Using Women’s Empowerment to Change Lives: Support Our New Campaign

Trax believe the route to successful development is through empowerment and gender equality. Today we are launching a campaign to support 600 women in northern Ghana by empowering them to take ownership of their finances and decisions.

These women in Chitilung want to start a VSLA but need support from Trax

In the northern regions of Ghana, traditional cultural practices follow a patriarchal structure, allowing women and girls few rights. Women do not have rights to own land or property and have less access to education, healthcare, good nutrition, or income. Typically, despite doing more than half of on-farm labour, women do not have ownership of the crop yield or income raised from the farm. Often, women’s opinions are not valued and their decisions are not accepted. Traditionally, women have little agency to affect change in their households, communities, or through advocacy to the local governmental administration. All of this together means that women in the north are the most marginalised population group in Ghana, they are the most likely to live in extreme poverty and are the most likely to be illiterate.

Overcoming Marginalisation through Village Savings and Loans Associations

One initiative which offers women opportunities to increase their rights, ownership, and agency is Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). You can read about what a VSLA is here. In recent years Trax have supported dozens of women’s groups to establish VSLAs and the great success of these groups have resulted in VSLAs becoming very popular. Trax have received high demand from women to support them to establish a VSLA in their community which has resulted in this project.

Madam Comfort, chairlady of a VSLA group with a part of the group’s savings

During this project, Trax will support 20 women’s groups in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District to establish VSLAs. The project will provide each group with four days of training on how the VSLA functions, the management of the VSLA, and how to prepare the constitution for their VSLA. This training includes basic record-keeping so that the number of shares bought by each member each week is recorded in their personal Passbook, which is normally done using an ink stamp for each share bought.

Added Value through Enterprise Development

Most of the women who will be beneficiaries of this project are illiterate and have had very little formal education. In many cases, women who establish their own business by trading a product will not have the knowledge of how to manage the business to ensure an adequate profit. Due to illiteracy and innumeracy, many women cannot keep records of their costs and income. In some cases, this has resulted in women spending more on their business than they receive in income, meaning they are running at a loss instead of turning a profit for their livelihood.

Women celebrate the share out of their VSLA

We know that most women who are members of a VSLA use some or all of their savings to invest in their income-generating activities, such as petty trading or processing of raw materials for sale. Trax want to ensure that the women we support through VSLAs have the capacity to use their savings to effectively increase their incomes and develop pathways out of poverty. As such, in this project we will complement the establishment of VSLAs with additional training and support on enterprise development.

Soon after the VSLAs are established, Trax will provide an additional four days of training to each group of women to develop their skills and knowledge on enterprise management. The training will take the women through business management skills, including how to manage the business itself, keeping records of their finances, how to keep stock of the products they sell, how to invest back into the business, and how to make profit and to save income. After the training, each group will be supported by Trax field staff for one year.

Cost-Effective Development

This project will support 600 women for one year. Through the empowerment and increased income initiated during the year’s project, the changes are sustainable and will continue to enhance empowerment and reduce poverty for years to come. The project will also have beneficial impacts for the households of the women beneficiaries and the wider community.

The long-term and wide-reaching benefits of this project are worthwhile and necessary. Yet, thanks to economies of scale and working with groups of women instead of individuals, this project will cost only US$23 per beneficiary. It is expected that each woman will increase their income by more than $23 in just the first year, as well as saving much more than this to invest back into their families and businesses for years to come. This makes the project extremely cost-effective and the potential social and financial return on investment is huge!

Please support these marginalised women to take control of their finances and manage their businesses, reducing poverty and increasing gender equality. You can donate to this project here. Thank you!

Posted in Alternative Livelihoods, gender equality, Project Profile, Village Savings and Loans Associations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our May Newsletter is Now Available

May has involved lots of new faces in the Trax office, staff travelling around the country, as well as lots of fieldwork and project development. As we move into the farming season here in northern Ghana, we continue to support rural farming communities daily. To find out more about what we have been busy with this month you can read our newsletter here: Newsletter May 2017

 

Posted in Newsletter | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Disiwani Laar: Dedicated Expertise Creates Successful Initiatives

Trax’s projects to support communities to develop sustainable livelihoods in Northern Ghana depend on the expertise of our staff. We want to celebrate the successes, achievements, and dedication of our staff, without whom Trax could not help reduce poverty and increase food security in vulnerable communities.

