Interview with Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata on 3 September 2015 at 10:30 am at the University of Ghana, Legon. – Part 1 

Prof. Tsikata it is a pleasure to meet you today. Thank you very much for taking time to introduce us to your work, the current issues on land tenure and the right to food in Ghana, and what you think DEMETER can contribute to research and policy design at large in Ghana.
Could you tell us a bit about your work at the Institute for Statistical, Social, and Economic Research (ISSER)?

Tsikata: I am an associate research professor here at the University of Ghana, Legon and my field is development sociology. So what I do here is mainly research on the issues that interest me which are also part of ISSER’s research agenda. My two broad research areas are: land tenure and agrarian livelihoods; and informal work, both of which I look at from a gender equity perspective. In addition to research I also teach an advanced course in gender and women’s studies in ISSER’s Ph.D programme in Development Studies.

Could you briefly sum up what the land issues in Ghana are today?

Tsikata: That is a very big question.

Okay, maybe what are the current land issues in terms of gender and food security in Ghana today?

Tsikata: Land is an important development issue in Ghana because Ghana happens to be an agricultural country. People need land for agrarian livelihood activities, whether for producing food for their own consumption or producing food for sale or producing other agricultural products for export.
At the same time land also has social and political dimensions because land ownership gives people who own land in large quantities power. There is a linkage between being a traditional leader and land ownership. The jurisdiction of traditional leaders over people is linked with their ownership of the land on which such people live. This gives them power over property, over people and over the soil. It allows them to have subjects who do not own the land but who live on it.

At the same time, land rights also express lineage membership, kinship and family. So if you are a member of a family that is a landowning family, that gives you access to the land and you can also inherit it. Some people also believe that there are deities on the land that was left to them by their ancestors, thus giving land a spiritual dimension. People also see the land as a source of medicinal plants, firewood, water and other natural resources which can be used to make a living. I hope I have sufficiently described the importance of land in an agrarian economy such as Ghana.
There is always a discussion about whether the land is being used well enough, whether people can access it, whether land prices are getting higher, whether there are tenure insecurities, and whether there are many land conflicts. These discussions about land throw up all kinds of problems. For example Ghana’s population has grown exponentially over the last 30 years, and in some areas we see that population densities are quite high. Urban areas are spilling into rural areas and that is affecting land use and bringing with it land use conflicts. Increasingly people who are native to a place, who in the past would have had easy access to land are facing problems acquiring land. They increasingly have to pay to be able to acquire land from people who own and control the land. This is creating conflicts and tenure insecurities. There are boundary problems between land owning communities and groups. Increasingly people are talking about “chaos and indiscipline” in the land sector. And so policy makers have taken a number of steps over the years to address the land tenure issues: We have had a land policy, a land administration project, which is a 15 year project of land reforms in Ghana, to try and improve tenure issues and security. But certainly access to land and the terms of access continue to be an important issue, and one that interests me, particularly the disadvantages suffered by social groups such as women, who in the past when land was more available, probably experienced some insecurities. However, the situation has since become quite acute.

So women can formally own land in Ghana and now that there is more pressure on the land they are facing more insecurity than men? Would you agree to that?

Tsikata: Yes I would say that largely, yes. Women have always been able to access, control and own land. However, the terms on which women have been able to do that have been quite different from men. So under customary law, every member of a land owning lineage can clear a piece of lineage land which is unoccupied to make a farm. Once they have done that, they acquire an interest called the usufruct or what is also called the customary freehold. This is a perpetual interest nobody can take away from them. But then within the sexual division of labor in traditional agrarian systems, clearing land is men’s work. So you find that increasingly, the usufruct is acquired by men and not by women. As time goes on it becomes more and more difficult for women to even try to clear land because it will raise questions such as: “Why are you clearing land, are there no men in your family?” So once we have a situation of land scarcity, this disadvantage, this inability to claim the usufruct becomes very disadvantageous to women. Secondly, you find that adult women leave their natal communities where they have land interests to marry elsewhere. Once they have done that, they lose some of their rights and interests in land in their natal community because they have been away during their most productive years. Therefore they have to strategize and access land in other ways, the most common being through their status as wives.
As a lineage wife your interest is less secure and it comes through your husband. This kind of interest does not even have a proper name in the land tenure system in Ghana. It is something that women can generally expect, that if they are married and involved in farming together with their husband, they might be given a piece of land that he is entitled to, for the woman to grow food independently. In other systems, what women can aspire to are the fallow lands left by their husbands. Let’s say the husband was farming this piece of land in the extensive cultivation system which is the norm in Ghana. He moves away because the land has lost its fertility and the yields are low. The wife can then access some of that piece of land on which to grow crops which improve soil fertility. Immediately you can see that while a marriage is happy and continuing, there is not a real issue, although women do not have the kind of powers men would have over the land. However in situations of marital conflict, the death of the husband or in case of divorce you begin to see clearly why land acquired on the basis of marriage is problematic. Women can suddenly lose a key resource for their livelihood activities and they cannot just turn around and go back to their natal villages, and say “I am a child of this village”, because at that point the land has been used by other people. If you are lucky and there is a lot of land obviously you can get a piece of it for your farm, but increasingly that is not something that you can guarantee.
So yes, the system allows both women and men acquire land. However, if you look at the statistics, you find out that mostly the usufructuary interest, also sometimes known as the customary freehold, is in the hands of men. Women mostly access land through marriage or through their parents. If they cannot access land through these means, they can go to the chief or other land owner and beg for land or they might rent it and pay money or enter into a share contract arrangement where you provide labor on land and you share the output with the landowner.
What is important to understand is that increasingly it is not only women who face challenges with accessing land, though I have made the point that how women become land insecure is often different from how men become insecure. However, migrants and young men are also beginning to face similar conditions.

As a gender expert would you say that those are the biggest issues that Ghana is facing in terms of agricultural development in the coming years? Or would they be different?

Tsikata: Land is not the only issue. Ghana, as I said, is an agricultural economy. However, agriculture has been stagnating. Its contribution to GDP keeps on going down. Instead the services sector is growing. There are many reasons for this. The problems of the land tenure system are only one. Issues with agricultural policy, distribution of agricultural products, transportation, post-harvest treatment, and markets etc. have all contributed to this stagnation in the agricultural sector. Labor issues are huge, and again as a gender analyst, I am very interested in that because agrarian labor is very poorly paid and insecure. Many women who do agrarian labor are paid below the minimum wage. Agricultural labour in Ghana is usually paid either a daily wage or by task for particular activities. You might be paid to clear a hectare of land or you may be paid to harvest. In terms of harvesting, which is mostly done by women, they are paid in kind. Statistics have shown that women contribute substantially to food cultivation in Ghana. Also, data on agricultural labourers reveal that they are among the most poorly paid in Ghana.

Dzodzi and Fred during an interview with commercial sorghum farmers in the Garu Tempane District

Dzodzi and Fred during an interview with commercial sorghum farmers in the Garu Tempane District