Gender and soil fertility in Africa


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Gender and soil fertility in Africa
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Women in agriculture -- Africa   ( lcsh )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 17-20)
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Christina H. al..

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Christina H. Gladwin, Ken L. Buhr, Abe Goldman, Clifton Hiebsch,
Peter E. Hildebrand, Gerald Kidder, Max Langham, Donna Lee, Peter Nkedi-Kizza,
and Deirdre Williams, University of Florida*

Norman Borlaug says there's a new sense of urgency about achieving food security for sub-

Saharan Africa (Borlaug, 1996). The evidence to support his claim is overwhelming. Most African

countries still depend on agriculture for most of their gross national product and employment (Tomich

et al., 1995). Yet Africa currently imports a large proportion of its food grains, e.g., one-third of its

rice consumption and two-thirds of its wheat consumption (Eicher, 1995). Whether it can continue to

do so is questionable. Within the past year, world commodity prices of major food crops have

skyrocketed. Due to a fall in the world's stock of rice, wheat, corn, and other grains to their lowest

levels in twenty years, in 1995-96 the world price of maize jumped from $2.43 to over $4.00 a bushel;

wheat prices also jumped from $3.49 to over $6.00.

Because Africa's population will increase by 100 million over the next six to seven years, there

is intense pressure to increase food supplies from domestic production (Eicher, 1995: 805). Yet after ten

years of structural adjustment programs that removed fertilizer subsidies, fertilizer prices are so high that

its use on food crops is completely unaffordable now in many African countries (Bumb et al., 1996).

When one adds in other factors affecting the world's supply of food -- such as the increasing

environmental degradation of soils and other natural resources (Sanchez et al., 1995), climatic change,

the loss of cropland to non-farm uses, falling water tables in major food-producing regions, the depletion

of major oceanic fisheries, the loss of labor productivity due to AIDs, experts like Lester Brown (1995)

claim that food abundance is a thing of the past and the politics of food scarcity are here to stay. He is

not alone. Business Week, May 20, 1996, reports that "both haves and have-nots are in for a shock as

global demand outpaces supply" with "the new economics of food."

To these factors we add the "invisibility factor" that women do most of the food farming in sub-

Saharan Africa. On average, African women provide 46 percent of the labor inputs and produce up to

80% of domestic food production in some societies (Dixon, 1982; Gladwin & McMillan, 1989). We call

this "the invisibility factor" because agricultural experts never mention that Africa's smallholders are

women, and never report women's yields, women's adoption, women's use of inputs, etc. Yet they

correctly argue that development strategies need to reach African smallholders to be effective; but they

blissfully ignore the fact that the constraints facing women smallholders may be an important part of the

problem. Eicher (1995), for example, is consistent with Eicher (1982) in never mentioning the fact that

45 % of the smallholders responsible for Zimbabwe's second Green Revolution (1980-86) are women; nor

does he mention what percent of hybrid maize was adopted by women, or what percent of fertilizer

subsidies went to women. Smale (1995) in an otherwise excellent report on Malawi's "delayed" Green

Revolution does the same: she does not tell us how much of hybrid maize adoption is by women who are

responsible for the production of local maize, 95% of the maize crop in 1987 and usually unfertilized,

while. their men produce fertilized hybrid maize as a cash crop.

Can African Agriculture Be Turned Around Without Helping W~omen to Farm?

The invisibility of women farmers has led to a debate about whether a turnaround in African

agriculture can occur without helping women to farm. Most experts conclude that no, women farmers

are essential for increasing Africa's food production, at least in the short run, because there are just too

many women farming to ignore them. Dixon's (1982) revision of ILO estimates of women's labor force

participation agrees. When 1) subsistence production is counted as economic activity; 2) unpaid family

helpers are routinely included; 3) all agricultural work is recorded; 4) the survey is taken in the peak

season; and 5) the definition of agricultural work includes gardening, raising poultry, and transporting

crops to market, on average women are a high 46 % of the agricultural labor force in sub-Saharan Africa.

