Penn State researchers explore how gender affects agriculture in Ghana

The Penn State researchers pose with other presenters and attendees of the workshop in Ghana

The workshop included training about how and why gender is considered a social construct, how gender norms influence agricultural production, and what time poverty is.

Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of Penn State researchers recently held a workshop in Ghana, exploring how gender affects dynamics within the agriculture industry. The trip capped a multi-year effort to better understand time poverty among women peanut farmers.

The two-day workshop included training about how and why gender is considered a social construct as well as how gender norms influence agricultural production. It also introduced attendees to the concept of time poverty, a situation in which people spend so many hours each day engaged in farm work and household chores that they have little time for rest or recreation.

Leland Glenna, professor of rural sociology and science, technology and society in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and principal investigator on the project, said it was important to emphasize understanding women’s work and the lives of women for many reasons, including finding ways to reduce women’s time poverty.

“In general, many technologies that are meant to enhance agricultural productivity favor men over women,” Glenna said. “And by looking at women's time poverty in comparison to men’s, we’re better able to document disparities between genders and how we should think more critically and develop more targeted ways for reducing women’s time poverty as opposed to men’s.”

The workshop also featured speakers from the University for Development Studies and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, both in Ghana, which have also been doing work on gender and technology and gender and agricultural production.

Janelle Larson, associate professor of agricultural economics at Penn State Berks, said the workshop was well received, with many of the 45 attendees saying they had learned new things about gender roles and the importance of shared household labor.

“Some of them had a lot of experience working with gender and understood and appreciated why it was important,” Larson said. “Meanwhile, the subject was new for others, who may not have realized how technologies might have different implications for different people in the household.”

According to Glenna, “sauce” crops such as peanuts are traditionally produced by women, while “starch” crops like rice are typically produced by men, which gives the growing of these different crops a gendered component.

At the same time, women in Ghana are also more likely to be time poor than men, making women peanut farmers an ideal target for a study on how gender affects agriculture, the researchers said.

“Part of that is because women tend to contribute more to the household,” Glenna said. “[That’s] not just in terms of labor but also because when they get resources, they tend to work them into the household to improve the lives of others rather than, perhaps, using it for their own interests.”

Glenna said one way to address this issue of time poverty is introducing simple technologies directed at reducing women’s work. One example is tarps for drying the peanuts. Tarps are introduced to reduce aflatoxins that often emerge when peanuts are spread on the ground to dry in the sun. Tarps can also reduce women’s work because women can simply lift the tarp and bring it into the house when the peanuts are dried, as opposed to spending time and energy sweeping up the peanuts on the ground.

Another example might be a jab planter, Glenna explained. Traditionally, men walk down the rows of a field poking holes while women follow, dropping the seeds. If jab planters — tools that allow holes to be made in the ground at the same time a seed is dropped in — are incorporated into farming, it could allow men to plant by themselves while women complete other tasks.

While the workshop trip to Ghana is finished, the researchers said there is still more work to be done. In addition to using the data collected over the past four years to write and publish their findings as research papers, the researchers are investigating the possibility of extending the project for another four years.

Other team members from Penn State involved in the project include Leif Jensen, Distinguished Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography; Carolyn Sachs, professor emerita of rural sociology; and Kaitlin Fischer, graduate student in rural sociology.

The U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut at the University of Georgia helped support this research.