On any given day, Tibzaa Farms is buzzing with activity. Tractor engines growl and rumble, metal shovels scrape through huge mounds of gravel, and workers shout orders and directions, mopping their brows in the blazing sun.
This commercial farm seems to operate like most others. But there is something unique about Tibzaa. Behind the wheel of one of the tractors, overseeing the workers, is a woman. Her name is Hikima Kadiri and she is the first woman to become a fully-licensed tractor operator in the three northern regions of Ghana. She is also the only female project manager at the farm.
Ms. Kadiri turns off the engine and hops down from the tractor seat. She walks confidently across the field, smiling and laughing with her male colleagues. It’s an inspiring image of a young woman, comfortable and authoritative at work. But it is one that remains uncommon.
She says, “In this part of Ghana, we find it very hard to take a woman as our leader.… We also have this perception that a leader should be someone who is the oldest among us.”
At just 24 years old, Ms. Kadiri has worked her way up in seniority at Tibzaa. In early 2015, she was hired on as a staff worker. Today, she oversees an entirely male staff, all of whom are older than she is.
She says, “At the beginning, it was so hard for me. But I had to push on.”
In addition to her work at Tibzaa, Ms. Kadiri recently made her debut as a broadcaster with Radio Savannah. For two months, she co-hosted a program about rearing guinea fowl that was sponsored by Farm Radio and World University Service Canada. She used Farm Radio training resources to develop her skills as a broadcaster and she provided a strong female voice for the program.
She says, “I learned a lot from the program and it was very educative [for others] as well.”
But midway through the 12-week program, Hikima stepped down as co-host to pursue a unique opportunity.
The Mechanisation Department of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture had launched a program called “Women in the Driving Seat” to develop women’s skills in managing agricultural machinery and equipment. The program was held at the Adidome Farm Institute in southern Ghana. Sintaro Mahama, the founder and CEO of Tibzaa Farms, jumped at the opportunity to send Ms. Kadiri to take part in the one-month training that taught practical skills in maintaining and operating tractor equipment. She was among the youngest of the 31 participants.
Now that she has completed the training, Ms. Kadiri says she is grateful to earn her official license, something even the vast majority of male tractor drivers lack. After Ms. Kadiri, Mr. Mahama sent five other young women from Tamale, the largest city in Ghana’s Northern Region, to participate in the program and obtain their licenses. They are now posted at various irrigation sites and commercial farms throughout the northern regions.
But the idea of women behind the tractor wheel is not easily accepted. Mr. Mahama recalls hosting a meeting at the farm with a group of university graduates when Ms. Kadiri drove by in a tractor.
He says, “They all burst out in laughter. Including the women.” He adds that changing the perception about women’s roles in agriculture involves more than just talking about empowerment—it means enabling it as well.
He says, “Beyond the rhetoric, the theory, and the ideology … we need to provide them with the platform and continuous support so they can see their dreams coming true.”
As for Ms. Kadiri, she shrugs off anyone that laughs at her. She says she is using her experience and her voice to encourage other women and girls to get more involved in agriculture in all its forms.
She says, “I tell them not to feel like there are certain things that are meant for men. You as a woman can also do it.”
She adds, laughing, that, given the right program at the right station, she might consider a career in radio broadcasting as well.
Hikima Kadiri and Radio Savannah were partners in the “Bridging Rural Information Dissemination through Dialogue and Engagement” (BRIDGE) project. This project was funded by the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation and jointly implemented by Farm Radio International through Uniterra, a program of WUSC and CECI. Uniterra is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca