Posted by: mhirdyounger | November 26, 2013

Changing Perceptions of Farming in Ghana

Does it matter how you feel about farming, whether you like it or not? Are perceptions, prestige and personal feelings of achievement important to successful agricultural systems?  I would argue that yes, changing perceptions of farming and agriculture in Ghana is critical for effective and sustainable agricultural development.

Traditionally in Ghana, where I manage an agricultural extension and advisory services program, farming is seen as ‘poor man’s work’, drudgerous and difficult with little opportunities for  professional or personal advancement or achievement. In fact, a typical punishment in school is to be assigned to weed a certain plot of land. A job that has you sitting at a desk in an air-conditioned office is seen as much more desirable and prestigious, a successful career and vocation. But this is not the full story of agriculture, and it is not a story that will help bring investment, growth and more inclusive development to the sector.

Why are perceptions and prestige in farming and agriculture important?

Perceptions of success and prestige fundamentally need to change in order for agricultural development to be effective, sustainable and successful. There’s a few reasons why:

First, is that perceptions of farming create a disincentive for youth to pursue this vocation.  The average age of farmers in Ghana is 55 years. We need youth, the next generation,  to be investing in agriculture to meet our future development goals in Ghana. Youth want jobs that will provide them with achievement and a good income, and perceptions suggest that this is not possible in the agricultural sector.

Secondly, perceptions also create an additional barrier for women to join the agricultural sector as farmers or agricultural extension agents or researchers. As agriculture is perceived as a drudgerous job, it is not perceived as an appropriate vocational pathway for women. Dr. Stella, a top Ghanaian agricultural researcher, explores this issue in Ghana in a recent article. She argues that demonstrating the prestigious  potential of agricultural vocations (such as successful farmers, agribusiness women and researchers) will help increase the number of women that choose agriculture as a vocation. More women agriculturalists is crucial for addressing the gender gap in services that female farmers receive.

One of the main barriers to female farmer’s success is that women are not perceived as farmers. In fact, women, on average, comprise 43% of the agricultural labour force. Perceptions that farmers are male distorts services to be male-focused and not inclusive to the needs of female farmers. For example, extension services need to be tailored to the constraints and barriers that female farmers face in accessing these services (only 5% of female farmers access extension services), but this cannot happen if we do not recognize that female farmers also exist and are left out of these services. Perceptions of farming as poor man‘s work can prevent critical services from also reaching female farmers in need.

Finally, changing the perceptions of farming away from drudgery and cycles of poverty will open up investors to the huge potential for investment and growth in the agricultural system. If farming and agriculture are seen not as ‘poverty trap’ but as an opportunity, a potential and cornerstone of development, more investment will be attracted to the sector which will in turn help with the sector’s growth.

So how do we change perceptions of farming?

There are many ways to start changing the way that society and the nation view the potential of agricultural development and the potential prestige of agricultural vocations.

Agriculture as a Business: One way to increase the prestige of farming and agriculture is by emphasizing that agriculture, no matter how small, is a business. For example, through showcasing highly successful local women and men owned agribusinesses, negative perceptions of the financial potential and profitability of farming can change.

Students meeting with a successful cashew agregator.

Students meeting with a successful cashew agregator.

Youth do not realize that farming can be a business. That it should be a business, with a business model for sustainability and profitability that ensures farmers are making a livelihood. This is true for smallholder farmers with just a few acres as much as for the farmer with 1000 acres of cash crop. (There’s a broader debate in here around whether sustenance smallholder or large scale commercial farming is better for social and economic development – but that’s a debate for another day.)

Leading Edge Training: EWB’s work at Ghana’s agricultural colleges is supporting the perceptions of agriculture as a business and the role of the colleges in agricultural development. Our vision for the colleges is one that recognizes their potential to be Centres of Innovation and hubs of leading edge training and research in agriculture. If students and local communities start to perceive the colleges as leading edge, world-class institutions nationally and regionally, then they also perceive agricultural training as innovative, technologically advanced and entrepreneurial.

Awards and Recognition: Along these lines, awards, such as those offered at National Farmers Day, offer huge prestige for farmers. I was once introduced to a farmer that explained to me that he was district best maize farmer in 1981, over 30 years before. My host farther, Mr. Appiah, was district best farmer in 2011 and is known in all the neighbouring communities for this recognition.  The award has also helped him take on new prestigious agricultural roles, such as supplying inputs and becoming a lead farmer.

Being part of fair trade cooperatives, like Kuapa Kokoo, that is part owner of Divine chocolate, gives farmers pride.

Being part of fair trade cooperatives, like Kuapa Kokoo, that is part owner of Divine chocolate, gives farmers pride.

Cooperatives, Fair Trade & Collective Pride: For my host father Mr. Appiah, one of the proudest parts of his agricultural vocation is being part of Kuapa Kokoo. Kuapa is a fair trade cocoa cooperative that provides cocoa to Europe and North America. When we think of fair trade in North America, we tend to think of better and more equitable wages for producers. As a member of Kuapa, Mr. Appiah receives some monetary compensation, such as a few more cedis per bag of cocoa and a free cutlass annually. But I would argue that more importantly, Mr. Appiah feels pride in his farming through his membership in this collective. He is proud to be a part of Kuapa, a member of a local collective and proud to be associated with chocolate companies in developed countries. “Kuapa is Divine chocolate,” he proudly states.  That is pride, pride in his work and in his vocation.

As I walk through Mr.Appiah’s community, people mistake me for a Kuapa visitor and come over the shake my hand saying “Kuapa papapaa” (Kuapa The Best).

Organizations like Kuapa, awards, lead farmer positions and a business mindset in farming and agriculture all impact the perceptions that people hold of this vocation and sector. They help build collective understanding that agriculture is the cornerstone of Ghanaian development and can be a successful, profitable and sustainable livelihood for female and male farmers. A national collective pride built on individual perceptions of successful livelihoods will support a stronger agricultural development in Ghana.

This is not to diminish the struggle and hardship that many smallholder farmers face in Ghana. The majority of farmers in Ghana remain highly vulnerable, with a lack of access to the inputs required to have successful livelihoods, and this is especially true for female farmers. However, gradually changing the mindset of agriculture in Ghana away from cycles of poverty being the only story of farming, will help us to identify opportunities for marginalized and vulnerable farmers, to increase the prestige and potential of their vocations and to increase investment in this sector. Agriculture as drudgerous and poor man’s work should not be the only story of farming in Ghana.


  1. couldn’t agree more Miriam! Well written!

    • Thanks Mina! Showing the benefits and strengths of agriculture has huge potential!

  2. You are a genius and I agree with your thoughts though. I never thought of reading your research work until today and i really find it educative. But i think you did forget one important point on the perception of farming which i think is ought to be addressed critically. That is, the mere perception that farming is the work of the illiterates, hence most ghanaian youth right from home are never educated and encouraged to get training in agricultural activities when they ever discuss to choose their future career with their parents. You can check through and you will find out that, most ghanaian farmers nationwide are those with certainly low educational level or those who never had the opportunity to step into the classrooms at all yet they are the very people contributing much to the development of this nation since the agric sector undoubtedly contributes much to the Gross Domestic Product of ghana.

  3. […] recently wrote a post explaining that I think a huge barrier to long term development of Ghana’s agricultural […]

  4. […] a member of the Kuapa Kokoo fair trade cocoa cooperative and darn proud of it too. (Check out this post where I argue how important pride is for agricultural development.) But today I realized how […]

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