How Ghanaian women address food insecurity using “egg of the world”

Some beneficiaries of UNDP/GEF support for fonio production in Northern Ghana. (Photo credit: Nii Odenkey Abbey)

Megem Agishie, a mother of four is upbeat about the future of her business as her husband extends a helping hand. She makes a living by cultivating and processing ‘fonio’, a tiny grain that grows well even on marginal lands.
 
Farming in the mostly dry area where she lives can be especially challenging when the expected rains disappoint as crops are mainly rain-fed. Compounding the burden of rural women in this area is the lack of access to fertile lands for crop cultivation. They mainly depend on degraded lands handed them by their husbands. In most cases, such lands do not support bumper crop production, thereby compromising food security.

With the ability to thrive in arid lands, the cultivation of ‘fonio’, known locally as ‘egg of the world”, rich in proteins, lipids, minerals and carbohydrates, is the rural woman’s best bet to ensuring food security, especially among female-headed households.

UNDP has contributed significantly to the improvement of the livelihoods of more than 400 women who are organized into an association of ‘fonio’ producers. The group seeks to empower vulnerable rural women to become more resilient, ensure food security, raise their incomes and protect the environment across the four districts of Chereponi, Saboba, Zabzugu and Tatale in northern Ghana.

As the opportunities for ‘fonio’ production become more promising, more farmers have joined the ranks of ‘fonio’ prospectors, increasing the demand for the crop. Yet, this demand has largely been unmet due partly to the laborious hours required for its processing.  

UNDP in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grant Programme offered a helping hand to the group through the acquisition and installation of equipment for processing and packaging ‘fonio’. The intervention now makes it possible for the group to process up to 1,500 kilograms of the crop each week to meet the local demand and raise the incomes of producers, who are mainly women.

Megem Agishie cultivates the crop on a two-acre field. “In the past, I used to go through a tedious manual procedure to process ‘fonio’ but, thanks to the machines provided by UNDP, it is easier now”, she said. “I make an average of GH¢ 2,400 (about USD 600) after each harvest, making it possible to cater for my family’s needs”, she says.   

Recognizing the significant difference ‘fonio’ production makes in their family’s livelihoods, Megem’s husband is prepared to join her to expand the farm to improve their wellbeing. He will be one of the more than hundred men supporting their wives to produce the crop.  

The high interest shown by men in the production of ‘fonio’ is expected to foster the availability of fertile land for its cultivation. This progress represents a significant step towards reaching one of the key targets of Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to, among other things, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, through secure and equal access to land, inputs and opportunities for value addition.

Highlights

  • Fonio (known locally as ‘egg of the world’) thrives in arid lands making it suitable for cultivation even on degraded fields.
  • More than 400 women have been organized into an association of ‘fonio’ producers in four districts in Northern Ghana.
  • UNDP working with GEF Small Grant Programme procured and installed equipment for processing and packaging ‘fonio’. The intervention now makes it possible for the group to process up to 1,500 kilograms of the crop each week.
  • Fonio production helps to empower vulnerable rural women to become more resilient, ensure food security, raise incomes and protect the environment.

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