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The piper calls the tune: changing roles of Northern Ghanaian women in agriculture

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  • The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

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In sub-Saharan Africa, farming largely takes place on land that is mainly owned and controlled by men. Women have access to land largely through kinship relations that are guided by socio-cultural institutions such as inheritance, marriage, as well as community allocation. Even though agriculture in Africa has often been referred to as a woman’s activity with more than 50 percent of women taking part in it, the situation in Tamale, Northern Ghana is different, as more men than women are involved in most productive agricultural activities. Here, women are mainly engaged in harvesting and marketing – roles conditioned and reconstructed by the culture of the Dagomba people who populate the Northern Region. However, women are still expected to meet their traditional household reproductive and provisioning responsibilities, by providing nutritional and household care services. They have traditionally done this through their harvesting and marketing roles without necessarily needing land ownership. This article shows how the introduction of a national gender-sensitive agricultural policy has changed ownership and access mechanisms to land for women in irrigation sites, increasing the number of women now involved in agricultural production. Women in urban and peri-urban areas now own and control land for farming at government irrigation schemes. Women with no access to land through kinship relations, markets or the state have also developed other strategies to secure food for their homes and generate income. These involve joining friends to harvest commercial crops (rice), and protein-enriched crops (groundnut) that they consume, and sell to take care of other household needs.
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Abstract
In sub-Saharan Africa, farming largely takes place on land that
is mainly owned and controlled by men. Women have access
to land largely through kinship relations that are guided by
socio-cultural institutions such as inheritance, marriage, as
well as community allocation. Even though agriculture in
Africa has often been referred to as a woman’s activity with
more than 50 percent of women taking part in it, the situation
in Tamale, Northern Ghana is different, as more men than
women are involved in most productive agricultural activities.
Here, women are mainly engaged in harvesting and marketing
– roles conditioned and reconstructed by the culture of the
Dagomba people who populate the Northern Region. However,
women are still expected to meet their traditional household
reproductive and provisioning responsibilities, by providing
nutritional and household care services. They have
traditionally done this through their harvesting and marketing
roles without necessarily needing land ownership.
This article shows how the introduction of a national gender-
sensitive agricultural policy has changed ownership and access
mechanisms to land for women in irrigation sites, increasing
the number of women now involved in agricultural
production. Women in urban and peri-urban areas now own
and control land for farming at government irrigation
schemes. Women with no access to land through kinship
relations, markets or the state have also developed other
strategies to secure food for their homes and generate income.
These involve joining friends to harvest commercial crops
(rice), and protein-enriched crops (groundnut) that they
consume, and sell to take care of other household needs.
Introduction
Agriculture is the backbone of most sub-Saharan African
economies and women are considered key players in this sector
(Fleschenberg et al, 2011). However, a widely shared notion
that women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of food
production and contribute 40 to 90 percent of agricultural
labour (Momsen, 1991) has recently been questioned by Doss
(2017) and Christiaensen (2017). Palacios-Lopez et al (2017)
agree that there is a wide variation in the proportion of
agricultural labour contributed by women across many
countries, and estimate an average figure of 40 percent.
SEND-Ghana (2014) estimates that Ghanaian women
contribute more than 50 percent of agricultural labour, and
produce more than 70 percent of the country’s food stock.
Women are described as mostly being involved in subsistence
agriculture, food processing and distribution to take care of
their basic and nutritional family needs, while their male
counterparts deal mostly with cash crops and use the money
earned for other purposes (SEND-Ghana, 2014). The myth
that men and women exclusively grow different crops is now
being debunked, as Doss (2002) and Nakazi et al (2017) have
shown in their works on Ghana and Uganda respectively.
In Northern Ghana, agriculture is male-dominated, while
marketing is female-dominated. This division of labour and
activities is a result of local customs which are continually
being reshaped and restructured by male-dominated
institutions such as the chieftaincy and community councils.