In this post we are celebrating the work and dedication of Madam Disiwani Laar. This year marks 20 years of Disiwani’s dedicated service to the farming communities in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District, in Northern Region, as part of Trax’s staff team.

Madam Disiwani Laar – Senior Field Officer at Trax’s office in Bunkpurugu, Northern Region.

In the two decades Disiwani has worked for Trax, she has seen many other staff come and go, changes in the structure and facilitation of our programmes, new project activities, and changes in funding partnerships and local collaborations.

When Disiwani joined Trax in 1997 she was employed as a Project Assistant, before working as a Income Generating Activities Assistant. Through these roles she developed vast expertise working at the grassroots level, facilitating participatory processes and supporting sustainable agricultural livelihoods. She has since been working as a Field Officer and is now the Senior Field Officer located at the Trax office in Bunkpurugu.

Disiwani visits a farm in Mozio community which is practicing agroecology.

In her 20 years working for Trax, Disi (as she is commonly known) has supported 20 communities or sub-communities in and around Bunkpurugu, working with thousands of farmers living in poverty. She is well known and very highly regarded in the local area. The farming communities she has supported to establish sustainable agricultural livelihoods through an agroecological approach to farming report increased yield, restoration of land which was previously deforested and degraded, increased income from diversified sustainable livehood sources, and stronger unity among the communities. The life changing poverty reduction, increased food security, and community self-reliance created through these changes deserve recognition and celebration. Disiwani has clearly achieved many positive outcomes for rural communities living in Northern Ghana.

Disiwani says that the agroecological soil and water conservation practices which Trax facilitate are those which she has observed to make the biggest difference towards sustainable agricultural livelihoods in farming communities. In particular, she recognises the important role of contour identification and construction of stone bunds, and compost production using crop residue and farmyard manure, to have the greatest positive impact for crop yields and sustainable farming.

Disiwani (back left) celebrates with a VSLA group at their first share out in Yunyoo.

Disiwani is particularly interested in gender equality and women’s empowerment, as has worked often with women’s farmer groups. In recent years she has been supporting numerous women’s groups to establish Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) across the Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District. VSLAs are very popular in the area and Disiwani is now under much demand to support additional groups and communities to establish VSLAs.

As we have shared elsewhere, since the beginning of 2016 Trax has been facing significant financial shortfall when our primary funding source ended at short notice. Unfortunately, this has left no direct project funding to support ongoing activities in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District. As such, Disiwani, and other field staff, have been unpaid for 10 months, a move which was the most difficult Trax has had to take in it’s 28 years of opperation.

Disiwani inspects bee hives installed as part of a Trax project in partnership with Tree Aid. The bee hives have been colonised.

Despite this challenging situation, throughout the past 10 months Disiwani, and other field staff, have continued to work voluntarily. This demonstrates the high level of commitment and dedication which Disiwani holds for the farmers and communities she supports. It is this dedication which make Disiwani and all of the Trax staff team so valuable in our efforts to support a sustainable life for vulnerable communities.

Outside of working for Trax, Disiwani is a farmer herself and is specialised in rearing livestock. At present she keeps goats, pigs, and fowls. During the past 10 months when Disi has not been able to receive her salary from Trax, she has relied on income generation from her livestock in order to continue to support the many people in her household.

A farmer tells Disiwani about the activities he has undertaken to prepare the land for the upcoming farming season. Here he shows her his recently-restored stone bunds.

In recent months and throughout the past 20 years, Disiwani has contributed her expertise to the development of Trax project activities and the organisation as a whole. We value and appreciate her work everyday, as do the communities she is so dedicated to. In this year marking her 20 years of dedicated service to Trax, we want to take this opportunity to celebrate her extensive achievements and successes during this time and thank her for continuing to support Trax’s work.We hope you will join us in thanking and congratulating Disiwani.

Disiwani Laar, thank you. Congratulations on achieving 20 years of service for Trax. We look forward to many years to come working alongside you with a more positive and supportive funding environment.

