Why Does Empowering Women in Agricultural Commodity Production Matter for Tackling Global Poverty and Deforestation?

Mar 10, 2016

Women make up almost half the world’s farmers. Yet, they tend to operate on smaller farms and have less access to agricultural education and finance compared to their male counterparts. This makes it more difficult for them to adopt new technologies. Research shows that women’s agricultural productivity in developing countries could increase 20-30 percent with the same access to productive resources as men. Apart from the poverty reducing benefits this could have, improving the productivity of existing agricultural lands is a critical way of addressing environmental degradation and deforestation, which are known drivers of climate change.  

In support of this, the UNDP through the Green Commodities Programme is bringing together government, big business, small-scale farmers, civil society and other stakeholders to address deep-rooted sustainability issues in key commodity sectors in 10 countries. This involves closing the gap between men and women in agricultural commodity production.

To mark International Women’s Day 2016, the UNDP is highlighting the stories, challenges and successes of women in Ghana’s cocoa sector. Cocoa is the main source of income for 800,000 small-scale farmers. Sadly, this vital industry is also contributing to high levels of deforestation. Women, like Janet Akowuah, a 52 years old woman at Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo Region, are determined to make a positive difference. 

Concerned about the environmental impact of cocoa production she started a nursery to raise tree seedlings and this now thriving business is her family’s main source of income. Over the last two years, Janet has supplied over 400, 000 economic tree seedlings to cocoa farmers through a UNDP Green Commodities Programme effort set-up in collaboration with Ghana Cocoa Board and the world’s biggest chocolate buyer, Mondelēz International’s Cocoa Life Programme. 

The effort aims to rehabilitate cocoa landscapes, while also conserving and expanding forest, alongside providing incentives for cocoa farmers to adopt environmentally friendly best practices. Since 2014, the UNDP has distributed over 800,000 economic tree seedlings to more than 9,600 cocoa farmers and 21 percent of these were women. The idea is to increase the number of shade trees in cocoa farms and reverse the trend of forest degradation in cocoa-growing areas. 

Communities have been assisted to plant seedlings along waterways and protected areas, resulting in the forest rehabilitation of 8,500 hectare. Mercy Adoma is one of the female cocoa farmers in the Asunafo North Municipality. The main source of her family’s livelihood is cocoa. “My children schools fees and all family needs depend on cocoa,” she says.  She has benefited from the tree-planting programme by planting over 100 economic tree seedlings on her farm.

Debora Lartey, a Cocoa farmer in the Asunafo North Landscape has been practicing best practices being recommended by UNDP and Cocobod. She has planted seventy tree seedlings her farm to help increase trees and carbon stocks.

Josephine Biney, Cocoa Board’s Community extension agent has been giving series of training to farmers on good agricultural practices, forest laws and regulations, and community tree tenure rights to help build their capacities for sustainable practices. “I love to see farmers applying best practices on their farms” Josephine said. She sees the participation of women in agricultural commodity production as a representation of tackling global poverty and deforestation “Women can make it happen” she says, and her words conviction makes you believe her.