In this society, a husband is expected to farm and provide for
his family, while a wife (or wives) is supposed to sell
agricultural products or clothes to assist her husband. Women
are also expected to fulfil their reproductive and traditional
provisioning role of providing vegetables for household
nutrition. Men, for their part, own and control lands to which
women have access, and provide staple foods such as cereals
and tubers, which are eaten with the vegetables provided by
women. The land tenure system in Northern Ghana is
pluralistic. Chiefs have ‘allodial’ rights (ownership of real
property that is independent of any superior landlord and
related to the concept of land ownership by occupancy and
defence) to three quarters of land and are expected to manage
the land and through it develop the community. The
ownership of land by the traditional rulers has contributed to
men’s exclusive control over land, as most chiefs are male. In
this situation, men are ‘playing the tune’, and women are
using different strategies to be able to fulfil their social
obligations in the household and community while ‘dancing
to this tune’.
The agricultural system in Northern Ghana was described by
Benneh (1968) as semi-subsistence: with shifting cultivation,
bush fallowing, along with burning prior to cultivation being
common practices, all undertaken by men. Although these
practices remain visible in some places today, it is rare to see
them in rural locations close to urban centres where land
pressure has increased. Nevertheless, the ability of women to
Article 2Agriculture for Development, 32 (2017)
The piper calls the tune: changing roles of
Northern Ghanaian women in agriculture
Eileen Bogweh Nchanji is a social anthropologist presently working as a gender specialist with the Pan-
Africa Bean Research Alliance project at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Nairobi, Kenya.
She has a PhD from the University of Goettingen, Germany that focussed on innovation among urban
vegetable growers in Tamale, Northern Ghana and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Previously, with GTZ in
Cameroon, she has undertaken research on gender violence, and the impact of female genital mutilation
(FGM) on women’s reproductive health. Her interests include climate change, environmental and food
governance, and gender and development. e.nchanji@cgiar.org.
Eileen Bogweh Nchanji
fulfil their subsistence roles relies on the work of men, through
whom women gain access to and maintain control over
different natural resources such as land and trees. In this way,
it is clear how the identity of women as subject to men and
controlled in all they do by men, has been constructed by male-
dominated institutions. These constructions or framings
greatly influence the agricultural system prevalent in Northern
Ghana today. Failed agricultural interventions in this region
have frequently been attributed to a lack of synergy between
different institutions working in the region, farmers’ slow
uptake of technology and women’s limited access to productive
resources (Owusu-Baah, 1995). SEND-Ghana (2014) refers to
the lack of gendered practices as ‘constraints’ leading to project
failures. By the mid-1990s, in an attempt to boost agricultural
productivity in the Northern Region, the Ministry of
Agriculture introduced what had become known as ‘gender-
sensitive agricultural policies’. One of the objectives of these
policies aimed at increasing the number of women on
irrigation schemes in order to improve nutrition and food
security in the region. Such policies were and continue to be
justified by data provided by the Food and Agriculture
Organisation demonstrating that if women have the same
access to productive resources as their male counterparts, they
will be able to increase yields by 20 to 30 percent, which will,
in turn, reduce hunger by 17 percent (Food and Agriculture
Organisation, 2011).
This article uses evidence from ethnographic data to show how
women’s roles and strategies in carrying out agricultural
activities have been changing as a result of different ‘tunes’
being played by multiple actors. It examines how these ‘tunes’
have enabled women to re-shape their productive and
reproductive roles, and also their positions in the household
and community. It will, in the end, ask whether changes in
the roles of women in agriculture benefit their families and
communities.
Conceptual framework
In this article, women’s identity and roles are conceptualised
as being constructed through and performed in their everyday
activities, sanctioned by societal expectations and taboos,
socio-political changes and cultural norms (Greco, 2013;
Smith, 2016). Roles are constructed through social
interactions, guided by what people say and do and how they
act (Greco, 2013). Performance in this context is more than a
single act, and rather a repetition or ritual which sometimes
changes as one interacts with others (Butler, 1990). Northern
Ghanaian women’s roles in agriculture are constantly evolving,
and these changes are shaped by cultural norms and (gender-
sensitive) government agricultural policies, which are also
redefining how agriculture is practised and performed by
women and others around them.