On the other side of the debate, McMillan and I have argued in previous papers that in the long

run, African women farmers may be displaced from farming by men -- just as black farmers in the

southeastern United States were displaced by white farmers in the 1950s to 1970s (Gladwin & McMillan,

1989; Gladwin, 1996). The reasons are threefold. First, intensification of agricultural production causes

women's participation in farming to decrease relative to men's, according to Boserup (1970). Female

farming systems are prevalent in African societies with low population densities and an ample land/person

ratio such that families can produce their food with low labor inputs using shifting cultivation. These

systems decline with population pressures and agricultural intensification and are replaced by male

farming systems as the plow is introduced (Boserup, 1970: 16-36).

Second, women farmers have already been replaced in many parts of rural Africa. Despite all

the hoopla about women in development (WID), development planning has failed and still fails to include

women, and the new technology goes to the men farmers. Most externally-funded development projects

are aimed primarily at men because they are run by men. The majority of extension agents are male,

with a few exceptions housed in a poorly-funded WID office (Staudt, 1975). Men tend to monopolize

new capital inputs, whether they are mechanical or biological, plows or fertilizer (Burton and White,

1984). Yet women farmers are interested in new technologies and want development interventions (Due

et al., 1983). Third, studies too numerous to cite properly show that women farmers still lack access to

the basic agricultural inputs of land, labor, capital or credit, organic and inorganic fertilizers, extension

advice, access to the market and political arena (Due, 1991; Elabor-Idemudia, 1991; Elson, 1989;

Goheen, 1991, 1996; Guyer with Idowu, 1991, Saito et al., 1994, Staudt, 1975).

Are Women Farmers as Productive as Men Farmers?

Why haven't women been included in the past? Why has women's access to productive inputs

been blocked? One rationale given is that men farmers are more productive than women farmers. It is

true that the raw, unanalyzed data on yields of female headed households (FHHs), which comprise 25

to 35% of African households, compared to those of male or joint headed households show that FHHs

have less labor and smaller crop acreages planted, have less access to credit and plant more subsistence

crops, and are therefore not as productive as men (Due, 1991; Due & Gladwin, 1992). An analysis of

productive efficiencies, however, requires the proper estimation of a production function that controls for

other explanatory variables besides gender, say the studies of agricultural productivity done by Robert

Evenson and his students (Alderman et al., 1995; Bindlish & Evenson, 1993; Quisumbing, 1995). When

the analysis is completed, i.e., when researchers estimate a production function that controls for other

explanatory variables besides gender such as input levels (e.g., land, labor, capital, extension advice, and

education), most studies show that male and female farmers are equally efficient as farm managers

(Bindlish & Evenson, 1993; Moock, 1976; Saito et al., 1994).' When these other explanatory variables

are held constant while an independent gender variable to allowed to vary in a multiple regression

analysis, researchers usually find that the independent gender variable, expressed as a dummy variable

or intercept shifter, is not significant (Quisumbing, 1995: 23). `What this means is that "the gender yield

differential is caused by the difference in the intensity with which measured inputs of labor, manure, and

fertilizer are applied on plots controlled by men and women rather than by differences in the efficiency

with which these inputs are used" by men and women (Alderman et al., 1995: 22). They conclude that

household output could be increased by 10 to 20% by reallocating the inputs (e.g., moving some

fertilizer) from plots controlled by men to plots controlled by women.

If women were given the same access to yield-increasing inputs as men, then the smallholder

agricultural sector would see significant increases in agricultural productivity. African countries that

address these gender disparities in input use and remove these barriers to women's productivity would

increase their agricultural productivity in the aggregate.

Women's Roles in the African Household

Why are women farmers not given the same access to yield-increasing inputs as men? The

answer to this question requires an understanding of the special features of the African household. Here

we focus on three. First, the African household is an extended rather than nuclear family with individual

production and consumption units embedded within it. These units tend to be semi-autonomous, often

headed by women such as the wife or wives (in polygamous societies) of the household head, or his

daughters-in-law or sisters-in-law (in societies with substantial male out-migration of adult sons or

younger brothers who would normally live in the same rural compound with the household head). The

units may be headed by a woman simply because the society is matrilineal, one in which inheritance

passes through the mother, or matrilocal, one in which children belong to and reside in their mother's,

not father's, lineage or family. Autonomy of the unit comes from two sources. First, the woman in each

unit has some responsibilities independent from the household head to feed or clothe or educate the

children in her unit. Depending on the cultural rules, she may be responsible for certain foods or all the

food during a certain time period, e.g., the hunger months. Second, she fulfills this responsibility with

an income stream she herself generates independently of the household head and her husband.

