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Pioneering career fellowship supports Ghanaian women to enhance agri-food policies

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Five Ghanaian mid-career women are among 49 African women selected as Fellows in the first cohort of The Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship, an initiative of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

This new competitive career development fellowship is targeting African women in agri-food policies who can support the implementation of gender-responsive agricultural policies in Africa.

Women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70% of Africa’s food. As such, effective policies are critical if research innovations are to provide gender-inclusive, sustainable solutions which allow Africa to develop equitable agri-food systems capable of feeding its growing population.

Drawn from diverse organisations including the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies, the 49 AWARD Policy Fellows of the inaugural GRASP Fellowship cohort hail from six African Anglophone countries – Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia. The Ghanaian women, and others selected for the GRASP Fellowship, are set to participate in a series of interventions designed to enable them to become more effective policy practitioners.

A pressing need for effective policy

Over the past 20 years, Ghana has made significant progress in reducing poverty and hunger and has been hailed for its stability and democratic governance. However, improvements at the national level mask huge inequalities between the north and south of the country, and between rural and urban areas. Hunger and malnutrition persist primarily in northern Ghana, an area that is experiencing increasingly erratic rainfall and long dry periods due to climate change.

Nevertheless, across the country, Ghana’s food systems face numerous challenges. In addition to gender inequality, the industry is also beleaguered by low prices, poor road infrastructure, lack of access to finance, inadequate markets, post-harvest losses, insufficient education and knowledge, unsustainable farming systems, and rural-urban migration.

Through their work, the Ghanaian GRASP Fellows have experienced first-hand some of the challenges facing the agricultural sector. Policies are essential in driving and supporting change – and these can be implemented throughout the value chain for effective transformation, notes Fellow Portia Adade Williams from the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI). “In the face of a changing climate, we must support the poorest and most vulnerable by building a resilient agricultural system,” she says. “This includes researching ways to build the adaptive capacity of smallholders against climate change and sustain their productivity.”

Female future makers

To aid in enhancing women’s position within agriculture and create economic opportunities for them, Fellow Rose Aawulenaa works for Plan International on their ‘WISE’ (Women’s Innovation for Sustainable Enterprises) project. Over 12,600 women have received training to develop their communication and business development skills – and Rose appreciates the difference this is making. “When you get to work with people, especially women, and you’re able to make an impact on their lives, the smile on their faces alone brings fulfilment,” she enthuses.

Meanwhile, improving food safety is the primary concern for Fellow Clara Agyeman-Attafuah Darko, who works at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. “We work directly with farmers, processors, and other agricultural value chain actors to aid them in producing more quality food produce and products to get more income,” she shares. Clara also targets policymakers to improve support for these actors at the highest level. “Our reports give policymakers information to make national policy decisions about agriculture, which we then implement.”

Providing policymakers and key agricultural stakeholders with information as a means to enhance food security is also significant for Comfort Yelipoie who works in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Directorate of Crop Services. She is working on building a seed database, to help develop environmentally-sustainable, accessible, and affordable seed varieties for farmers. However, effectively targeting policymakers takes work – which is something that Fellow Augustina Quaynor Korkoi understands. Through her position at the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa, she is helping develop programs that train young agricultural workers in advocating with policy stakeholders.

Getting to grips with GRASP

The GRASP Fellowship, through mentorship, provides Candidates with much-needed support and guidance in building their skillsets and connections. This aspect of the program has been a draw for many applicants. “The unique thing about this AWARD scheme is that I get a mentor,” asserts Clara Agyeman-Attafuah Darko whose mentor is a Professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

“Professor William Otoo Ellis is guiding me in shaping my ideas and ensuring they become a reality.” On the other hand, Rose Aawulenaa shares that she is looking forward to mentoring a younger colleague and “encouraging other young women to have self-confidence.” 

Augustina Quaynor Korkoi appreciates the significance of being selected as a Fellow. “This is a great opportunity for me to gain more knowledge and improve my research and advocacy skills,” she notes. 

Meanwhile, Comfort Yelipoie reveals she has already found the GRASP training sessions to be “particularly empowering” – and is thrilled that her new skills “will enable me to respond to gender issues within the agricultural sector effectively.

”Applications for the second cohort of the AWARD GRASP Fellowship are now open for women who are citizens of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Senegal. Submissions can be made via https://eu.jotform.com/230430982603956, and must be completed by 15 May, 2023.”

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