Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Luginaah, Isaac

2nd Supervisor

Weis, Tony

Joint Supervisor


One of the most urgent problems facing sub-Saharan Africa is that many people lack access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food, particularly in semi-arid regions such as northern Ghana. An important indication of this problem within Ghana is that stunting rates due to prolonged undernourishment are significantly higher in the northern regions than in other parts of the country, despite claims of an overall increase in the availability of food. Broadly, this dissertation employs qualitative case study research in the Northern Region (interviews N=109 and 12 focus groups) to describe the changes in access to resources, roles and responsibilities in food production and consumption within households and explains how these changes are shaped by the culture, politics and ecologies of the region. It is informed by a range of literatures, theories and conceptual approaches, but predominantly from agrarian change and feminist political ecology. This research finds that the majority of farmers are adopting the development supported high-yielding seed varieties, tractors, fertilizer and agrochemicals in order to respond to erratic rainfall, shortened growing seasons, and drier soil with diminished fertility. However, there are clear socioeconomic differences affecting who can access the technology, credit and land used to cope with these environmental changes. Meanwhile, those farmers who adopted the intensification technology commonly described this decision as a short-term trade-off to meet subsistence needs at the expense of degrading soil health and increasing debt. This research also finds that environmental change, the commodification of food production more generally, and development support for women’s food provisions are causing confusion, tension and conflict in the typical intra-household gender division of food production and provisioning responsibilities. Consequently, farmers defy development efforts, and this research finds that this resistance is based on their historical experiences of decades of development projects that have failed to meaningfully include them and consider their diverse needs, alongside elite corruption and mismanagement, degrading ecologies and donor hegemony. Ultimately, this dissertation makes important contributions to understanding different types of smallholders’ perceptions of changing agrarian political ecologies in an African context, which is needed to inform development policy and practice.