Posted in Agriculture, Food Security, Funding, Village Savings and Loans Associations | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Diverse Uses of the Borassus Tree in Northern Ghana

The enivronment in northern Ghana is diverse and can vary from community to community. Trax works in Upper East and Northern Regions but the local environmental conditions differ across the communities and districts we work. We know that understanding and respecting the environmental variations from place to place, as well as the social, cultural and language variations, are integral to the success of Trax’s project activities. This is why our field staff are all from the local areas in which they work, such that they are aware of localised customs and environmental sensitivities.

In Northern Region, Trax has an office in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District which borders Togo to the east. In the area around the town of Bunkpurugu, the Borassus tree is abundant and is off local importance for it’s diverse uses.

A plantation of young Borassus trees on a farm in Masio, Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District

Borassus is a genus of palm tree found in tropical areas around the world. The species Borassus aethiopum is found across the Sahel and sub-Sahelian region of Africa, stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia. Despite the tree’s generally wide geographical spread, in Ghana it is much more prolific in some areas, including in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District.

The large fruit of the Borassus tree collected for consumption and planting of the seeds.

The large fruits are edible and provide a good source of some nutrient, including calcium, iron, and Vitamins A, B, and C. It is also know to support digestive health and in some areas is used as a natural health remedy due to anit-inflammatory properties and is used to treat vomiting and other digestive complaints. In Bunkpurugu, the Broassus fruit is widely eaten.

Another source of food from the Borassus tree which is widely utilised in Bunkpurugu is the young root. When the fruit is harvested for consumption, farmers will retrieve the seeds from the fruit and plant them. Once the seed has begun to shoot they will harvest it and the root extending from the seed is cut for consumption. The small root, roughly 30cm in length, can be roasted and eaten as it is but it is also used as a substitute for yam or cassava in local dishes, where the root is ground and used for locally important dishes such as fufu and gari.

The leaves of the Borassus tree – once dried the leaves can be used to weaving, a local craft.

Beyond edible parts of the plant, in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District the leaves are widely used as the raw material for weaving, a local craft. The tree stem, or trunk, is hard wood so is used in construction: in Bunkpurugu, the stem is commonly used for building rafters to support thatched rooves. The strong, woody petioles of leaves which have since died remain around the stem of the tree, channeling water to the base of the stem and the roots. These long petioles are also used for fencing in Bunkpurugu.

Thus, every part of the Borassus tree is utilised by farmers and households in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District. The tree is widely abundant in the district so it makes sense for local communities to capitalise on the non-timber forest products, as well as the timber. Many farmers now grow plantations of Borassus in order to secure a supply of the fruits and seeds, for cultivating the young root, as a food source.

A young Borassus tree with the petioles of leaves which have died surrounding the stem, or trunk.

Understanding the local significance of the Borassus tree means that, when working with farming communities in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District, Trax field staff are in a better position to tailor agroecological and sustainable livelhood project activities to the needs, priorities, and preferences of the communities. This relationship with the local context is essential for agroecology and food sovereignty and for the success and sustainability of all of Trax’s projects.

Posted in Agro-forestry, Non-timber Forest Product | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Climate Change is Affecting Crops in Northern Ghana

It’s mid-May so traditionally it is time for farmers in Northern Ghana to start planting. In Upper East Region it has been traditional practice to grow two crops of millet during the wet season, and to make sure this is possible the ‘early millet’ needs to be planted in mid-May. However, farmers have not begun planting and most have not yet begun land preparation. This is a symptom of climate change.

Early millet would be maturing by mid-July if planted in May

Farmers in the region will describe the wet season as beginning in April, with rains stabilising by May. This means that they would begin land preparation after the start of the rains in April and are ready to plant once the rains have stabilised in May. But farmer’s expectations of when the wet season will start and when the rains will stabilise have been changing. Most will now describe that over the past ten to fifteen years the onset of the wet season has been getting later. However, a more important change is that once the rains have started they do not always stabilise, meaning rainfall is not consistent and wet days are separated by several, or even many, dry days. This leaves farmers unsure when to plant.

When the rains are unstable, it may rain heavily once or twice but then there could be a period of a week or two before the next rain. This rainfall pattern is not adequate for crop growth, especially in the degraded soils of Northern Ghana which have poor soil structure and low capacity for water retention.

