|Gender and the Expansion of non-traditional Agricultural Exports in Uganda (UNRISD, 2000, 66 p.)|
Uganda has made tremendous strides in advancing the cause of women. A woman vice president is in office, and womens rights are enshrined in the 1995 Constitution. The reservation of seats in parliament for women has meant that almost 20 per cent of the MPs in the National Assembly are women (Tamale, 1997). Women have been promoted to high-profile positions, they are well represented in the civil service, and they have been given preference in university admissions. However, there has been little progress in advancing womens status or their productivity in the smallholder agricultural sector.
The government has emphasized increased agricultural productivity as a prerequisite for poverty alleviation in the rural sector. The 1998/99 budget prioritized the improvement of feeder roads, overall security and universal primary education (Government of Uganda, 1998/99). These policies are intended to educate farmers, stabilize the security situation, and improve transport, and all of these measures would, in the long term, raise farmgate prices and reduce poverty. The need for greater access to crop finance by more traders, improved packaging, storage and transportation were all recognized, although these were left to the private sector.
Given the volatility of the international markets for coffee and other primary exports, the government is depending on the expansion of non-traditional agricultural exports as a source of growth and foreign exchange. NTAE have increased significantly since 1990, at least as a proportion of official exports, and there is also evidence that NTAE have potential for increasing incomes in poor areas. The questions raised by this research concern the gender dimensions of the NTAE promotion strategy: how would gender structures affect the response to NTAE promotion, and how would gender relations and womens well-being be affected, in turn, by structural changes in the agricultural sector. These are questions of efficiency and equity.
It is clear that the problem of low productivity in the smallholder agricultural sector remains. Increased production of agricultural exports will require not only better prices but also better functioning markets, as well as access to credit and inputs. In addition, the findings suggest that increased access to inputs and labour (or labour substitutes, e.g. tractors, water, mills, fuel) for food (non-cash) crops and for non-agricultural labour demands (i.e., womens domestic work) is important so that crop switching in response to incentives for NTAEs does not endanger food security and marginalize women within the household.
Confidence in marketing is a prerequisite for a positive supply response to improved prices. Some measures already being taken will affect marketing, particularly programmes to improve roads and access to credit. In addition, ways to increase competition among traders should be investigated, as should ways to increase confidence in contract enforcement.
Labour constraints also limit productivity and supply response. This is perhaps a more basic issue, and one in which an understanding of gender structures is imperative. Gender-disaggregated data on agricultural labour, household labour and uptake of training and inputs should be more systematically collected. Concerted efforts should be made to introduce labour-saving technology, especially in food processing and storage, and to increase household fuel efficiency and water accessibility.
In addition, there is a need to focus more attention on the constraints and imperfections in the smallholder labour market. Some problems in the labour market may be alleviated by the same initiatives meant to improve product markets - in particular, improved feeder roads and access to transportation are necessary for labour mobility. Low-level technology limits the productivity of both family and hired labour. Improved technology, including improved seed varieties and extension services, is necessary to make the returns to labour high enough to enable households to employ labour. There has been some debate about whether the use of improved technology for land preparation (ox-plough or tractor), traditionally a male job, will lead to increased womens burdens in weeding and harvesting. It is clear from our data, however, that even weeding, the task most strongly identified as female, is performed by a significant proportion of men, while women are also involved in land preparation. The women who participated in our survey would clearly welcome increased access to tractors for ploughing, and it would be shortsighted to fail to provide such technology to the greatest extent possible.
Lack of access to credit will also constrain labour hiring. Labour requirements in smallholder households are typically at a peak when cash resources are at their lowest. Credit would seem to be the obvious remedy for this, with the caveat that hired labour would only generate sufficient returns if productivity is raised. But the survey data, which indicate that women not only have little access to credit, but have limited interest in obtaining credit, suggest that other ways to address the labour financing gap should also be investigated. Improved savings schemes might be one way to allow women to obtain sufficient cash to hire labour. Improved storage facilities that would facilitate a more even cash flow throughout the year would also help. This implies that the storage potential of non-traditional cash crops should be taken into account in promotion policies. Maize, for instance, does not store well, while cassava is much more flexible in terms of harvesting, can also be dried and stored.
These issues are primarily concerns of efficiency, but efficiency concerns should not be the only ones. Equity issues must also be addressed when existing social structures become destabilized by macroeconomic policy. It is clear that, even if NTAE policies are economically successful, there is a significant risk that womens status will worsen because of them. It is also possible, as some studies have argued, that this will adversely affect childrens well-being and nutrition, as well as household food security. Whether or not this is the case, government should not lose sight of womens rights to equal protection. It should acknowledge that, during the transition of gender relations that is likely to accompany agricultural restructuring, women will be disadvantaged because they will be losing traditional rights, without being in a good position to establish new ones. The government needs to send clear signals that it will work to buttress womens social and economic fallback position within the household. It should support womens legal organizations, ensure adequate educational opportunities for girls and promote employment opportunities for women.
In sum, the ideal NTAE strategy would lead to agricultural intensification, with increased inputs (labour and non-labour) resulting in increased outputs. Production for own consumption would either remain at current levels, or the income from marketed crops would be sufficient to allow sufficient purchase of food. At this time, rural Uganda does not fit this scenario. Constraints on increased productivity exist both in terms of input - seasonal labour shortages, lack of access to inputs, lack of credit, lack of knowledge - and in terms of incentives - lack of confidence in markets and pricing, high marketing margins, large price swings resulting in non-ability to purchase food prior to the harvest season. Womens labour supply is very inelastic, and additional labour burdens on women are likely to be detrimental to the well-being of others in household. Thus increased NTAE production, in the absence of other additional inputs, must come from crop switching or an increase in mens labour. There is some indication that the gender division of labour is less rigid than is often believed, and that men are prepared to participate more fully in all aspects of agricultural production if the incentives to do so are adequate. Will this imply that men will take over womens crops to the detriment of womens position in the household? This remains an open question. Indeed, there are some indications that women do not welcome the loss of autonomy resulting from more cooperative household production systems. However, a more equitable distribution of labour burdens within smallholder households certainly has the potential to benefit women. What Uganda is likely to experience is a shift to a more integrated and co-operative household in the smallholder sector. Whether that will imply a loss of womens autonomy, or an increase in womens influence in a larger sphere, will depend on the characteristics of the particular men and women who are members of each household, as well as on the strength of government initiatives to further the educational, legal, and social status of women.