Ghanaian Agronomist, Dr. Stella Ama Ennin, is leading the development of a Gender Action Plan as a necessity to rope in more women into agriculture – both at the researcher level and the farm level.
The target of the project, she says, is to increase the Ghana's women agricultural researchers' ratio to 40 percent within four leading research and educational institutions. These include the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the University of Development Studies, Tamale, the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and the Crops Research Institute (CRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Dr. Ennin explains gender issues in crop production are important, hence the need for research development and technology dissemination to take into consideration the interest of women for sustainable development.
“Food security is fundamental; it's about sovereignty – unless you're able to feed your nation, you're not an independent nation and the woman is critical”, she stated.
Young Ghanaian agricultural graduate, Kwabena Owusu, is happy to have studied with young ladies who had passion for farming and agriculture.
His undergraduate class of 120 had at least a quarter being females – and Kwabena had observed the numbers improve in his four year stay on campus, as the ladies competed strongly with their male colleagues for knowledge and skills.
But these young women had to suffer ridicule as they pursued their studies in agriculture. “They were said to be the 'the unfashionable' females on campus because of the way they dressed for field practical and they were also perceived to be bookworms and not fun to be around with”, Kwabena recalled.
Indeed a good number of women in Ghana shun agriculture as a course of study right from primary school, because of perceptions that farming as a profession is unfit for 'beautiful girls'.
This is however not the situation today.
Dr. Ennin of Ghana's Crop Research Institute (CRI) is an epitome of women's role in making a difference in African agriculture.
Dr. Ennin is the first Ghanaian woman to receive the National Best Agriculture Researcher award in 1994 and the only woman to have had the award till date. She is the first and only woman to have risen to the position of Chief Research Scientist, the highest level within the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
She has also served as the first female Deputy Director and recently received a 2012 Ghana Women of Excellence Award for her contributions to scientific research and agricultural development.
For her, beautiful, 'sexy' and educated young women can venture agriculture and be successful.
Women shy away because of the drudgery in production, she explained. “If agriculture is seen as a very profitable, descent, mechanized and not laborious work, then a lot of women will find it attractive”.
As an accomplished agricultural researcher, Dr. Ennin's focus is to come up with improved ways of producing crops like maize, cowpea and soya beans – both at the research station and with farmers on the field.
She is currently involved in crop-livestock integration; introducing legumes as dual purpose crops for human consumption and as residue for animal feed in four African countries – Ghana, The Gambia, Benin and Mali.
“I find it very exciting to be a woman agricultural researcher”, she said. “As an agricultural researcher, whenever you go to the field you see that you're among your contemporaries, because women are mainly the food producers”.
Believing in the role of women in agricultural production, she has set herself an ambition to inspire young ladies to become astute agricultural researchers, especially at the CSIR where women constitute less than 20 percent of the 700 workforce.
“Other women are hopeful and can dream bigger because of me”, she said. “If you mentor a man you've mentored an individual, but if you mentor a woman you've mentored a nation”.
Mary Mamle Apetorgbor is the fourth woman to be mentored by Dr. Stella under the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Fellowship, a career development program that equips top women scientists across sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills, through tailored fellowships.
Mary's career progression as a research scientist got stagnated at a point in time though she felt the need to reach for something more challenging in her field as a mushroom grower, researcher and trainer.
The mentorship opportunity, she says, has helped build her interpersonal skills and in less than a year into the programme, she has been able to build better teams, manage conflicts at the workplace and become more assertive working with farmer groups, most of who are women from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“I want them to be better than me because the opportunities that they have, I never had them and there is no excuse”, Dr. Ennin said. “When you begin to mentor, it makes you less selfish, less self-centered; with mentoring, the potentially natural pride of being the first and only is not cherished; you are proud to be the first but not the only after a while”.