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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 3: Environment and resource management
close this folderAgricultural development in the age of sustainability: Crop production
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe ecological zones of Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentGeneral crop production constraints and potentials for overcoming them
View the documentTechnologies with potential for sustainable resource management
View the documentWomen's underexploited potential
View the documentSuggested approaches to sustainable production
View the documentSummary
View the documentConclusions
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentReferences

Women's underexploited potential

One of the causes of the "weak agricultural growth" in Africa is the underutilization of human resource potential (World Bank 1989: 2). This is particularly manifested in the gender gap in access to production resources. The majority of African food crop producers who are smallholder farmers, and women in particular, experience great difficulties in increasing production. To achieve sustainable agricultural production it is imperative to eliminate those factors that hinder the productivity of the majority of food producers.

African women are responsible for about 70 per cent of the labour input in food production. Their activities include hoeing, planting, weeding, transportation of crops and planting materials, food processing, and storage. Men, on the other hand, have been largely responsible for bush clearing, land preparation, staking of crops, and hunting (FAO 1982). Recent trends characterizing gender roles in African agriculture have been identified (Guyer 1986: 396-398), namely, that male tasks in agriculture are declining owing to: (a) the decrease in forest cover and game resources; (b) the greater participation of men in out-migration; and (c) male predominance in export crop production. As a corollary, women's agricultural work has been intensified. Factors responsible for this development are that: (a) shorter fallows are now used, resulting in increased weeding; (b) as the distance of farms from homes increases, there is greater demand for the transport of crops and planting materials; (c) as the food trade increases, the demand for food processing increases; and (d) the predominance of men in migration leads to an increased workload for women in food production.

Despite the increased responsibility of African women for food production, their productive capacity is deteriorating because they continue to suffer from less access to production resources and inputs, agricultural innovations, and extension services. Some specific constraints that are important for women farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa concern limited or no access to resources such as land, capital/credit, labour, and agricultural innovations.

Access to land

In most African societies women traditionally had use rights to land (Pale 1976). The introduction of the Western concept of private land ownership has been to the detriment of women (Boserup 1970). Some development programmes in Africa have also exacerbated women's restricted access to land. Pankhurst and Jacobs (1988) report women's loss of land through land reforms in Zimbabwe. The marginalization of women in the allocation of irrigated rice fields to men in the Gambia adversely affected rice production and gender relations and also culminated in the failure of the project (Dey 1981; Carney 1988).

Access to credit

Smallholder farmers, particularly women, who lack access to credit experience great difficulties in purchasing inputs to increase their production. Access to credit is often based on ownership of collaterals such as land or membership of cooperatives and farmers' associations, which many African rural women lack (Loutfi 1980; Cloud 1985). Consequently, most agricultural bank loans in the past went to "absentee" or "progressive" farmers (professionals, top bureaucrats, and military personnel) (Bukh 1979; D'Silva and Raza 1983; Okuneye 1984).

Access to labour

The male predominance in rural-urban migration for wage employment has resulted in the intensification of women's work in agriculture and in labour shortages in food production, particularly in female-headed households (Rogers 1980). Women's lack of access to credit has a concomitant effect on their ability to purchase paid labour (Roberts 1988). A greater number of women consequently dissipate a lot of energy that could be channelled towards increased productivity on their farms in other enterprises such as working as paid labour on other people's farms or providing exchange labour in return for labour received (Guyer 1984; N. Ezumah 1990). Women's cultural obligation to provide labour on their husband's farm also results in limitations on the amount of time they can devote to their own farms (Babalola and Dennis 1988).

Access to improved technologies

The dissemination of information about innovations in agriculture as well as access to training, fertilizers and other inputs, and extension services have been geared mainly to male farmers with adverse effects on women's productivity. Most training in agriculture has been directed to men. The marginalization of women in terms of access to production inputs has often resulted in the deterioration of women's productive capacity (Muntemba 1982). "Progressive" farmers, usually men, have received preferential allocation of extension visits and services (D'Silva and Raza 1983; Okuneye 1984). Some of the adverse consequences of this neglect of women's role in the implementation of agricultural innovations include a loss in adaptive efficiency when women's operational knowledge is not taken into consideration and lower adaptation rates owing to women's lack of access to technology and training (Kumar 1988: 142).