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close this bookEnvironment, Biodiversity and Agricultural Change in West Africa (UNU, 1997, 141 pages)
close this folderPilot study of production pressure and environmental change in the forest-savanna zone of southern Ghana
close this folder12: Gender and non-governmental organizations in environmental management
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentGender and non-governmental organizations
View the documentEnvironmental and agricultural changes
View the documentMeasures for coping with the adverse changes
View the documentThe relative roles of NGOs and GOs
View the documentConclusion

(introductory text...)

Gender and non-governmental organizations
Environmental and agricultural changes
Measures for coping with the adverse changes
The relative roles of NGOs and GOs

Elizabeth Ardayfio-Schandorf

Gender and non-governmental organizations

The link between women and environmental management is becoming increasingly recognized in sustainable development. However, this connection tends to be underplayed when environmental issues are studied within a general context, with negative repercussions on effective development in local communities. It is for this reason that non-governmental agencies are currently targeting women in their development goals, and that this section of the paper is focused on the role of women and NGOs in managing the environment. Specific consideration is given to women's perceptions of environmental degradation, access to fuelwood and other trees and countermeasures for environmental degradation, based principally on information provided by the 30 women involved in the group discussions, and on information from the questionnaire survey in 1993. These women are mainly farmers cultivating cassava and maize and processing agricultural produce into gari (dried grated cassava) and agblema (cassava dough). The women are mobilized by local non-governmental organizations for other economic activities, including agroforestry and fish and snail farming organised at the Yensi Centre, the field headquarters of the NGO Ghana Rural Reconstruction Movement (GhRRM). In addition, women are encouraged and supported in productive activities aimed at enhancing women's productive and earning capabilities by the 31st December Women's Movement, a women's NGO.

Environmental and agricultural changes

As important farmers, the women have noticed tremendous environmental change in their farming activities since 1960. Formerly their farms were more productive, so they could cultivate more varied and nutritious food crops. In this regard yam, which does better in good soils, has given way to cassava and other root crops that do well in impoverished soils. Environmental degradation is also evidenced by:

  • fuelwood scarcity, which is manifested in the increased use of bamboos, neem, cassava sticks, corn-cobs, stalks and crop residue as fuelwood;
  • walking longer distances from farms to collect fuelwood;
  • cutting of young shoots before maturity;
  • the difficulty in obtaining wild twine for ropes; overfarming of the forest lands;
  • the scarcity of vines;
  • the depletion by timber contractors of the area's useful and vital wood resources;
  • building material scarcity due to decreasing stock;
  • clearance of vegetation over extensive areas including river valleys, to the extent that people could see over 20 km beyond; and
  • increase in soil erosion and in evaporation, resulting in decreased land productivity and incomes.

Major factors acknowledged by women to be responsible for the change in the natural vegetation include population growth, culminating in scarcity of farm land, shortening of the fallow period, commercialization of agriculture, indiscriminatory felling of trees, fire outbreaks and rural poverty, especially among women.

Measures for coping with the adverse changes

In response to the increasing environmental problems, the women recommended various measures, including support for agroforestry. However, agroforestry has not always been viable in the Yensiso community, for example, where women do not own land. It is important to ease the land pressure by providing more job opportunities relating to both agricultural and nonagricultural production. Afforestation and reforestation are also recommended by the women. Another recommended measure is population control through resettling of the population in less populated areas, thus easing congestion in the farming areas. Also recommended is enforcement of proper land management, so that trees are not completely cleared during the farming season. To achieve this they suggest the promotion of fertilizer use. Finally, they think that population pressure and poverty force people to degrade land, and so to help solve the problem, they call for government and external assistance in the area of critical inputs such as seeds and credit. Though the women are silent on other factors that constrain their environmental management, sociocultural factors like family relationships and decision-making are important. Access to critical resources like land, technology, training skills and extension services also affect their level and efficiency of management.

Table 12.1 Services Provided by Global 2000 and GhRRM

Service Share ( % )
Technical advice 42.4
Agroforestry 1 1.8
Others 10.0
Training 9.4
Extension services 9.4
Financial assistance 4.7
Provision of inputs 4.7
Row planting 4.1
Inspection of farms 3.5
Total 100.0

Source: PLEC 1993 ouestionnaire survey.

Table 12.2 Effectiveness of the External Agencies as Assessed by the Respondents in the PLEC Study Areas

Effectiveness Percentage
Effective 49.5
Ineffective 21.7
Very effective 9.6
Satisfactory 9.6
Do not know 8.4
Poor 1.2
Total 100.0

Source: PLEC 1993 questionnaire survey.

The relative roles of NGOs and GOs

Few external agricultural and environmental agencies operate in the selected study areas, as is the case in the Eastern region as a whole (Assimeng 1987). NGOs such as the GhRRM operate in the Yensi area, as does Sasakawa Global 2000 in the Sekesua area. Their roles, though significant, are far smaller than those of governmental agencies such as the Cocoa Services Division and the Agricultural Extension Services. There is an exception in Yensiso, however, where the GhRRM is by far the most popular external NGO involved in providing support services to farmers. In the Yensiso area, 44 per cent of those interviewed were aware of this NGO, and a substantial number of them saw it as helpful in their agriculture, through the provision of various services (table 12.1). Global 2000 is the other external NGO active in all three areas, especially through the provision of farm credit, fertilizer, and technical advice, which help to offset the loss of the inherent productive capacity of the soils. In spite of the limited operations of the external agencies operating in the area, the people generally acknowledge that their services are effective (table 12.2).


Although this section on gender and NGOs in the management and sustainable use of the environment has been only exploratory, it is hoped that it will serve as a basis for further research into the gender and NGO issue, with special reference to women's access to critical resources such as training in farming systems, extension services, land, technology, credit, farming inputs and strategies for wood-fuel management to stem the environmental degradation.


Assimeng, M. 1987. Women's Organisations in Ghana. Legon: University of Ghana Press.