“Who is not my son?”

During the end of a given agricultural season, there’s usually a bumper harvest so for a couple of months people are generous and invite all and sundry to eat in their houses. At this time for about a month, mothers call out to other children in the neighborhood during mealtimes saying, ‘who’s not my son’? Meaning they are all her children and it’s her responsibility to feed them. This is a story told hilariously by our driver, Robert as we weave our way through the roads of Garu Tempane District in Upper East Region of Northern Ghana to meet with Pathways farmers. Sadly for some households, this phrase will not apply at the end of the season due to vagaries of the climate that have caused so much variability in crop production within the same district and I was left wondering how district level climate forecasts work in such cases…

Until I met a farmer, who has a link to a mobile weather alert service and receives updates that are near-accurate but could be improved with timeliness to ensure they have time to act on the information received. Beyond this, smallholder farmers are aware of the changing climate and are investing their time and resources to climate smart agricultural practices and non-agricultural based livelihoods as coping mechanisms. This includes planning of their time in a manner that fits into household plans and daily schedules. So for the first time in many years of field work, I had to be in the field at 7am to meet with farmers who are also members of VSLA groups. I was extremely intrigued by the fact that they actually meet starting 5.30 in the morning to 7.30 to conduct their VSLA activities and group meetings. This enables them to leave their time for other activities during the day. When I asked where they leave the children during that early morning and who prepared them for school, I was informed that they leave them with their husbands back at home.

An interesting discussion ensued on how supportive their husbands are on women’s participation in VLSAs as it has transformed their households. Women are able to make savings to support their households in various ways including payment of school fees for children, purchasing of agricultural inputs and emergency source of cash especially for medical services. Such is the importance of the VSLAs such that loan repayment defaulting for these groups that I met is almost unheard of and unimaginable.  I was especially touched by the story of Mumuni Tani, who makes snacks to sell at the VSLA meetings. She shared that when she faced health challenges, her husband stood in the gap, dutifully prepared snacks and delivered them at the meeting venue and paid her weekly contributions to her group. Such men as Mumuni’s husband these men serve as role models to the rest of the other men in the communities. Indeed, some of them are members of the VSLAs and serve as the program’s male champions for gender equality. I was curious as to why these were so few in the groups, and one of the men quickly answered, ‘because we are not stubborn!’ while the women said that these men are ‘sympathetic’ and ‘shop for their wives’.

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Mumuni Tani

The Pathways program sought to use the VSLAs as a programming platform for integrated service delivery around agriculture, markets, gender and women’s empowerment, nutrition and participatory monitoring and evaluation. I am therefore delighted that when I ask the women to share their experiences on the program, some of the key areas that come up include improved access and skills on agronomic practices, ability to conduct a cost benefit analysis and use of scales to weigh produce, improved utilization of soybean for home consumption and income generation. They also discuss the fact that women have more ‘voice’ as they are now able to contribute to the household budget especially around access to inputs. They indicate that there are more harmonious relations as is evidenced by reduced violence and men being able to undertake chores they traditionally didn’t.

Some of the challenges faced so far include access to timely and quality inputs especially seed; access to traction services for women especially and climate change. These are program-wide issues faced in the other Pathways countries and are a continued focus of the program for CARE and our partners. One such partner is the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), with whom we are working around access to improved technologies and information and inputs through the Farmer Field and Business School (FFBS) demonstration plots. I met with our key contact at SARI, Mr. Francis Kusi who emphasizes the climate change related challenges and need for technologies that address these.  He shares valuable insights on the role of community based trainers that support the FFBS in extension systems and the role of the program in institutionalizing these.

As we discuss challenges faced in the program with the community, I am reminded that the program operates within a broader context that we cannot ignore. A long discussion is held on the dire lack of information on college options for their children and my colleague Issahaku Hardi of CARE Ghana shares information on government initiatives and other NGOs that focus on education. I also realize that such community forums provide an opportunity to meet and share broad concerns.  In the same spirit, I buy some snacks from Mumuni for our breakfast and leave the village thinking of how we great it would have more ‘who’s not my son’ months in Northern Ghana and all of the Pathways Countries. It’s our call.

Contributed by Dr. Maureen Miruka, Team Leader, Pathways