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Ghana: "It started with 28 women"

Adwoa Sakyi is Gender Officer of the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) in Ghana. She is also Chair of the IUF Agricultural Workers’ Trade Group and a member of IUF Women’s Committees at international and African regional levels.

GAWU has long had a policy of reaching out to rural communities through community-based organising; its Rural Workers’ Organisation Division dates back to 1979. Here Adwoa describes how, by assisting women farmers, GAWU increases its own membership and activities at the same time as dramatically improving the lives of the rural poor.

“We support our rural members, particularly women, with revolving loans and access to other forms of credit. We help them get hold of basic tools and inputs like fertilisers. Where necessary, GAWU gives advice and legal assistance, and sometimes leads members in negotiations, for example, to acquire land. The union also puts up agricultural storage facilities, and helps train members in literacy and practical skills, including environmentally-sound farming practices.

Because rural workers have very low incomes, the union has to invest more finances in organising them than we can hope to realise from their dues. So, assistance has been sought from at home and abroad. For example, GAWU benefited from the programme ‘Workers Education for Women Members for Rural Workers Organisation in Africa’ organised by the IUF, the ILO, and the Norwegian aid agency NORAD.

One rural community we have supported is Manchie in the Greater Accra region of Ghana. It has a population of about 746, slightly more women than men. Farming is their major occupation, producing cassava, pineapples and vegetables, amongst others. In 1990, GAWU carried out a socio-economic survey that identified that the women of Manchie were involved in processing cassava into ‘gari’, and from that we developed a project with the community.

First we encouraged 28 women to each contribute some funds as seed money, and from that a revolving loan system was set up. This was a tool to bring women together as a group. Responding in this way to what the women needed was an opportunity for the union to organise them.

As their activities increased, the women needed a processing facility. So GAWU organised a seminar about the Government’s Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS). This enabled the Group’s leader, who is also the Assemblywoman for the community, to negotiate support from the GPRS to put up a Gari processing factory.

Then the women needed somewhere for their young children to go while they were busy with cassava production, and to get better education. So the union supported them to set up a day-care centre, using proceeds of their gari processing plus communal labour from the community. After that, we gave them information about the Government’s policies on education, and they asked the Government to put up a school building. Now we even have some children from this community going to University.

So, what started with 28 women in one community has led to over 200 more people in the union, and they have both a cassava processing factory and a school which really improve the quality of their lives.”

Interviewed by Celia Mather, Lusaka, July 2006

We interviewed her at the recent IUF Congress.