In Bolgatanga, where the Trax head office is located, this year the first rain of the season fell on the 21st of April. Between then and the 1st of May it rained a further four times, including rain for several hours on one day. Then, from the 2nd of May, it stopped raining. The rains had not stabilised and the area went another eight days before receiving more rainfall.

When the rain started in April, farmers waited to see whether the rain would stabilise before they began preparing their land for planting. They were right to wait because the rain stopped again. Although we have now again had rainfall two days in a row, farmers are still uncertain whether the rain is stable and they can begin preparing their farms for the season.

With the wet season starting later in the year and the rains not stabilising early, farmers are unable to plant during May like they used to. For farmers who grow millet, planting their early millet crop in June or later means that it won’t harvest in time to be able to plant and yield a second crop. This means farming households have lost a whole yield to climate change.

Crops dried out and died during a drought, meaning this field gave no yield at all.

To make things worse, it is now more common to have periods of drought during the wet season than it was fifteen years ago. Even after the rains have appeared to stabilise, it is now common for there to be periods of one or two weeks, sometime longer, when there is no rain at all, meaning it is a drought. This can result in low yields, or in some cases no yield, for all crop types. A farmer may lose their entire yield after months of labour, losing the primary income and source of food for their household.

So, the later onset of rains and more frequent periods of drought during the wet season both present risks to farming livelihoods.

Furthermore, when it does rain, it is now more likely to fall during a violent tropical storm than it used to, rather than typical rainfall. Tropical storms bring lightning and strong winds, which both cause damage to property. Additionally, the rain which falls during a storm a very much heavier than typical rainfall. So, when strong tropical storms bring rain after crops have been planted, the storm will often cause much damage to crops, especially cereals with tall stems. Another way in which changing weather patterns are damaging or reducing yields.

This photo was taken by a farmer to show one of their buildings which collapsed during a storm.

Unfortunately, climate projections suggest that this trend for exceptionally heavy rainfall interspersed with periods of drought are likely to continue and worsen. Models reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change project that the area of West Africa in which Ghana falls is likely to experience an increase in extreme weather events as climate change continues. This will mean more drought and more flooding after intense storms. There is currently uncertainty in models which project average rainfall trends for the region, but most suggest that total annual rainfall will remain similar to current levels, the difference is that this rainfall will come in fewer but more intense weather events.

After eight days without rain followed by two days with extremely strong storms, this pattern of drought and heavy rainfall certainly seems to reflect the present weather. With farmers already facing much uncertainty regarding when to plant and what weather their crops will face during the season, the prospects of the climate changing more over coming decades will increase the uncertainty and challenges of farming and the vulnerability of crops on which the nation depends.

Posted in Agriculture, Climate change | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 2017 Newsletter now available

Trax has been busy during April. Find out what we have been up to be reading our monthly newsletter here: Newsletter April 2017

Posted in Newsletter | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Strength in Numbers: Alliance-Building for Better Food and Farming

Trax want to see sustainable livelihoods which reduce poverty and increase food security among the most vulnerable in society. We believe this can be achieved while also ensuring environmental sustainability by restoring degraded land, and producing organic, nutritious food which is culturally appropriate. This is why we promote agroecological farming practices. We also want to see the rights of small-holder farmers respected and their knowledge recognised and valued. This is why we promote food sovereignty.

We know that our vision of a Ghana without poverty and food insecurity is ambitious. We know that we cannot achieve agroecology and food sovereignty for all Ghanaians alone. This is why we are supporting an alliance of similar organisations, networks, groups, businesses, and individuals across Ghana. Together, we have strength in numbers to achieve our ambitious objectives.

The Ghana Alliance for Agroecology and Food Sovereignty (GAAFS) was officially launched today with the publication of Our Manifesto: A Better Food System for Ghana.

GAAFS members want to see a food system which is socially just, culturally sensitive, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable. GAAFS want to see a Ghanaian food system for Ghanaians.

Trax is proud to be a lead partner in GAAFS and act as the current secretariat for the Alliance. To see agroecology and food sovereignty promoted across Ghana, we need to work with others who have a similar vision to Trax. As an Alliance we have a stronger voice and a bigger movement for effective change, we have strength in numbers.

You can read more about GAAFS on their website or download the Manifesto here: GAAFS Our Manifesto for a Better Food System for Ghana (opens pdf).

Posted in Agriculture, Food sovereignty, GAAFS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment