See below for a guest post from MFAN Partner Women Thrive Worldwide. This piece is the first in our series that features reporting on how the President’s global development policy is being implemented in the field. Click here to learn more about the series.
More than one in four people worldwide – at least 1.6 billion – are women who live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Women in developing countries grow most of their food on small plots of land and are often responsible for feeding their families. But they also face serious constraints: they are pressed for time, often do not own the land they farm, and have less access to credit, equipment, extension services, and training, just to name a few. Until recently, agriculture and food security programs did not recognize or try to address these gender-specific constraints.
Feed the Future, USAIDs largest program in decades focused on long-term investment in agriculture and food security, has sought to change that. Feed the Future’s program is threefold. It includes:(1) gender, (2) gender analysis, and (3) a new Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index that seeks to inform all investments by measuring women’s empowerment relative to men in their household. The Index looks at decision-making, access to resources, control over income, community leadership, and time management.
Ghana is one of the countries targeted by Feed the Future. Agriculture accounts for about 30 percent of Ghana’s GDP and has been a major focus of its government since 2009, when it signed the CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program) compact. Feed the Future seeks to work with the private sector, civil society, and the government in Ghana to reduce poverty and transform the agricultural sector (especially the production of maize, rice, and soy). Gender is recognized and integrated as a priority in the implementation with a particular focus on Northern Ghana and coastal fishing communities.
Progress has been slow even with all these ingredients in place, according to Ghanaian farmer Lydia Sasu, a Women Thrive partner. In addition to her role as Executive Director of the Accra-based NGO Development Action Association, she sits on several steering committees, has participated in key consultations with USAID, and is active in the local community.
Sasu observed that while some plans do seem to be in motion, the process isn’t as transparent as she and other farmers would like. While she has been consulted on several projects through the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge and Africa Lead, Lydia hears very little feedback after she submits her comments. Lydia recently told Women Thrive that at this point, she’s not even sure where some of the major projects will be located. And after speaking with a colleague who works in another region, Lydia reported to us that in terms of connecting with local women farmers, the U.S. government has been very slow. Essentially, it’s one big waiting game, where information flows to the government, but not back to the farmers who are impacted by new programs.
Local NGOs like the Development Action Association, rooted within the communities they serve, best represent the voices and interests of the women Feed the Future is trying to reach. Getting local input on the front end is a positive step, but whether this is accounted for and translated into planning and implementation is still an open question. Clearly, much more needs to be done to engage communities and ensure that investments planned for agriculture are effective.