These separate income streams are the second unique feature of the African household and have

been well documented in the literature, e.g., Mossi women who own private fields in Burkina Faso

(Gladwin & McMillan, 1989); husbands and wives who lend each other money at rates slightly less than

the prevailing market rate; the payment of wages inside households; wives who sell water to husbands

in the fields; husbands who sell firewood to wives; and both who sell animals to each other on festive

occasions (K~oenig, 1980). In each of these exchanges the best interests of the household may not

coincide with those of particular members, so that it makes more sense to model the household as a

collective firm -- rather than a unitary entity -- in which a wife's budget is delinked from her husband's,

and wives respond to changes in their husbands' allocation decisions solely according to their own needs

(Alderman et al., 1995; Jones, 1983).

Usually, separate income streams give some autonomy to the women in the household; but they

don't necessarily give power to the women heading up the unit, and this distinction is the third unique

feature of the African household. Women are relatively powerless compared to the male household head

who may interrupt their work in their own fields and demand that they supply labor to the cooperative

fields he manages and receives income from. Alternatively, he may demand women go to the store to

buy fertilizer for him, or take away their own fertilizer to use on his fields or crops. Asymmetric power

relationships within the African household, therefore, influence women's access to yield increasing inputs

of production as well as the fertility of their soils and the yields of their food crops. The question of who

gets access to productive inputs is a political question -- the result of a power negotiation -- and not just

an economic question (Bates, 1983); and in a power negotiation, women in asymmetric power

relationships often lose out to men with greater power, status, and prestige.

Constraints to W~omen's Use of Inorganic Fertilizer

Micro-level research in the 1980s has documented the constraints to women's use of inorganic

fertilizers. Data personally collected in Malawi and Cameroon by Gladwin (1991, 1992) showed that the

majority of African women farmers used no chemical fertilizer because they had neither the cash nor the

credit to acquire it. In Malawi, the average female-headed household used 34.4 kg/ha of fertilizer --

significantly less fertilizer than the 51.3 kg/ha of the male-headed household, and the median use of

fertilizer by women was zero. Data from 36 households in Cameroon in 1989 agreed: women's average

fertilizer use was 52 kg/ha, still lower on maize (30 kg/ha), because two-thirds of the Anglophone women

farmers used no fertilizer at all.

Nevertheless, African women realize the need for inorganic fertilizer, as witnessed by their

interplanting their own food crops in the same fields with men's cash crops (e.g., women's maize and

beans with men's coffee in francaphone Cameroon). They do this in order to siphon off some of the

nitrogen fertilizer applied to men's crops to their own crops. After the crops are interplanted and while

weeding their maize, women scrape off some of the nitrogen fertilizer still undissolved in the topsoil

around the men's coffee, and push it nearer to their maize plants.

The main reason women do not use chemical fertilizer is their lack of cash, capital, or credit to

acquire it, not their belief in organic fertilizers or a fear of dependency on chemical fertilizers. Both of

the latter criteria were included in a study of men's and women's decisions to use both organic and

chemical fertilizer, or either of them, or neither of them on maize in Malawi and Cameroon (Gladwin,

1991: 199-203), and in Kenya (David, 1993; Williams, 1996). Among 75 farmers used to test the model

in Malawi and Cameroon, 17 (12 of them women) eliminated both organic and chemical fertilizers due

to lack of cash or credit; only 5 farmers did not use chemicals because of the riskiness of their land's

becoming dependent on chemical fertilizer.