As socialisation has continually shaped the role of women, it
has maintained power imbalances between men and women,
in that men have control over productive resources such as
land, and women can only access these resources through
them. It should be noted that this is not the same everywhere,
as variations do abound. Land is especially important in this
article, as it symbolises power and prestige for men in the study
context. In contrast, women’s access to land is conditional:
women are expected to negotiate and bargain for its use.
Methodology
This article draws on the findings of an ethnographic research
programme carried out over two years in Tamale, the capital
of the Northern Region of Ghana, and its environs (Nchanji,
2017). It aimed to understand the socio-political configuration
through which resource flows are channelled towards urban
farming, both to production, and later, marketing activities.
As a Cameroonian woman who grew up farming with her
mother, assisted every once in a while by my brothers, I was
surprised to find mostly men farming in Tamale. I was
intrigued, and decided to study the gender dynamics inherent
in the agricultural system practised in Northern Ghana. I
carried out informal talks with farmers to understand why
more men were farming than women. After this, key
informant interviews were carried out with executives of the
farmers’ union, agricultural officials at the Ministry of
Agriculture, irrigation officers and members of women’s
groups. Focus group discussions were carried out on all
vegetable farming sites in Tamale to triangulate and validate
data collected from interviews and informal conversations. All
interviews and focus group discussions were conducted and
recorded in the local language, Dagbani, with the assistance of
a translator. These recordings were further transcribed into
English using f4 transcription software.
Study area
Tamale metropolis is said to be the fastest growing city in West
Africa (Ziem, 2013). About three-quarters of its population
reside in its urban area (Ghana Statistical Service, 2014). It is
the commercial and educational hub of the Northern Region,
with more than 80 percent of the population carrying out one
form of agriculture or another (Ghana Statistical Service,
2014). Tamale is the seat of the Dagbon Kingdom, with about
80 percent of the land being customarily owned by chiefs, and
the rest comprising public lands used to build structures that
serve public needs such as markets, hospitals and schools
(Ubink & Quan, 2008). The chief is the allodial owner of the
land, with a social obligation to develop the community with
earnings from land ‘sales’ or allocations. Lands are typically
allocated or leased to men, but in contemporary times, land
can be allocated or leased to a woman if a male kin member
accepts to represent her. However, this rarely happens, as men
feel threatened when women own land, because this could
easily change their fundamental role and status in the
household and community.
The household head of a Dagomba family is a man, and he
manages a compound which could be made up of his married
and unmarried brothers, uncles, nephews or sons, and their
wives and children. The household head decides how land is
accessed and how cereals and tubers are consumed or sold.
He measures out portions of cereals or grains and gives them
to any female in the household assigned to prepare food for
the compound at a given time.
Article 2 Agriculture for Development, 32 (2017)
Discussion
Changes in agricultural policy and in the socio-economic and
political environment in Tamale are reshaping the role of
women in agriculture. Women are employing traditional and
new strategies to secure space in the contemporary
agricultural sphere, during different farm seasons. Most of the
old strategies used by women are embedded in longstanding
socio-cultural norms relating to land ownership and control.
New and emerging strategies draw on recent government
agricultural policies influenced by transnational governmental
interventions (Ferguson & Gupta, 2002), adapted to the local
setting.
Traditional strategies
Traditionally, in the northern part of Ghana, land ownership is
in the hands of men and not women, as mentioned above. The
reason is that when a woman marries she belongs to a new
family, and so forfeits all she had to the natal family because
any property she owns will automatically belong to her
husband. A man can own land because when he marries, his
property does not go to his wife’s family but stays with him,
for it is through him that the family name and legacy live on.
Land is considered a spiritual being and its care is usually in
the hands of household heads, chiefs and earth priests, who
communicate with the ancestors through rituals for the land
to be fruitful.
