Leveraging Traditional Knowledge in Natural Resources Management for Food Security: The Role of Rural Women in Ghana

An article by:

Kamasa Dorothy

December 31, 2022


There are many reasons why soils are overexploited and even destroyed; why farmers and other land users do not undertake adequate and appropriate measures to protect soil resources and maintain soil productivity. One of them is poverty. Land users often abandon protective measures after the expiration of development projects and the accompanying assistance and encouragement offered by them.

Many forests are losing countless acres of trees that are very essential. Animals and humans lose their food supply and homes through non conservative methods. Conserving trees give back to the natural environment; it aids in the protection of food sources, and medicinal properties that only the trees can provide. Trees protect the soil from harsh weather conditions and protect humans from excess carbon dioxide, enabling us to live longer and more comfortably. Trees also hold soil in place and naturally filter water that has been absorbed into the ground. Water and soil are essential for the function and structure of agricultural production systems and for the overall social and environmental sustainability. Soil acts as its own supporter of life by suppling food and filtering water. Soil that is of good quality enhances the production of more nutritious crops for human and animal consumption.


Kamasa on a farm survey with some rural women


Most rural women are comparatively poor and uneducated, their impact and activities are significant as their indigenous knowledge in the management of natural resources such as land, soil, water and forests (trees) because their traditional gender roles bring them in direct contact with these natural resources, and their survival and that of their families depend directly on exploiting and harnessing supplies from these natural resources.  When the world environmental protection and conservation policies advocate for protection without any form of use, while ignoring rural women, they become the greatest victims of such a policy.

Land Management: In rural communities, land provides many basic needs, the most essential one been food. The main activity of rural women is producing food for their families. Women provide over 80% of labor directly in food production on most farms, firewood collection, fetching water for domestic use, cooking and treatment of common rural ailments. Women have direct contact with land in their effort to produce food. If the soil doesn’t yield enough crops as a result of exhaustion, women would have to deal with modification of farming practices like provision of local manure to replenish the soil. Their traditional activities, skills and knowledge are crucial in understanding why lands deteriorate or remain viable, while it is becoming increasingly important to protect soils from erosion, and degradation. A lot of natural biodiversity and change of ecologies also result when land is misused, loss of biodiversity because of intensive, indiscriminate and careless use of land. It is of much urgency that women are taught to use farming and other compatible land use approaches for biodiversity and ecological conservation. The common problems related to use of land in the face of increasing human population and diminishing land resources are deforestation, soil and water pollution.


Kamasa in a community engagement Meeting with some farmers, discussing farmland management

Soil Management: Recognition of soil as the fundamental component for food security represents a significant shift in the way we view and manage agricultural production. It’s important to understand that maintaining and rebuilding soil health, particularly organic matter, takes time. Inorganic nutrients are often required for ensuring sufficient crop yields and food security. When inorganic and organic nutrient sources are used together, their benefits can be complementary for soil health and the environment. Healthy soil is more productive since it composes more organic matter and soil microorganisms which increase organic components and improve soil structure, aeration, water retention, drainage, and nutrient availability for plant growth. Increased organic matter enables soil to hold more water and reduces runoff. Favorable soil water retention combined with nutrient management practices prevents nutrients from leaving fields and contaminating water bodies and aquatic habitats.


Soil Management method demonstrated by Kamasa and some indigenous farmers

Water Management: Issues concerning management and conservation of water resources are of great importance in Ghana and the world at large. There is therefore an increasing concern on impacts particularly on current and future provision of clean water as well as conservation of wetlands as habitats for wetland related biodiversity. In rural Ghana Women are the main collectors and users of water.

Issues concerning management and conservation of water resources are of great importance in Ghana and the world at large. There is therefore an increasing concern on impacts particularly on current and future provision of clean water as well as conservation of wetlands as habitats for wetland related biodiversity.


Kamasa with her team at a conserved riparian zone

Rural women in Ghana are the main searchers, collectors and users of water. They have to decide where to collect water, how to draw, transport and store it, how much water to draw, how many sources of water to exploit and for what purposes, drinking, kitchen and other domestic uses. In rural Ghana Women are the main collectors and users of water. Rainwater becomes a major source for drinking and other domestic use if there are larger storage media available especially in dry areas, women still depend on wells, springs, streams and rivers for water supply. Activities that compromise water from streams, underground and rivers directly affect the welfare of women. Stream and river sources should be conserved, since they would be cool sources of water. Therefore, all agricultural practices that involve deforestation and replacement of natural vegetation must be discouraged in riparian and catchment areas. Draining of wetlands for planting of rice should be discouraged if they will affect water quality, quantity, distribution and supply. Women should be educated on the importance of conserving wetlands, riparian zones (interface between land and river or stream) and catchment areas (the area from which rainwater flows into a lake, river or reservoir) to ensure clean and reliable water supply for their current domestic use and future supplies.


A riparian zone

Forest and Tree Management: Forests and trees on farms contribute to food security, nutrition and livelihoods in several ways, including as a direct source of food, fuel, employment and cash income. They are fundamental to the survival of forest-dwellers, particularly many indigenous peoples, and are important providers of ecosystem services, including maintaining or restoring soil fertility, protecting watersheds and water courses. For most of the year, herders in arid (very dry) and semi-arid lands depend on trees as a source of fodder for their livestock. As habitat to an estimated 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, forests provide genetic material important for crop and livestock improvement and are homes to many pollinator species. Forests and trees help to mitigate climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing carbon. They can also help to reduce the vulnerability of people to climate change by providing food and other ecosystem services during critical periods of climate driven food shortages.

Apart from maintaining atmospheric balance, protection and maintenance of watersheds, protection of soils, water and in providing habitats for endemic and rare forest related biodiversity, forests are important to women particularly in supplying firewood. Women use forests to supplement fuel and food sources from own land, firewood nuts, wild fruits, vegetables, tubers, honey and wild bush meat. Forests are also used for cultural purposes and in provision of medicinal plants which cater for most rural healthcare. Women have used forest products intimately and their conservation is tightly linked with the activities of women and gender roles. Since tropical forests hold some of the world’s largest and unique biological resources, they are of great concern and interest to conservation organizations and governments. Tropical forests are disappearing very fast and forest biodiversity seriously threatened. The close association of women and forests as rural managers and users will bring women to the forefront of tropical forest conservation.


Kamasa and her team surveys a catchment area that serves as a drinking water source for a community


To help achieve food security and reduce poverty, sustainable natural resource management and measures to stabilize and increase soil productivity need to be taken without delay. The use of indigenous knowledge in solving food shortage remains a powerful means of sustaining rural household food security. Trial and error natural resource management experiments contribute to develop many indigenous techniques and practices for cultivating, processing and preserving foods at the rural community level. Indigenous methods and solutions applied by women to sustain household food supplies are culturally acceptable, economically practicable, and more appropriate for the local environment and conditions. Rural women have an important role to play in using and preserving this valuable indigenous knowledge, they manage to achieve sustainable food security at household levels, with practical, efficient and economic solutions


Kamsa and her team with some rural folks in a forest they have put under management to restore back its depleted resources


One effective means to achieve household food security in rural Ghana is by recognizing, supporting and helping improve the agricultural skills of rural women. A number of changes will strengthen women’s contribution to agricultural production and sustainability. These include support for public services and investment in rural areas in order to improve women’s living and working conditions; giving priority to technological development policies targeting rural and farm women’s needs  and recognizing their knowledge, skills and experience in the production of food and the conservation of biodiversity; and assessing the negative effects and risks of farming practices and technology, including pesticides on women’s health, and taking measures to reduce use and exposure

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