 100 Ghanaian farmers accessing credit, only 47 are women according to Action Aid 2015 policy brief Delivering Farming Women’s Rights.

One way women can position themselves better to offset the barriers to their credit access is through the formation of women cooperatives and associations. Farming cooperatives have existed for a long time, but women are sometimes excluded because they are deemed high risk. But solely women cooperative have been proven successful in helping women farmers overcome barriers to credit and obtain value for their produce. One example is the Ojoba Women’s Shea Butter cooperatives. This cooperative consists 400 rural women whose livelihoods tell a story of remarkable improvement. These women have steady incomes that allow them to plan better towards the future and that educate their families, and themselves through adult literacy provisions. Despite the positive results, a 2012 news report indicated that in Ghana many farmers have not taken advantage of the benefits these associations offer.

Other non-farming female cooperatives in Ghana exist as examples to demonstrate the potentials therein. A housing cooperative has encouraged women to mobilize funds to acquire land and undertake building projects according to Pathways Ghana. Cooperatives go beyond giving women income security but also give them the much needed agency they lack and an avenue to gain equity and decrease their risk rating. On their own, many of these women may never save enough capital to invest in land. Currently, many of the women’s farming cooperatives that exist are shea butter cooperatives but it may extend to include other food crops.

Government support to women farmers inadequate

In 2014, the Women in Agriculture Development (WIAD) department of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s expenditure from consolidated funds totalled GHS 118,399 according to reports of the Accountant General. This is 0.09% of what was spent by the entire Food and Agriculture Ministry. Of this amount, 81 per cent was spent on compensation leaving a mere 19% or GHS 22,273 to be spent on goods and services. This underfunding to the directorate severely hampers its effectiveness. That notwithstanding, it is the duty of the entire Food and Agriculture Ministry to ensure equitable distribution of resources.

For that reason, in 2009 a Gender Budgeting initiative was piloted in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and two other ministries. Appropriate trainings were also held for the staff of these ministries.  One of the benefits of gender responsive budgets is that it highlights ‘gender-differentiated impact of revenue-raising policies and the allocation of domestic resources and official development assistance’[2]. Since implementation the program has been hampered by capacity constraints, unavailability of sex disaggregated data, lack of ownership as well as lack of understanding of the basic gender concepts, lack of technical staff and a lack of funding. In the Gender in Agriculture Development Strategy II, renewed commitment has been given towards gender responsive budgets by developing institutional capacities. Given the sensitivity of the women employed in the agricultural sector, implementation of gender responsive budgets should be made priority and there should be a target share of expenditure which will go directly towards supporting women by the entire ministry and not the women’s directorate only.

Training Programs Should be Properly Targeted

WIAD launched the Gender and Agricultural Development Strategy (GADS) with the objective of increasing women’s access to and control over productive resources. To date the ministry has orchestrated a number of training programs for staff and officers to increase the number of female technical staff in the ministry and to educate other male staff on gender related issues. As these programs have occurred mainly on the high level, the training programs must go lower and get closer to the farmers and those officers engage directly with the farmers. The ministry must also work closer with the Ministry of Education to facilitate the recruitment and training of more female in agricultural sciences in order to fill various roles required along the agricultural value chain.

Manifesting Change

During the last electoral cycle in 2012 the National Democratic Congress (ruling government) pledged to improve access to credit for women’s businesses and also to provide selected subsidies for the procurement of improved technologies for women farmers. It also promised a rural and agricultural finance programme with a special focus on women. It was one of very few parties to directly account for women farmers. The New Patriotic Party promised commitment to agricultural sector in general and its specific plans for women bordered on social justice and empowerment. The Convention Peoples Party similarly made general promises concerning equal opportunity and empowerment of women with no specific focus on women engaged in informal economy specifically or the agricultural sector. The People’s National Convention made one specific mention of women in agriculture when it promised that a sheanut marketing board will be established and also expand and create more sheanut factories to create jobs for women. The Progressive People’s Party in its 2012 manifesto made no specific linkages to women in agriculture.

Several of the manifestos had promises to support smalls scale agriculture. This area is occupied predominantly by women thereby indirectly impacting the lives of women. However, targeted policies are crucial to make sure women are in a position to take advantage of the promises towards the actors in peasant agricultural production because blanket measures may fail in reaching some of these women.

Addressing the challenges faced by women in agriculture

  • Women make up roughly 50% of the Ghanaian population therefore it’s not enough to set up a ministry to handle gender, or a directorate in the agricultural ministry and then consider the job done. Gender disparities manifest in every aspect of daily encounters. Therefore commitment to gender equality will be crucial by rolling out on a large scale, gender based budgeting in every public institution. This would make sure that in the implementation of every program, there’s a dedicated gender component that benefits women.
  • One of the targets of Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goal to Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls is to ‘Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws’. It is therefore important for Ghana, to deepen access of legal services especially to those in the rural areas.
  • Agriculture is practiced predominantly in the rural areas where cultural tenets are more stringently upheld. Some of these practices are archaic and oppressive of women therefore it is important that education, training and advocacy targets these traditional authorities given their influence over the areas they govern.
  • More women should be encouraged to acquire skills to be able to incorporate technology in the practice of agriculture. At the basic and secondary school level, opportunities and scholarships schemes should be available to women interested in engaging in the agricultural sector.
  • Agriculture is characterised by many of the features common to other informal economies. One of them is the lack of social security. There must be more widespread education and access should be provided to these women to voluntarily engage in the Informal sector workers social security scheme in order to better prepare for the future.

This Unicef-IMANI sponsored article was authored by Maud Martei (IMANI’s deputy head of research) and Marianne Asante formerly  of IMANI.

[1] Blocher, Joseph. (2006). Building on Custom: Land Tenure Policy and Economic Development in Ghana. Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. Vol 9. Retrieved from

[2] FSG (nd). Evaluation Offers UN Women Insights to Promote Gender-Responsive Budgeting. Retrieved from