Complementing these results in Malawi is regression analysis using as the dependent variable the

quantity of fertilizer used by a sample of 498 men- and women-headed households in 1986/87. These

results also show that membership in a credit club and use of manure/compost significantly increases the

quantity of fertilizer applied per hectare (p=0.0001 and 0.01); whereas variables of farm size and lack

of cash significantly decrease the quantity of fertilizer applied per hectare (p= 0.0001). When these

variables are included in the equation, the gender variable is not significant. The morale of this story?

Just as in the productivity studies cited above, gender per se has no direct effect on fertilizer use:

although women household heads apply less fertilizer than men heads, gender does not matter when one

holds constant access to cash and credit. It is the access to cash and credit that explains fertilizer use;

and without access to credit or cash, women apply less fertilizer than men -- and get lower yields and

incomes as a result.

Constraints to Women's Use of Organic Fertilizers

Women face many constraints limiting their use of organic fertilizers as well. For example,

women's lack of land constrains their use of nitrogen-fixing beans as a sole crop (Kumwenda et al.,

1995:9), or their interplanting of nitrogen-fixing tree crops with maize. Women's lack of animals and

pasture land limits their access to manure; and their lack of cash constrains them from buying it. While

more than half (44 of 75) of the women farmers in Malawi and Cameroon believed organic fertilizer was

needed on maize in addition to chemical fertilizers, almost half (20) of the 44 women did not use it due

to their lack of animals and cash to provide the manure or compost (Gladwin, 1991).

Hedgerow intercropping (HIC) has been implemented in ICRAF's on-farm trials since the late

1980s in order to select promising multi-purpose tree species for alley cropping as well as to quantify

their biomass production potential. Leucaena leucocephala and calliandra calothyrsusin tend to produce

the highest biomass for use either as mulch or fodder for livestock, and thus have been the recommended

species for farmers. However, adoption of hedgerow intercropping has been low (Jama et al., nd).

Why? Williams (1996) used ethnographic interviews and decision tree modeling to elicit from a sample

of 40 women farmers around Maseno, Kenya, their reasons for adoption or non-adoption of HIC

technologies. As figure 1 shows, about a third of the women had no knowledge of HIC technology (see

criterion 1). Other constraints included women's lack of access to seedlings (criteria 2, 3), a lack of

knowledge of how and where to plant them (criterion 4), and the belief that planting trees would actually

lower soil fertility (criterion 6). More common, however, were shortage of land and labor constraints

(criteria 8, 10), where agricultural intensity and population density were high. Many female heads of

households and women with small children felt that the labor required to coppice the trees would prevent

them from using this technology. Where hedges were not frequently pruned, some farmers noted shading

out of companion crops. This resulted in reduced crop yields. Some farmers who had tried HIC said

that the trees were taking up "more room than the crops themselves" and/or were shading them out, so

they decided to uproot them. In addition, many women reported problems with pests such as termites

eating the seedlings, while a few experienced attacks by the psyllid pest (Hieteropsylla cubana) and lacked

the cash to buy pesticide. This resulted in a substantial decrease in biomass production, which caused

women farmers to want to uproot the trees. The cumulative result of all these constraints was that the

decision model predicts only eight of 40 women should use hedgerow intercropping technologies.


Composite Model: HIC

{Employ HIIC with Calliandra or Leucaena; don't)
40 Fases
' Yes No
[Don't use]
" or another NGO supply you with seedlings?>
Yes No
L..Are you able to buy or acquire
seedlings from someone else?>
4 planting hedgerows among your crops?x------- [Don't use]

Yes No [don't use]3 ae 1er 2 cases
5 trees for furelwood or fodder?>

YesNoDon't plant HIC uns~f

6 could destroy your soil?>

Don't use

2 cases land to plant hedgerows?>

t us.(l s(1eror) could shade out your crops
before you get a
chance to cut them back or
could take up more room than
thcrops themselves?>I

/ la
ZcssR70~ attack these trees too much
2 caes 08 e for them to be worth growing?>