Family, marriage and inheritance
Married and single women enjoy usufruct rights to land (the
right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property),
unlike men who own the land. Family lands do exist and
cannot be taken over by chiefs, some are registered and titled.
Men also gain access to lands through clan membership.
These lands are protected by elders in the clan from being
allocated for other purposes by the chief. Lands which belong
to clans are not allocated to people outside the clan. These
lands are inheritable and passed over to sons or other male
family members. There still exist communal lands which can
be leased out for other purposes by the chief without informing
the farmer cultivating such a land (Nchanji, 2017). Unmarried
and married women have access to land through their male
relatives, via marriage and inheritance, as well as from the
wider community. These lands are usually around the
homestead or are less fertile lands not used by the household
head during the major rainy season farming period. Plots of
land at the edges of the family land can also be allocated to
women, for growing vegetables that will be eaten alongside
staples provided by men (Nchanji & Bellwood-Howard, 2016).
When a woman is given a plot of land to farm, she maintains
access to it through continual farming: if she stops farming
the land will be allocated to another woman. Thus, to fulfil
their traditional provisioning roles, women grow and harvest
vegetables during the wet season from their fields and dry
them for soup preparation in the dry season, especially in rural
areas where dry season farming is not practised. In this way,
they maintain their role in agriculture and fulfil their
reproductive roles as care-givers.
Married and unmarried women are not limited to accessing
land through their kinsmen since they can also gain access to
land from other men in the community, especially older men
who, it is sometimes claimed, give out more fertile lands.
Women hardly ever grow grain on their plots of land. Rather,
women who participate in harvesting grain from their
husband’s or other men’s fields are compensated with a basin
or two of whichever grain is harvested. The rest of the harvest
is under the control of the man; he decides on what will be
consumed and sold, and gives a proportion out to the woman
who is cooking for the household, as described above. Yet
women sometimes need more grain to cook food for
themselves or the children when the grain provided by the
household head is not enough. So, while harvesting grain
from their husband’s fields, they intentionally leave some
behind, and return to collect it later for personal use.
During the dry season, most women are not permitted to assist
their husbands or male relatives in their fields. This is because
women are assumed to lack the technical expertise and skill
needed to grow most of the dry season vegetables such as
lettuce (Lactuca sativa), cabbage (Brassica oleracea var
capitata L), green pepper (Capsicum annuum), onion (Allium
cepa), and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus). Some women are
permitted to assist in irrigating the vegetables, particularly
when basins are used to carry water on the head, while some
farmers let their wives or sisters contribute to building fences
around the crops to deter animals. Yet the main role of women
in dry season farming is to buy these vegetables from the farm
gate and sell them in the markets. Women’s control over
market transactions is so strong that male farmers who tried
selling directly in the market spaces made losses, and so
complained that they have no choice than to sell to women
(interview with farmers at Daitoyili, 2014). Most of the men I
interviewed do not harvest vegetables and bring them home
to be prepared; they prefer to give money to their wives and
sisters to buy vegetables in the market. Interviews revealed
that male farmers used this strategy to keep women out of
their agricultural activities, to ‘own’ the decision-making
process in producing vegetables.
Widows are treated differently, depending on their age and clan
membership. Young widows are encouraged to marry again.
If she agrees to marry, her children will be given to her late
husband’s brothers to train, and they will, in turn, inherit the
Article 2Agriculture for Development, 32 (2017)
Figure 1. Women are the market ‘champions’ Choggu, Northern Ghana (Photo:
Eileen Bogweh Nchanji).
brothers’ property. If the young widow has a male child and
refuses to remarry, her son will inherit his father’s property
(including land), and in this way, she will continually have
access to this land. If the widow is old, her first male child will
look after her and inherit his father’s property. If the old widow
does not have a son, she forfeits her husband’s property, except
the kitchen utensils. During harvest periods, she will gather
leftover grain from any field around her which is possible,
because customarily farmers are not permitted to pick all the
grain from their fields, but leave some for those who do not
have any land to glean.
