Improving Childhood Nutrition by Empowering Women in Ghana’s Poultry Sector
As poverty rates in Ghana improve, childhood nutrition is also improving. The percentage of underweight children under the age of five has decreased from 31 percent in 1988 to 13 percent in 2011, according to the 2012 Cost of Hunger in Africa study. However, the current rates of undernutrition remain unacceptably high. Undernourished children face serious health risks and are more likely to repeat grades or drop out of school entirely. In 2012, 12.3 percent of grade repetitions were associated with stunting, according to the same study. Nearly 24 percent of all child deaths in Ghana between 2008 and 2012 were associated with undernutrition. Many Ghanaian children, especially those living in rural or peri-urban communities, face the consequences of an inefficient food system.
Edith Wheatland Akorsa is the owner of a poultry business, Rockland Farms, in the Sekyere Central District of Ghana’s Ashanti Region. What does poultry farming have to do with childhood nutrition? The success of Edith’s business is now helping her provide fresh eggs to school-age children.
“Most people here live below the poverty line, and parents struggle to provide balanced meals because they cannot afford it. I am deeply touched to see the children doing increasingly well. Thanks to empowerment from [the Ghana Poultry Project], my business is not just existing; it can actually make a difference in the community here.” – Edith Wheatland Akorsa, a poultry business owner
Edith overcame many of the cultural barriers that limit women’s access to financing and land rights in Ghana to launch her business. She saved enough start-up capital while working abroad to return to Ghana in 2013 and open Rockland Farms.
Since 2015, the Ghana Poultry Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and implemented by ACDI/VOCA, has provided Edith and her employees with support in finance and accounting, business formalization, and technical assistance. The Ghana Poultry Project also established an outgrower model, in which Rockland Farms provides inputs like vaccines and chicken feed to several female poultry farmers, who then sell their products directly to Rockland Farms. This model allows for more inclusion of women in Ghana’s poultry sector and boosts its competitiveness and sustainability.
Rockland Farms has grown steadily but faced the challenges of high production costs and inadequate systems to support long-term growth. The Ghana Poultry Project offered a specialized poultry business curriculum for Edith’s staff to improve their operational and management systems. Step-by-step, Rockland Farms became a more competitive business, with a network of outgrowers who freed up its capacity to invest in greater market development and deepen its market access.
Rockland Farms now has the capacity for 60,000 birds and provides a ready market for many female poultry farmers through its outgrower network. With a thriving business, Edith decided to give back through her corporate social responsibility plan. Rockland Farms already provides jobs for dozens of community members. But, this year, Edith decided to leverage the Ghanaian government’s School Feeding Program and provide 12 crates of eggs every two weeks to the Ankamadoa RC Primary School, one of two schools in Ankamadoa, as a way of supporting childhood nutrition.
Kingston Razak Osei, the headmaster of Ankamadoa RC Primary School, said absenteeism is on the decline thanks to Edith’s donations. “Parents heard about the school serving eggs, and then children started trouping in once more,” he said. “We’re in the middle of the term, but we are receiving new students and even had to turn away some children from our sister school.” According to Felicia Anane, a kindergarten teacher at the school, students are sharper and able to pay attention better during class.
After learning about the contributions Edith’s business is making, her suppliers of day-old chicks decided to donate an additional 1,000 free chicks per purchase. Soon, Edith plans to scale her nutrition interventions to several other schools in the district.