2 cases (2 rrors) ~OtB ~ ~19 8 ase

Figure 1

7 to plant hedgerows?>

9 could improve your soil fertility?>




'O help so that you can
cut back the trees when you
need to or can you afford to

-Ihire laborers?> 4 cases
Yes' us

How Constraints for W~omen Can Be Overcome

How can this lack of fertilizer use by women be turned around? To include women in the process

of technology transfer, project planners should collect gender-disaggregated data on yields and use of

inputs, plant a proportionate percentage of farmers' test plots on women's fields with women's food

crops, and adopt policies to specifically target women farmers with crucial inputs of production like

fertilizer, all the while taking into consideration the severe cash constraints women farmers face. These

crucial constraints of lack of cash and credit determine the quantity and type of inorganic fertilizer women

apply, as much as do the specific crops women plant. Due to women's lack of cash, we recommend

application rates no higher than 25 kilograms nutrient per hectare. Where beans (Phaseolus spp.) or other

legumes are the women's primary crop, low rates of phosphorus (25 kg P20, per ha or less) would be

appropriate. In most African cropping systems, however, where maize, other cereals, or tuber crops are

the major women's crops and interplanted with various other crops, small amounts of high-analysis

nitrogen fertilizer (N) would be appropriate. Even at such low rates of fertilization (e.g., 25 kg N per

ha), there will be an increase in food production -- because N is almost always the main limiting nutrient.

How to specifically target women farmers? The development literature describes eight different

options, discussed in turn below.

Option 1. As a temporary measure, target subsidies directly at cash-poor women farmers

producing food crops for small amounts of fertilizer in the form of vouchers. A voucher system would

allow an African government burdened with fiscal deficits to do something about food security by

targeting the subsidy directly at those women farmers who produce the food, and it would encourage

healthy competition between private distributors in the fertilizer industry. With a voucher system, women

farmers in women's clubs would receive vouchers to take to private fertilizer distributors, from whom

they would buy fertilizer at a discount (similar to the way the poor in the United States buy food with

food stamps or pay for housing with housing vouchers). The government would then remunerate

distributors for the vouchers. The government's physical presence in the fertilizer distribution system

would be minimized, and its total subsidy bill would be less than it was when fertilizer subsidies were

freely extended to all growers of food and export crops, men and women alike.

After a number of years, the vouchers would be discontinued and women would buy fertilizer

from local merchants on the open market at the market price, with and without credit. The temporary

program of vouchers would be coupled with a plan for supervision of women's application of fertilizer

in order to reduce leakages -- defined as the use of vouchers on other than women's crops. The plan

would also strengthen women clubs' revolving credit funds used to bail out individual defaulting

members, by giving them a small amount when one club member supervises the application of youchered

fertilizer on another woman's farm. Womens' clubs can thus serve not only to expand credit to women

but also to supervise the proper use of fertilizer vouchers.

But, counter critics, donors like the World Bank have spent the last ten years removing fertilizer

subsidies; their policy now is to move to full market cost of fertilizers (Donovan, 1996; K. Saito, 1996,

personal communication). In fact, most food policy analysts recommnd that input subsidies, and

particularly fertilizer subsidies, should be eliminated entirely because they are a common technique used

to increase the profitability of intensive agriculture while keeping food prices artificially low. Timmer

et al. (1983: 288) argue that only when total fertilizer use is low and the ratio of incremental grain yield

to fertilizer application is high can such subsidies be cost-effective, relative to higher output prices or

greater food imports. African governments burdened with large fiscal deficits should therefore consider

whether fertilizer subsidies represent the best use of their limited resources. After all, someone must pay

for the subsidy. Economists thus conclude that "all subsidies tend to distort the intensity of use of inputs

from their economically optimal levels, and significant waste is a result. Since not all inputs can be

equally subsidized, output price increases will have a greater impact on productivity than will input

subsidies, especially in the long run" (Timmer et al., 1983: 288).