Women who have access to lands can also seek permission to
use the economic trees present on it, such as the Shea tree
(Vitellaria paradoxia), Dawa Dawa tree (Parkia biglobosa) and
Neem tree (Azadiracha indica). Sheanuts collected from the
shea trees can be sold or used in making shea butter, used for
cooking and cosmetics. The pollen of the Dawa Dawa tree is
used to make porridge and the seed is processed into a food
spice. Neem trees can always be cut down and sold as firewood
to generate extra income. Traditionally all Dawa Dawa trees
in community areas can be accessed by women by seeking
permission from the sub-chief who owns all Dawa Dawa trees.
As explained in the Box 1, women play multi-faceted roles in
the agricultural context. These roles vary and change
depending on customary expectations, agricultural policy, farm
seasonality and also the preferences of the household head.
Contemporary strategies
Rapid urbanisation in Tamale has led to a lucrative land
market, and chiefs are taking advantage of this by leasing out
agricultural lands that are communally owned, for commercial
and housing purposes (Naab et al, 2013).) This has influenced
the viability of some agricultural activities, especially the
production of dry season vegetables. Open space vegetable
sites used for dry season farming, for example, were reduced
in size by 8.3 percent between 2008 and 2014 (Nchanji et al,
2017). The decrease in agricultural land has limited women’s
access to communal lands and their ability to continually
access food for their families (Nchanji & Belwood-Howard,
2016).
In the contemporary era, while household dynamics still
influence women’s access to land for vegetable cultivation, it
is national agricultural politics and transnational interventions
that have come to the fore.
The Land Administration Project
The Land Administration Project (LAP) was introduced by the
Government of Ghana and other multilateral organisations to
harmonise land policies, strengthen land administration
management systems and provide fair and equal access to land
for everyone. This project was carried out in two phases. The
first focussed on creating and strengthening customary local
secretariats to reduce land ownership conflicts. The second
phase had, as one of its objectives, the promotion of equitable
development in land administration, as it pertains to the
concerns of men and women (Ghana Land Administration
Project, 2017). This gender-focussed objective was integrated
into this project to meet one of the aims of the National
Gender Policy, namely, providing information to women on
how land can be bought and registered. The LAP provided
another opportunity for women, especially in the urban areas,
to buy and register land in their names. Yet, this in fact had a
detrimental impact on agriculture, as most women in urban
areas chose to purchase land for accommodation and
commercial purposes rather than for agriculture. Many rural
women would love to purchase land but are limited due to lack
of credit, compounded by the expensive procedure entailed in
registering a plot. Thus, while projects like the LAP are vital
in harmonising land policies and laws, they have failed to
increase women’s access to farm land as women with funds
prefer to invest in other forms of capital.
Government Irrigation Schemes
Government irrigation schemes in the Northern Region were
created in the 1970s with the aim of boosting agricultural
productivity by providing a perennial water source, which is
scarce in this region (Nchanji & Belwood-Howard, 2016). This
section looks at two main irrigation sites: Golinga and
Bontanga Irrigation Schemes. In the 1990s, after the
retrenchment of irrigation personnel, participatory irrigation
management schemes were put in place in an attempt to
decentralise and thereby make sustainable the management of
irrigation schemes in Ghana (Braimah et al, 2014). Plots on
these sites were allocated to indigenes and outsiders interested
in farming. Plots of land were initially allocated only to men,
but this has now changed. Gender-sensitive agricultural
policies such as the National Irrigation Policy and the Growth
and Poverty Reduction Strategy II (Lamptey et al, 2011) have
encouraged the incorporation of women into Farmer Based
Organisations (FBOs) in these schemes. In 2012, there were
only 11 female farmers compared to 514 male farmers in FBOs
at the Bontanga scheme; while at the Golinga scheme there
were 12 female farmers and 138 male farmers in the FBOs
(Braimah et al, 2014). By 2015, there was a substantial
increase in female farmer membership in the FBO in Bontanga
(24 percent) and Golinga (25 percent): in both the Bontanga
and Golinga schemes, 19 percent and 20 percent of women
respectively access their husband’s plots or that of other male
relatives (Figure 2) (Adongo et al, 2016).
