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Barbara’s story: From food insecurity to financial power in Ghana’s cocoa fields

Barbara Sika Larweh greets a friend on the main street of Paboase in September 2022. All photos by Laura Noel/CARE.

Barbara Sika Larweh greets a friend on the main street of Paboase in September 2022. All photos by Laura Noel/CARE.

“Food gives us joy,” says Barbara, 60, a retired teacher who lives in Larwehkrom, a cocoa farming community in Western Ghana. “Food embraces everything on this earth, and so food is king in everything we do."

“If there is food in the house, then everybody is happy. If there is no food in the house, then your husband is angry. No one is happy. To me food is happiness, and it is security.”

Over the years living in Larwehkrom, Barbara has seen how precarious this security can be.

According to the United Nations, Ghana’s population already had a 5.6% prevalence of severe hunger and a 36.6% prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020.

And that was before the massive disruptions to global food systems from the war in Ukraine hit even small farming communities like Barbara’s. Now, as many of the small farmers prepare the soil for the upcoming season, there is less fertilizer available, and the prices for basic supplies are rising. National inflation is nearly 40%, and the price of fuel and basic staples like bread have more than doubled.

While no one could have predicted this exact convergence of disruptions for Ghana’s food systems, Barbara had been working for the past few years with CARE to make sure the happiness, joy, and security that comes from food in the home would be as stable and resilient as possible when crisis came.

Barbara Larweh speaks at her local VSLA meeting in September 2022 in Larwehkrom.

The 4-Star Diet

As a mother of six and an active member of the community, people in Larwehkrom had long looked to Barbara for leadership in their daily affairs. But she had always wanted to find new, bigger ways to help lift the community out of its cycles of security and scarcity. She just didn’t know how or where to begin.

In 2016, CARE invited Barbara to learn homestead gardening through a program designed to teach people in areas like Larwehkrom how to grow enough food to make it through Ghana’s hard times. Staple foods like corn and cassava make up the first three stars in what the Ghana Health Service calls its “4-star diet,” a regimen developed to help curb the country’s malnutrition and hunger problems.

Barbara started as a volunteer, but quickly rose to becoming an executive member of the Community Development Committee.

“The home gardening training has helped me we have access to fresh ingredients for our food,” Barbara says.

“It’s helped me and the rest of the women save money, too, because we now don’t need to buy basic ingredients like tomatoes, garden eggs and peppers.”

Once she became comfortable with growing these staples, Barbara moved on to the fourth star in the GHS diet – animal protein.

She got a loan from her Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) to buy chickens from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and, with CARE’s help, learned to rear them at home. Soon, Barbara had dozens of chickens under her care, enough to sell eggs from the “Layers” to families nearby, and the “Broilers” themselves at market.

“They came and trained me on the VSLA. I dedicated myself and volunteered so that I would be able to train my people, too,” Barbara explains. “I started with 9 women and 6 men. When we started, in the first year, we were able to accumulate 50,000 Ghana currency. We had a profit, and so we shared it.”

One of Barbara’s many small businesses is the raising of chickens and eggs as part of a Cargill-sponsored program.

The homestead food production training helped the community improve their nutrition and diversify their diets, but through the village savings and loan associations, Barbara and the other local entrepreneurs were able to move beyond food security to a new kind of security – financial.

“When a man doesn’t have money, when a woman doesn’t have money, there is always violence.”

“Now, the women have money,” Barbara says. “They have jobs. They can work in markets. They can buy. They can sell. They have been led out of this poverty. And then what else do you have? We have security now.”

“We have 15 groups at the moment, and for most of my women now, they have been able to form VSLAs of their own, to gain financial strength, and create jobs for themselves.”

Besides food security and beyond financial security, Barbara has gained something else, too. She’s gained power.

“Because of the empowerment training CARE gave me, I have confidence within me. For everything, wherever I go. Everything. That is confidence. Even if there is a hard part, I’m able to pass through, because of the empowerment. This empowerment brought out my talent. I don’t feel fear anymore.”

“I am so happy working with CARE international, within the VSLA, as a volunteer, because I get to see people lifted out of poverty. Somebody that does not have anything? Somebody in poverty? Someone needs money? I give them money. Somebody is crying? Somebody is in the hospital? We go there, and, now, the person is okay. So I am very, very happy. And this can be the whole world, not only Larkehkrom.”

Members of the Larwehkrom VSLA, including Barbara Larweh, do an impromptu dance at the conclusion of a long day of health and nutrition classes.
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