This line of reasoning makes sense when applied to Asia and Latin America where fertilizer was

adopted thirty years ago. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, where average fertilizer use is 7 to 11 kg ha'

and women food producers use no fertilizer, it does not apply. Policy interventions are needed to

encourage women to increase their yields of traditional as well as modern varieties, and fertilizer

subsidies are the most direct policy tool planners have at their disposal (Gladwin, 1991, 1992). From

the viewpoint of the women themselves, they are preferable to an expansion of credit opportunities

because women face many constraints to credit use that men don't face: they are either too poor, too old,

or lack a cash crop with which they can repay a fertilizer loan (Gladwin, 1992, 1996). For them, the

risk of borrowing is high because they may have to sell some of their subsistence crop in the hunger

months when their children are hungry in order to repay the loan. Rather than take that risk, they decide

not to get credit, not use fertilizer, and not increase their yields.

Fertilizer subsidies can decrease this risk for resource-poor women farmers, and so can play an

important role in increasing their food production (Gladwin, 1997). For this reason, Eicher (1995: 807)

blames the donor community for failing to present a balanced view (for example in World Bank 1994)

of the substantial role subsidies played (and still play) in Asia's Green Revolution:

Currently donors in Africa are focused on a number of policy reforms such as correcting
overvalued exchange rates and removing fertilizer subsidies rather than long-term, institution-
building activities, the hallmark of donor assistance in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. In their zeal
to remove fertilizer subsidies in Africa, however, some donors are neglecting to inform African
policy makers about the role of subsidies in Asian Agriculture.2

Pinstrup-Anderson (1992: 106) claims that fertilizer subsidies can serve as a temporary measure

to compensate for the factors that make it difficult for African, as opposed to Asian, entrepreneurs to

freely compete in an open fertilizer market. Among these factors are the small volume of fertilizer that

most African countries import, which weakens their bargaining position in negotiating for lower prices;

high transportation costs within most African countries; high storage costs, which increase the expense

of fertilizer distribution; unpredictable government policies and unstable institutions which scare off

private entrepreneurs from investing in input distribution systems; the relative ease of governmnt's

acquiring fertilizer in the past as foreign aid; and the tendency of governments to maintain large fertilizer

stocks which may be released anytime and at any price. Pinstrup-Anderson (1992: 106) concludes that

governments should privatize fertilizer distribution in a way that assures competition, or else the private

sector fertilizer distribution system may be no more efficient than the public sector system it replaced.

If monopoly profits accrue, it will be more expensive. He also believes fertilizer prices can only be

brought down if in the long run governments invest in the infrastructure to reduce transportation and

marketing costs; but until they do, "there is a place for fertilizer subsidies" to compensate for the factors

resulting in very high fertilizer prices (Pinstrup-Anderson, 1992: 105).

Option 2. Improve the availability of small amounts of fertilizer in local markets and shops by

repackaging 50-kilogram bags of fertilizers into smaller bags. Traditionally, fertilizer has been sold in

50-kg bags. Since most fertilizer for family food production must be carried both to the home as well

as to the food plots, the weight of the bag is an important issue. Having fertilizer available in smaller

bags (complete with pictoral instructions) would make it more affordable for women and easier to carry.

This strategy is the favorite of neoclassical economists who believe that accessibility of fertilizer is the

main constraint to its increased use. If fertilizer were sold in all size bags and in all markets, just like

cement, women farmers would buy it. This assumes the transportation cost of fertilizer from the market

to the home and/or field is a big factor in its use. It is for this reason that the sale of fertilizers in 2-,

5-, and 10-kilogram bags at local markets to increase accessibility should increase fertilizer use by women

farmers .

Option 3. Expand the fertilizer credit market for women farmers via community banks operating

on the Grameen Bank model. The Grameen Bank targets very small loans to groups of virtually landless

women producers (Khandker et al., 1995; Von Pischke, 1991: 233). With two million borrowers and

a recovery rate of more than 90%, it is clearly the model to be followed. By 1994, it served half of all

villages in Bangladesh, lent about US$ 385 million, and mobilized another US$ 306 million as savings

and deposits (Khandker et al., 1995: xi). The bank is unique in that its explicit goals are to alleviate

poverty and create self-employment opportunities for illiterate people who own less than half an acre of

land and have never received a loan from the formal financial system. Since 1985, it has specifically

channelled credit to women, who are less empowered among the rural poor. Increasingly, women receive

the bulk of the loans and are the majority of the members: their share of total cumulative disbursement

rose from a little more than half in 1985 to 91%/ in 1994; while female membership grew from 65.5%

of the total in 1985 to over 94% in 1994 (Khandker et al., 1995: 25-6). Strict observance of the norms

forces group members to be accountable to each other: the second two women receive their loans only

if the first two of the five women in the group repay regularly, and the group leader is customarily the

last to receive credit. This creates pressure among group members to enforce the contracts and helps

screen out bad borrowers. Savings mobilization is thereby encouraged. In 1994 women's savings

amounted to 74% of total savings mobilized (Khandker et al., 1995: 31).

