The Impact of U.S. Food Security Investments on Women in Ghana: Stories from the Field

In February 2018, the CSIS Global Food Security Project and the CSIS Africa Program traveled to Ghana with a group of six bicameral, bipartisan congressional staffers to assess the impact of the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy on agriculture, food security, and nutrition. The delegation spent a week learning about Feed the Future’s diverse portfolio of programs and the national context. The group visited project sites in Feed the Future’s concentrated area of activities—or the zone of influence—and met with U.S. officials, national and local government officials, research institutions, implementing partners, and beneficiaries.

From our delegation’s experience in Ghana, it is apparent that real gains have been made in women’s empowerment through U.S.-funded development programs in global food security. Women make up the bulk—54 percent in 2016 alone—of those who receive assistance through Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s hunger and food security initiative. We saw firsthand how programs are fostering women’s role in decisionmaking, workload reduction, and application of new agricultural technologies. Future U.S. investments will be critical to advance this progress.

In 2018, Congress may reauthorize the Global Food Security Act. This legislation has been a pillar of U.S. global leadership in preventing hunger and reducing poverty through agricultural and nutrition development programs, but also continues to elevate women across the income and education spectrums in target countries.

In Zinindo, a small village outside of Tamale in northern Ghana, over 200 people greeted our delegation at a Feed the Future project site run by the Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) project. The crowd was divided with women and girls on the left, men and boys on the right, as is customary in Ghana. The women representatives highlighted the project’s savings-and-loan program, which aims to promote financial independence through monthly savings activities. The men presented the ADVANCE out-grower model, where mid-sized farmers from the area—called nucleus farmers—are connected to agricultural inputs and services, and they, in turn, provide services for their smallholder neighbors. During the presentation it was clear that access to both financial services and advanced farming practices are making a difference in this community, but it was difficult to overlook the gendered nature of the activities. One member of our delegation asked the group if any of the women were interested in becoming nucleus farmers. At first one woman confidently raised her hand then several dozen followed suit. Before this project came to their community, these women might not have had the confidence to admit their interest in becoming farmers. The women’s cautious smiles, excited for what their future might hold, represented the opportunities these types of interventions could bring if we keep women’s equality a priority in future development efforts.

Throughout the trip, the female beneficiaries we met with described the impact that Feed the Future investments had on their lives. They shared stories of greater incomes, access to healthier food, and more decisionmaking power within their homes and communities. Through the U.S.-funded, CGIAR-implemented Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation, women now grow leafy greens that are harvested throughout the year. This is a major improvement from their earlier growing practices, which only allowed for harvest during one season. The introductory access to better irrigation methods this project provided now helps these women procure healthier food for their families and earn a more stable income. A better understanding of how to harness limited water resources can have positive ripple effects in vulnerable households, from more stable incomes to more diverse diets. Feed the Future programs like this, which enhance knowledge and change behavior, contribute to a better life for Ghanaian women—they are less hungry and more prepared for future shocks.

Feed the Future interventions in Ghana, which target the most vulnerable populations, are also addressing women’s limited access to health and nutrition education and advancing women and children’s health outcomes. Our delegation heard from members of mother-to-mother support groups operating through the Resiliency in Northern Ghana (RING) project. These groups reduce the incidence of disease and improve women and children’s nutrition outcomes through breastfeeding and hygiene interventions. Efforts to end extreme hunger and poverty, reflected in RING’s work, are further discussed in our program’s recent report, which takes a deeper look at U.S. government-supported social protection and resiliency programs in Ghana.


A woman and her children at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation, where she plants leafy greens year-round that she can both sell at the market and use to feed her family. — Photo: Timothy Adei/Team 1000 Words

While in Ghana, we observed U.S. investments working to correct the current gender inequity in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that women make up 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in the developing world, yet only receive about 7 percent of agricultural investments and 5 percent of agriculture extension services. With the bulk of Feed the Future efforts focused on increasing agricultural productivity, it makes sense that women are an integral part of the initiative’s strategy. We spoke with women who were taught by the Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation how farming was less labor intensive and more lucrative than their traditional work chopping firewood. We also met with the Financing Ghanaian Agriculture project, which works with banks and credit institutions to improve and increase Ghanaian’s access to the goods and services that drive increased yields, while specifically promoting equal participation of men and women in the program. These were tangible examples of what the research shows: including women in traditional agricultural development efforts can boost agricultural productivity and economic growth, while closing the gender gap and giving women greater decisionmaking power in their households.

Gender inequality is far reaching, affecting the most vulnerable to the most educated. Women are significantly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and Ghana is no different. Aa middle-income country with a developed education system and research pipeline, the nation has a unique opportunity to incorporate gender equality into its research investments, and Feed the Future investments are supporting national efforts to close the gender gap. U.S.-funded programs like the African Women in Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship program, which connects young female researchers with experts in their field, help to advance better gender equality in the sciences. AWARD not only increases female representation in higher education and in the STEM fields, but also opens avenues for more gender-specific research. One fellow’s upcoming research project will analyze the gender dynamics in marine fisheries, an important industry that contributes immensely to the country’s food and nutrition security. Ensuring representation across the agricultural sciences helps guarantee that women’s outcomes remain a focus in research and economic growth initiatives.

Even small U.S. investments are aiming to foster greater leadership among women and youth in Ghana. We met with students of the University of Development Studies that are funded through a grant from the Agriculture Technology Transfer project. This group includes young women that are training to be leaders in Ghana’s agricultural sector, and the investment in their futures is representative of Feed the Future’s efforts to include youth in its programming. To learn more about the importance of youth-inclusive agricultural growth, see the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ newest report.


A female researcher within the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Ghana works at a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food for Progress research site that aims to improve Ghana’s poultry feed production and increase efficiency in poultry value chains. — Photo: Timothy Adei/Team 1000 Words

Increased gender equality and female empowerment is one of six cross-cutting themes in the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy and is central to its success. Feed the Future requires gender-based analysis in all programs for very specific reasons: when programs invest in women and include them in agriculture and nutrition development programs, net agricultural productivity increases, nutrition improves, and poverty is reduced.

The stories shared with us in Ghana offer hope and highlight opportunities for continued developments in gender equity. Development efforts must go beyond targeting a specific percentage of women to receive support; they must unlock women’s access to resources and leadership opportunities and challenge existing structures that have prevented women from excelling within the food and agricultural system. There is a real opportunity to sustain this work through Feed the Future, as long as U.S. leadership and investments in Feed the Future continue.

Kimberly Flowers is director of the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Gillian Locke is program manager with the CSIS Global Food Security Project.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2018 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

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Kimberly Flowers
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Humanitarian Agenda and Global Food Security Program

Gillian Locke