Strategies for managing vulnerability of women vegetable farmers in the central region of Ghana
Women constitute an important part of food systems around the world, as evidenced by the fact that they produce an estimated 70% of subsistence crops, and the fundamental role they play in processing and distribution. However, many of these women lack access to necessary agricultural resources, meaning that they represent a vast, largely untapped source of increased productivity and sustainability. It also means that they face significant vulnerabilities, which must be viewed in a gendered fashion. While research has explored the link between rural women farmers and environmental sustainability and food security, less attention has been placed on the role of rural women farmers during production.
This study seeks to fill this knowledge gap, with a look at the vulnerabilities and adaptive responses of rural women vegetable farmers in the Central Region of Ghana. Specifically, the study sought to determine: the vulnerability of women vegetable farmers in the Central Region; the strategies they adopted to sustainably manage their livelihoods; the relationship between the level of vulnerability and strategies adopted; and the factors that best predict livelihood in terms of vulnerability and adopted strategies. The study used a descriptive correlational survey in three districts chosen for their high density of women vegetable farmers, together with personal interviews.
Before getting to an analysis of the results, the author presents a brief literature review, focused around four themes: a discussion on the definitions of and relationships between sustainable development and sustainability; different vulnerability contexts, such as seasonal-, shock-, and trend-based; the multifaceted nature of vulnerability faced by farmers, e.g. markets, climate, extreme events, etc; and strategies for managing livelihoods, noted as usually being based on the availability of capabilities and assets.
The results of the study showed that the women vegetable farmers were vulnerable to the external environment, notably to the price of agricultural inputs, followed by lack of funds. The results also showed that of the potential vulnerabilities they faced, they were least concerned with social unrest, theft, and land disputes. Responses by the women farmers to mitigate or overcome these vulnerabilities included buying inputs according to their budget constraints, and seeking assistance from local farmer’s groups.
Other findings include that family assistance was reported by 8% of respondents, but was deemed to be ineffective overall. Loans from banks and ‘susu’ operators were often accompanied by high interest rates and so deemed unsuitable, while the majority of women farmers did not employ any strategy concerning unpredictable rainfall (97%), price fluctuations (68%), or unfavourable market prices (67%). Responses to these included drying and storing food and selling it later, or moving the produce to sell in a larger, urban area. Around 95% of respondents used pesticides, which they deemed effective, while half of those who reported vulnerability to dry periods effectively used pumps to irrigate their farms.
A number of other vulnerabilities were reported by the women vegetable farmers that are worthy of note in the paper’s conclusion. A total of 40 women reported bad health; 81% of those have access to a hospital, and a further 8% self-medicate, each of which was deemed effective. On theft, 75% did nothing to counteract the problem, while the 25% receiving farmer group monitoring deemed it ineffective. Finally, land disputes, insufficient labour, and civil unrest were negligible, uncommon, and non-existent respectively.