Increasing Women’s Access to Land through Public-Private Partnerships in Ghana

Photo by: ACDI/VOCA

This blog was originally published on Agrilinks.

By Jenn Williamson

In Northern Ghana, women face many challenges accessing and owning land. Customary lands, which make up an estimated 80% of the country, are managed by traditional authorities and governed under cultural lineage and inheritance systems. In Northern Ghana, this system is largely patrilineal, which means that men receive exclusive rights to land and women have access to land mainly through male members of the family. Women’s access to land is, therefore, tied to their marriage and husband’s lineage.

Women’s lack of ownership and decision-making power over land has many negative impacts. Women who farm independently or raise crops in addition to their family’s acreage are often allocated plots of land that are less fertile and far from their homes. This adds significantly to female farmers’ time and work — particularly if it’s in addition to labor required to contribute to their husband’s or family’s farm — and places them at increased risk of violence as they travel between work and home. Because women remain the primary caregivers and are responsible for the majority of household labor, these additional time burdens also make it difficult for them to both farm and care for their families. Women’s access to land is also unstable, and they can lose access to land they have been living on or farming in the event of divorce or if the landowner — a husband, father or other male family member — passes away.

The Feed the Future Ghana Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE II) project noticed women’s challenges in accessing land and its impact on women’s livelihoods and empowerment during its start-of- project gender analysis. ADVANCE II supports the scaling up of agricultural investments in smallholder farmers to improve the competitiveness of the maize, rice and soybean value chains. An important part of this approach is to create sustainable opportunities for women within these value chains. This requires increasing women’s access to and control over not only finance, markets and information, but also land.

ADVANCE II adopted three strategies to improve women’s access to farmland:

  1. Using existing outgrower business — or contract farmer — networks in communities to influence traditional custodians to provide land to female farmers. Outgrower businesses, which provide services to smallholder farmers (also called outgrowers), take on the initiative of raising awareness about the economic opportunities for female farmers to produce and achieve high yields, making the business case for their inclusion.
  1. Collaborating with other Feed the Future projects, such as the Ghana Commercial Agricultural Project (GCAP), that award grants to outgrower businesses for land development. Through ADVANCE II’s collaboration with GCAP, over 40% of such land development grants were awarded to female producers.
  1. Working with local advocacy groups, such as the Coalition for the Development of Western Corridor of Northern Region (NORTHCODE), to convince traditional leaders and landowners in Northern Ghana to allocate acres of land to women.

Outgrower business owners were incredibly successful in advocating for women’s access to land. They built their case based on experience working with female farmers who were not only achieving high yields but also making reliable payments for services and inputs provided by the businesses. Nicholas Lambini, an outgrower business owner in the Chereponi District in the Northern Region, successfully negotiated with traditional authorities and husbands of female outgrowers to secure 500 acres of fertile land for 500 women to grow maize and soybeans by demonstrating how investment in women yields greater returns. In partnership with ADVANCE II, Opportunity International worked with outgrower business owner Yakubu Hussein in the Gushegu District in the Northern Region to help 23 female smallholder farmers acquire one acre of land each to cultivate soybeans. Abdul Rahaman Mohammed, an outgrower business owner in the Garu-Tempane District in the Upper East Region, convinced local chiefs and opinion leaders to release land for 100 women to cultivate rice.

ADVANCE II supported the efforts of outgrower business owners in a number of ways. It organized community sensitization meetings and advocated for women’s land access among male landlords, chiefs, husbands and female leaders in the community. As a result, leaders like Amidu Kala, an outgrower business owner in Fatchu in the Upper West Region, released five acres of farmland to five women; and Margerate Tablah, a farmer in Bussie in the Upper West Region, was granted 10 acres of her deceased husband’s land by his family.

“After the training, I decided to give two acres of land closer [to] home to my wife for her maize farm. Now I realize she gets home early from the farm to prepare my evening meals and takes care of our two children when they return from school,” says Mark Adams, an outgrower in Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District.

ADVANCE II also awarded grants to local advocacy organizations to conduct research and carry out initiatives designed to influence traditional leaders in favor of increasing women’s access to farmland. NORTHCODE, a local nongovernmental organization that operates in the Northern Region, collected data in four northern districts that showed that when women are given access to land far away from their homesteads, it negatively impacts their productivity. NORTHCODE shared its research findings during a regional stakeholders’ advocacy workshop in Tamale in the Northern Region, where stakeholders pledged their support to address the issue. The organization continued its advocacy work in 16 communities in four districts, resulting in leaders allocating 1,600 acres of land to 1,000 female farmers to produce rice, maize and soybeans.

“We are ready to hand over some of our fertile lands to our women and support them with inputs to farm… . If women have access to fertile lands for production, there will be a sustainable food supply and the nutritional benefits of our foods in our homes will be enhanced to reduce malnutrition among our children.” — Pledge made during an ADVANCE II forum on land for women by the Bussie chief in the Upper West Region

In addition, ADVANCE II facilitated district- and community-level dialogues in select communities in Northern Ghana, bringing together traditional leaders, women’s groups, landlords and youth groups to discuss the research findings and advocate for the release of farmland to women. Subsequently, draft memorandums of understanding (MOUs) were prepared and discussed with 16 traditional leaders, who then brought the MOUs to their respective councils of elders. Follow-up visits revealed that all 16 traditional leaders agreed to set aside parcels of land for land banking (aggregating parcels of land for future sale, development or farming) purposes. NORTHCODE organized district-level MOU signing ceremonies, where traditional leaders and landowners committed to provide land tenure rights for 1,600 acres of land to more than 1,000 women over a 10-year freehold lease period.

Overall, these strategies have led to over 3,000 women accessing more than 5,000 acres of land that they would not have otherwise. With more access to land, female farmers in Ghana and around the world could substantially increase food production and reduce hunger. With the stakes particularly high for ensuring food security in Ghana during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, women’s access to land offers immense potential. Closing this gender gap could mean boosting agricultural value chains and providing long-term benefits to farming households. As more women gain the same access to the land as their male counterparts, entire communities and markets stand to gain.