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Lifelong dedication to fight poverty

A woman's perseverance in rural areas

Waking up at 4:00 am and walking almost 5 kilometers to work at the farm is not an easy task for grown people, let alone for a school girl. Lydia Sasu has been working as a farmer since her childhood. Despite hard work by all the family members, there were instances that they had nothing to eat.

“On my school days, on a Saturday, I and my mother went to the market to get money for cassava we sold on credit a few days ago, but the customer had no money to pay so we could buy food,” remembers Sasu. As small farmers they grew food but she and her family often went to bed hungry.

“Despite working long hours why farmers remain poor,” always questioned Sasu’s mother. Sasu and her family were farming the whole day under the burning sun in the Suhum Klraboa Coaltar district in Eastern Ghana and in the evening walk 5 kilometers back home as they had no money to take the bus. That was the time when Sasu decided she has to change the situation.

“I was determined to find a way to help my mother and other poor women farmers in my village and put an end to poverty and hunger,” says Sasu.

She studied agriculture in college and continued to get her degree in economics from the University. She founded the Development Action Association (DAA) in 1997 with the aim to reduce poverty by empowering women.  

Learning numeracy and bookkeeping skills became an important focus of Sasu, who noticed tensions between men and women as women were unable to track debt records after buying fish from men.  With Sasu’s help, in 6 months, 600 women were trained in numeracy and bookkeeping.  The training proved very useful as women adapted the newly learned skills in keeping records of other products such as grains, vegetables and livestock.  

The DAA, which is collaborating with FAO, has implemented many development projects including capacity building in financial management and rural women’s empowerment.  Sasu’s creativity shines through in several areas, the main ones being literacy, bookkeeping for rural women’s business development and building coalitions with both local men and women’s groups and international organizations to highlight women’s stake in the agriculture industry.

As a part of Sasu’s women farmers training programme, in 2010, 60 women were trained in communications. Now they are able to communicate efficiently with policymakers and discuss key areas of their concern.  One example is when Sasu’s leadership helped motivate women to lobby the fishery commission for enforcement of fishing laws. Sasu’s support has allowed women in the community to be viewed as assets with valuable advice and become part of the solution.

Sasu, who continues to work as a part time farmer as advocacy activities take lots of her time, enjoys working with rural women. “My experience in working with rural and illiterate women has taught me that even though these women are illiterate, they can tremendously contribute to the fight against hunger,” she says. “Majority of the DAA members is illiterate or they can read and write very little, but still they have very good ideas on how to run the Association,” adds Sasu.

Ghana has an estimated population of 20.5 million, of which 63 percent live in rural areas and work in agriculture. DAA operates in nearly 50 communities in Greater Accra, Central region, and Eastern Region of Ghana with 98 percent of its beneficiaries being rural women. As most of DAA’s leaders are women, the association promotes the importance of female leadership as well as expanding women's access to education, land, credit, infrastructure and technology. 

With nearly 870 million people suffering from chronic hunger around the globe, the role of Civil Society Organizations and NGOs are of crucial importance to effectively combat hunger. No single institution is able to fight hunger alone and that is why one of FAO’s priorities is to give renewed emphasis to FAO’s strategic partnerships with civil society, social movements and producers’ organizations that give organizational, economic, and social clout to smallholder farmers, pastoralists and those who rely on fishing and forestry for their livelihoods.

Sasu is a successful small-scale farmer, an expert advocate for women in agriculture, and a skilled trainer and educator. She has won awards for her contributions to advancements in farming, including “Best Innovator” at a conference in Kenya. 

In 2011 she was among 10 laureates selected by Women’s World Summit Foundation International Jury and won an award of Women’s World Summit Foundation’s prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life.

In 3 years Sasu’s training helped a woman to grow her livestock business from 5 to 400 pigs.  If a single NGO, with a strong and innovative leader like Sasu can achieve such remarkable results, imagine what results could be accomplished if all the actors including the civil society organizations better unite and work for a world free of hunger? 

 

Author: Homayon Khoram

Author: Homayon Khoram