ACCRA, Ghana (23 October 2019) – Alongside her mother and her siblings, Nana Ama Yirrah toiled for years to develop their cocoa farm in Ghana – but once their trees became productive, the women lost all the profits because Yirrah’s mother did not have legal title to the land.
The injustice of that spurred Yirrah on to a career path that has led her to become a national activist, working to help smallholders – particularly women and the disadvantaged – so they might achieve land tenure security. That’s essential to building sustainable livelihoods and better futures. Secure tenure is also critically important to sustainable restoration work, she says.
“As a woman, when you insist on having your name included in property documentation and registration, you are labelled as being troublesome,” Yirrah, a land economist, development policy analyst and gender specialist, said in a published essay on land rights.
“Having those rights enshrined on paper is such an inconvenience to everyone else,” added Yirrah, who founded the Ghana-based NGO COLANDEF more than 15 years ago. It focuses on land rights protection, public education, policy research and advocacy, and achieving gender equality and social inclusion.
Tenure security that allows smallholders to make better choices is critical in successful landscape restoration work to mitigating the effects of climate change, Yirrah added in an interview, outlining the message she will bring to the Global Landscapes Forum Accra from 29-30 October 2019. The theme of the event is Restoring Africa’s Landscapes: Uniting actions from above and below.
“I have done quite a bit of research around the effects of exclusion and how this affects the entire landscape restoration agenda,” says Yirrah, chief executive officer of COLANDEF.
Among her conclusions: to achieve landscape restoration goals, project managers must fully understand customary or traditional systems of land tenure in Ghana, as well as formal, legal requirements and procedures. Failure to do so, and failure to work within all players in both the traditional and legal systems, will doom a restoration project warned Yirrah.
“You can have very beautiful policies, very beautiful donor programs but it will not succeed in promoting the restoration agenda,” if customary practices are not understood and acknowledged. “There is such a fear of going against tradition.”
Customary land tenure practice gives local men precedence over women and also over male ‘migrants’ – newcomers from other parts of Ghana; a system that hampers restoration work, as well as perpetuating injustice against women and their ability to provide for their families, says Yirrah, whose organization has been developing land tenure reform proposals and a roadmap for the national government.
Statistics from the World Bank have demonstrated that if women around the globe had the same access and rights as men to productive resources – which is related to land tenure – they could boost yields by 20 to 30 percent. Instead, women farmers in Africa produce between 13 and 25 percent less than men.
“For women, (tenure) often means the difference between earning a living and depending on the charity of others to survive. Even I, an educated woman and a trained professional in the legalities of land ownership, have struggled to get my title deed registered in both mine and my husband’s names.”
In Ghana, 60 percent or more of the country’s population works in agriculture – the majority, women who, therefore, depend directly on the land for their livelihoods, according to figures from COLANDEF. In support of women’s roles in agriculture and land use, the organization has been implementing the project ‘Advocacy for the Participation and Representation of Female Traditional Leaders in Land Policy Discussions in Ghana’. It seeks recognition of the role of female traditional leaders in the country and their involvement in customary land governance and participation in national-level land policy discussions.
COLANEF also works on building public awareness around land laws and land rights through such projects as Responsible Investments in Property and Land (RIPL) in Ghana. Funded by the U.K. government, the project involves field research to gather experiences in land-based investments. That’s being used to create a guide to help in socially responsible, equitable and sustainable land-based investments.
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