Across the country, Ghana's robust economy has contributed to considerably improving the well-being of its people, with the proportion of Ghanaians living in poverty falling from 52 per cent in 1991-92 to 29 per cent in 2005-06, according to estimates by the Ghana Statistical Service. But Ghana's north has largely been excluded from that broader trend. One hindrance is geography. The three northern regions are far from the ports, roads, railways, markets, industrial centres and fertile farming areas that help stimulate greater economic and human development in southern Ghana. The incidence of poverty in the Northern Region declined only slightly over the same period, from 63 per cent to 52 per cent. Special programmes are needed to overcome the north's heavy concentrations of poverty, poor climate and limited economic opportunities.
One way to tackle these inequities is to get individuals to band together in order to increase their production and marketing capabilities for their local products. For example, the Africa 2000 Network-Ghana has sponsored a project to encourage women to form an association for the creation of shea butter for soap production in Tamale, the capital of Ghana's Northern Region. For these poor women, even modest increases in their incomes can make a big difference. Previously, each had collected and processed shea nuts as an individual, but earned so little she could barely get by. "We found if we came together we could make more and sell more," explains Safiya Hassan, a recent university graduate who is helping the women.
The association now includes 13 groups of shea producers, all women, in Ghana's Northern Region. Together they are able to produce more than 20 tonnes of shea butter per month. Much of this, in the form of high-quality shea soap and creams, is supplied to a Japanese company. As a group, the women are earning an additional profit of 10 Ghana cedis (US$11) for every 100 kilogrammes, compared to what they made as individual producers. That modest extra income has already changed the lives of many of the women. The shea project is still only a few years old, but that has not stopped its members from seeking to help other shea producers in the Northern Region. They have learned improved production techniques from women elsewhere, and are in turn planning to teach selected "master trainers" from all three of Ghana's northern regions. Making such wider connections "has been one of our greatest achievements," says Ms. Yakubu.
For more visit: www.modernghana.com