What women farmers want to know

Friday, 19 July 2013 08:40 GMT

Although women play a big role in implementing climate-smart production practices, they are often at the bottom of the information chain. CCAFS-CIAT/C. Peterson

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Women are the core of African farming, so why do they get less information about climate- smart practices than men?

Lucy can hardly contain her excitement. A farmer from Dazuuri village, in Ghana’s Upper West Region, she is positive on just about everything. But this topic is one of her favourites: composting.

It is a new technique she learned from training with local agricultural extension officers, and it has revolutionised the way she works on the family’s farm.

She sits up straighter and begins to gesture in earnest. “I am always amazed about [composting] when I do it. I am always happy doing it too because I know at the end of the day it is going to benefit me,” she says, launching into a detailed explanation of the lifecycle of a compost pit, down to testing for proper decomposition by inserting a stake to see if steam is released.

Researchers with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security are taking a look at climate-smart practices such as composting, and some of the barriers that prevent them from being adopted in places like Dazuuri.

Lucy’s in-depth knowledge of the topic is by no means the norm for most improved agricultural practices being promoted in the Upper West Region. Women in rural smallholder communities rarely get a square deal, and that’s especially true in the case of access to information.


Men, in general, are better connected, travel more, and have more opportunities to learn from community meetings and government functions. When it comes to climate-smart practices relevant to this area of Ghana, women are significantly less aware of techniques such as improved livestock breeding, stone bunding and rainwater harvesting than their male counterparts.

The reasons for this discrepancy are many. Women don’t travel to town as much, and they are often too busy cooking, looking after children or working in the fields to attend community meetings, where vital information is often distributed. Sometime they aren’t even invited to community meetings.

Husbands may attend an event and learn something new, but don’t share the information with their wives. And women have lower literacy rates than men and are less likely to stay in school.

This means that, even though women do a big chunk of household labour (carrying water, spreading manure and so on), they’re the least in the know when it comes to practices that could help them adapt to harsh circumstances, increase their family’s food security and lighten their workload.

So where do women get their information from? “I learned from my father when I was young how to spread manure on the fields to improve the soil. When I got married, my husband’s father also passed down knowledge to me,” says Lucy. Most of a woman’s knowledge appears to be a hand-me-down from the men in the family.

Furthermore, many of the most heavily researched and heavily promoted climate-smart practices are targeted at aspects of the production system that are the domain of the men. Acquiring seeds, preparing the land, making investments and decisions on agricultural inputs are several examples.

On the other hand, practices that fall in the domain of the women are given far less emphasis in government and international programmes. They include ways to reduce post-harvest losses, lessen cooking time, ease food preparation, and grow non-cereal crops such as yams and leafy vegetables.


One exception in Lawra district - aside from the composting programme - is dry-season gardening. Vegetable-growing is considered a woman’s job, and the produce from a garden can provide an enormous boost to food security during the leanest time of year, just before the rains.

The extra income a woman can earn from selling excess vegetables goes towards a variety of needs, including children’s school fees and medical costs. Fortunately, dry-season gardening is widely promoted in Dazuuri by local institutions, and initiatives receive an encouraging amount of support from both internal and external sources.

“Everything that you do, you must suffer to gain,” says Lucy. “So I would not say that any task on the farm is difficult because then I would not do it, and then I would not gain from it.” She has an optimistic take on a pragmatic difficulty, as many climate-smart practices, such as composting and manure management, require extra work from women.

Yet other existing practices that could particularly benefit women - such as water harvesting to ease the arduous task of manual collection - are largely unknown to them. The challenge is to identify ways in which climate-smart agriculture can be brought directly to women, so they can be the first to experience its advantages.

For more information on CCAFS work in gender and climate-smart agriculture, read “Smart made even smarter: Gender addressed in new brief on climate smart agriculture” on the CCAFS website

Facts in this blog are based on data from CCAFS gender and climate change research, 2011 household baseline surveys in Lawra-Jirapa, Ghana, and ongoing work on barriers to the adoption of climate-smart agriculture.

Caity Peterson is a visiting researcher based at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, working in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). From July 15-20, CGIAR and its partners are participating in the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW), in Accra, Ghana. For updates from the conference follow @Cgiarclimate and #AASW6 on twitter.