According to my interviews in the field, the increases in the
number of women in FBOs and plot holders on behalf of their
male relatives and husbands are a result of incentives given to
male farmers to involve their wives and sisters in irrigation
Box 1. Northern Ghanaian women’s multi-faceted roles in
agriculture.
Amina lives in a community close to the Bontanga Irrigation
Scheme. She is married with children and assists her husband
on his fields during the rainy season. She has been allocated
a plot at the edge of the husband’s field to grow vegetables to
supplement staples provided by the husband. During the dry
season, she is not permitted to work on her husband’s plot,
because the crops grown, like okra, green pepper and onion,
need technical expertise which the husband says she lacks.
During the dry season, therefore, she joins others to harvest
pepper and onion from irrigation plots rented by immigrant
farmers from Bawku (Upper East Region) who pay them with
some of the crops they harvest. Amina uses these to prepare
vegetable soup for her household and sells any excess to meet
other household needs.
Article 2 Agriculture for Development, 32 (2017)
activities. These incentives came in the form of seeds,
fertilisers and other inputs, donated by organisations such as
the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID), for use on farmers’ fields and demonstration plots in
different projects. This practice has created another route
through which more women can be involved in agriculture.
Through the efforts of USAID and local organisations, women
from Golinga and Gbelahigu communities have also been
allocated about six acres of land around the edges of the
Golinga irrigation scheme to farm (Nchanji & Belwood-
Howard, 2016). These plots of land are owned and controlled
by the women as a group. The chairman of the Golinga
Irrigation Scheme informed me that more women are also
now involved in dry season vegetable cultivation at the
irrigation site due to competition between spouses to provide
food at the household level and achieve new status in the
communities, as detailed in Box 2.
Other means
Urban women, who do not have access to land, because they
have moved out of their villages where they could access land
through their male relatives, have developed other ways of
sourcing food resources. These women usually assist their
friends, or the relatives of their friends, in harvesting crops of
nutritional and economic value. Some of these crops are rice,
groundnuts and vegetables. After harvest, when these women
collect their portion as compensation for assisting in this
agricultural activity (Figure 3), the rice is mostly sold to obtain
money with which to provide for household needs, and the
vegetables and groundnuts are consumed at home. The
women working in this way indicated that even if they got
access to land on which to farm, they are limited by lack of
finance in accessing fertiliser, seeds and other inputs needed
in any agricultural activity. Thus, having access to land does
not guarantee food production as inputs, time and energy are
needed to produce food from this land.
Conclusions
Development and academic discourse emphasises the
productive role of women in agriculture. Yet women play
several different, critical roles in the sector beyond production
of crops, through which they fulfil reproductive roles and
contribute to food security. Crucially, they do not necessarily
depend on direct agricultural production or ownership of land
in order to do this.
Northern Ghanaian women have been socialised to be care-
givers and marketers. Their main link with agriculture has
been selling vegetables bought at the farm gate from male
farmers, and sourcing the vegetable accompaniments to
staples provided by men. Customary ideas about women’s
Box 2. Women’s changing status and identity.
According to the chairman of the Golinga Irrigation Scheme,
men encouraged their women to farm at the irrigation sites
due to the incentives they got from multilateral organisations,
but not all women were interested in this offer. When the few
women who farmed started providing more nutritious food,
clothing and education for the children in their households,
others became interested. They also wanted to be able to
sponsor their children and fulfil their household roles like the
others. Women who went this extra mile were praised and
respected by men in the communities and became the envy
of their mates. This change in status and identity has pushed
more women to come into farming. I remember how with
pride the chairman showed me the only woman in his
community who grew cabbage, a crop assumed to be too
technical for a woman to cultivate. Maybe the men do not feel
threatened because vegetables are not considered a prestigious
crop compared to rice which is still male-dominated.
