Agriculture has long sparked promise and wreaked frustration in Ghana. Since the country won its independence over 50 years ago, the countries’ leaders viewed farm commodities as the path towards building wealth in this west African country. The results have not always been happy ones for Ghana’s people. An emphasis on high-value crops targeted for exports led to mismanagement and an eventual decline in the country’s agricultural sector. The 1990s saw some signs of a turnaround, but many of the country’s farmers still barely manage to make a living and feed their families.
One problem is that many Ghanaians lack access to capital and therefore are stuck using outdated methods on their farms, from planting to crop management to harvesting. Much of the work is done by hand, including weeding. Chemicals and insecticides are overused, rendering much farmland unusable. But agriculture here is undergoing a transformation, and much of it is due to one woman who focuses on training women on farm technology.
Leticia Brenyah is a coordinator at PALMS (Productive Agricultural Linkages and Marketing Systems), a non-profit that teaches Ghanaian women how to use updated technology and more sustainable farming practices. The concept is simple: by training women on more recent methods, efficiency will not only result in higher yields, but women will also have more time to spend with their families.
Some of the training is basic, such as teaching women how to drive a tractor. They learn about the moringa plant, the leaves of which can be cultivated and used for fertilizer, which replaces the need for expensive and polluting phosphate-based chemicals. Other technologies PALMS’ staff introduces include drip irrigation powered by solar panels.
PALMS only has 10 on staff, and they rely on women who after training, return to their communities and share their new knowledge with their neighbors. The viral result: about 250,000 women farmers have benefited from these simple but important technologies. Families win, too: the women have more time from everything from cooking to walking their children to school.
Brenyah recently spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative’s Annual Conference, where she shared her experiences, and she is also is competing in a challenge that could gain PALMS an Exxon-Mobil grant. If all goes well, 500,000 women across all of Ghana will gain these new farming insights. The work of Brenyah is achieving far more than an expensive foreign aid or government program—an impressive achievement for a young 28 year old whose story she recently shared in New York: