Identifying challenges and constraints experienced by women smallholder farmers in northern Ghana


by Rosemary Keane | September 5, 2018

The Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab’s Socioeconomic and Gender Equity Research team explores how gender-based inequalities and constraints impact smallholder farmers’ productivity. They developed an adapted version of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, called WEAI+, that includes a module focused on soybean production. In this blog, Rosemary Keane describes the results of a study that piloted the WEAI+ among smallholder farmers in northern Ghana.

Soybeans (Photo credit: USAID/Kathleen Ragsdale)

Soybeans (Photo credit: USAID/Kathleen Ragsdale)

Although women play a critical role in agricultural growth in developing countries, men and women smallholder farmers – even within the same household – often have different needs and priorities and experience different constraints in their access to agricultural resources and decision-making power. In sub-Saharan Africa, women farmers are vulnerable to inequalities in access to land and other critical resources, education and training, and power over agricultural decision-making that impact their agricultural productivity. At the same time, USAID estimates that “by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies, and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent helping to feed a growing population." This is increasingly important as the global population is estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

Researchers Dr. Kathleen Ragsdale and Dr. Mary Read-Wahidi lead the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab’s Socioeconomic and Gender Equity Research team. They are examining these inequalities and how they impact smallholder farmers through often complex societal pressures such as plot allotment and restrictive gender roles. Using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index + Soybean Modules (WEAI+), Ragsdale and Read-Wahidi study how men and women farmers’ access (or lack thereof) to information and productive inputs in Ghana’s Northern Region can impact their soybean productivity.

The WEAI+ includes the original index (with minor revisions to improve cultural relevance for implementation in Ghana). The “plus” refers to additional soybean-related modules focused on collecting soybean production data that can be disaggregated by gender. The WEAI+ is used to measure empowerment across key agricultural indicators included in the WEAI, such as input in productive decision-making, access to and decisions on credit, and control over use of income.

Women soybean farmers in Ghana's Northern Region (Photo credit: USAID/Kathleen Ragsdale)

Women soybean farmers in Ghana's Northern Region (Photo credit: USAID/Kathleen Ragsdale)

The first wave of the WEAI+ was collected in 2014, and results from Ghana indicate that women farmers were significantly less empowered than men in 3 of the 10 WEAI indicators: 1) input in productive decision-making, 2) purchase, sale, or transfer of assets, and 3) speaking in public (with extension agents, for instance). These constraints can negatively impact the amount of crop produced, which can subsequently impact household food security and household income.

Results from the soybean modules suggest that women farmers in Ghana’s Northern Region can and do participate in soybean value chains, but efforts to ensure their continued inclusion could have important pay-offs. These findings are important because both men and women smallholder farmers in Ghana expressed considerable interest in improved soybean varieties, especially if others have reported success in increasing their yields. WEAI+ Wave I results provide a baseline understanding of how future research and extension can improve the ways in which men and women smallholder farmers access high-quality seed, other inputs, and agricultural information and training.  The results from Wave II of the WEAI+ are currently being analyzed and will expand on the Wave I study to help guide successful outreach and engagement with men and women smallholder soybean farmers.

Visit the Soybean Innovation Lab website to access the results from the WEAI+ Wave I and read SIL’s announcements and newsletters.  


This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed in or registered to leave a comment.