Presently, women who do not have lands to farm at the
irrigation site from their male relatives or the irrigation officers,
negotiate land access with any male farmers in the community
ready to give out their lands during the dry season.
Figure 2. Women farmers on the Golinga Irrigation Scheme, Northern Ghana
(Photo: Eileen Bogweh Nchanji).
Figure 3. At Tuunayili, women collecting payment for harvesting the fields of others
(Photo: Eileen Bogweh Nchanji).
Article 2Agriculture for Development, 32 (2017)
roles in food provision have served to concretise and
institutionalise these agriculture-related roles. In recent times,
these roles have been changing as a result of agricultural
policies which have not only increased the number of women
farmers on irrigation sites, but also made some of them land
owners.
Though women still mainly access land through kinship
relations, the traditional ‘tune’ played by the male piper is
being supplemented by other players: the international
development organisations and national policy makers. The
‘dance’ of the women has thus changed. They are now using
additional unconventional mechanisms that involve the state,
social relations and markets to access land, generate income,
and provide food and nutritional security for the household.
This change has not only reshaped the way agriculture is
practised in and around Tamale, but it has also changed
household dynamics and, related to these, women’s identities
and gender relations. Such processes happen not only in
Northern Ghana but cut across Africa and the world.
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Article 2 Agriculture for Development, 32 (2017)
... Two large scale dam initiatives in the Northern Region were created in the 1970s to provide perennial water sources: Golinga and Botanga Irrigation Schemes Belwood-Howard 2016 cited by Nchanji 2017, 4). At the development of the dams, plots were allocated to locals and outsiders, though only to men (Nchanji 2017). Since then, management transitioned to a participatory management strategy in the 1990s (Braimah et al. 2014). ...
... As noted, the post-colonial period in Ghana is still characterized by "gender patterns of division of labour in which men continue to control the cash crop sector and women are the dominant force in the food crop sector" (Duncan 2004, xvi). Nchanji (2017) observes that women's role in agriculture is responding to changes in agricultural policy in the Tamale metro area. However, the shift is not necessarily challenging traditional roles as "old strategies used by women are embedded in longstanding socio-cultural norms relating to land ownership and control." ...
... Within this context, the Tamale metro area is an important site of analysis of the Northern Region, because it has become a central point of development with many agricultural and rural development focused NGOs and initiatives locating central offices in the area (key informant interviews). Tamale is the capital and largest settlement in Ghana's Northern Region, third largest in the country (Karg et al. 2016), and is reported to be one of the fastest growing cities in West Africa (Nchanji 2017). It is the commercial and educational hub, but more than 80 percent of the population remain engaged in agriculture (GSS 2014). ...
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Chapter
Purpose This chapter uses a feminist political ecology perspective to demonstrate how gender interacts with access to land as a re/productive resource in Tamale, a rapidly urbanizing city in West Africa. The study gives insight into the strategies that vulnerable groups employ to gain access to resources. Methodology/approach An ethnographic field study was carried out over 16 months, taking a case study approach involving interviews, participant observation and focus groups. Findings Women’s access to land is restricted in order to guarantee their labor for household reproductive tasks and inheritance. Yet they are using various traditional and contemporary strategies to reconcile their landless status with their food provisioning responsibilities. These involve forging networks with individuals and development institutions as well as harvesting and marketing. As land markets accelerate, these strategies become more important, even though they offer no guarantee that a woman can provide what she needs to her household. Formalized institutions aiming to give women access to land do not necessarily fulfill those functions if they are naive of the historical and cultural context. Practical implications Marginalization of groups of people, such as women, with regards to resource access is a result of complex interlocking historical processes that are often a result of dominant groups’ efforts to retain power. Social implications We confirm that gender is a primary element organizing access to land. The way this is performed in Northern Ghana results from the construction of tradition through post/colonial, religious and neoliberal contexts. Originality/value The originality of this work lies in its use of in-depth ethnographic data.