What lessons can Africa learn from the Grameen Bank? The first is that women are better credit

risks than men, since loan recovery rates for general loans have been higher for women (97% in 1992)

than for men (89%) (Khandker et al., 1995: 18). The second lesson is that a bank with poverty-

alleviation goals can also be sustainable as a bank by lending at market interest rates. The Grameen's

lending rate has been 20% since 1991 (Khandker et al., 1995: 66), and its subsidy dependency index

(SDI) has decreased over time from 180% in the 1980s to 36% in 1994 (Yaron, 1992, 1996). Whether

it can be replicable in Africa is now being tested by Sasakawa Global 2000 programs such as Benin's

CREPs (Caisse Rurale d'Epareine et de Pret) which mobilize savings before loaning to farmers, 20

percent of whom are now women (Galiba, 1996).

Option 4. Introduce, for a short time only, a system of grants of small bags of fertilizer targeted

at the poorest women farmers (female headed households, the old, the handicapped) with the smallest

plots of land, who may not know the value of fertilizer and/or are not self-sufficient in food production.

Their numbers may be substantial; Kumwenda et al. (1995: 21) estimate they comprise 40 percent of the

smallholder population in Malawi. After the temporary period, as with option 1, this program should

be phased out and replaced with local merchants' selling small bags of fertilizer at the market price.

Solutions Involving Soil Organic Matter

Women's lack of cash and rising real prices of fertilizer may mean that for the majority of

African women farmers, organic sources of nutrients -- especially legumes that fix atmospheric nitrogen -

- may be the best strategy for increased soil fertility. At current levels of use, however, "organic inputs

are rarely sufficient to maintain soil organic matter" (Kumwenda et al., 1995: 9). Moreover, the

efficiency of fertilizer use is often low and declining because of the declining level of soil organic matter

(Kumwenda et al., 1995: 24). Therefore the following are possible solutions for getting organic nutrients

to women farmers:

Option 5. Make soil organic matter of farm origin more accessible. K~umwenda et al. (1995:8)

claim "the most promising route to improving inorganic fertilizer efficiency in smallholder cropping

systems is through the addition of small amounts of high quality organic matter to tropical soils. This

will increase soil microbial activity and nutrient cycling, with reduced nutrient loss from leaching and

denitrification." In on-farm trials, alternatives could be methods of using green and animal manures,

improved fallowing, and legumes as sole crops in rotation with cereals or intercropped (Wortmann &

Allen, 1994). Information can be diffused via extension workshops and field days for women, gender

"training of trainers" for extension agents, andlor small loans to produce organic inputs from community

banks as in option 3.

Option 6. Make biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) technologies more accessible. Such nitrogen-

fixing crops as velvetbean (Mucuna pruriens), pigeonpea, sunnhemp (Crotalaria juncea), lablab bean

(Dolicos lablab), and Crotalaria ochroleuca, and technologies such as alley cropping could be promoted

by making seeds, small loans, and extension education more accessible, and devoting women farmers'

test plots to intercroppings or rotations of legumes with cereals. Giller et al. (1994) conclude that BNF

fixation from legumes can sustain tropical agriculture at moderate levels of output, often double those

currently achieved (Kumwenda et al., 1995: 9).

The applicability .of legume seed innoculation with rhizobia bacteria to conditions faced by

African women farmers needs to be further tested. Although previous studies show legume inoculation

is simple, inexpensive, and highly successful in increasing crop yield (Meisner & Gross, 1980), the

African experience is that this invaluable technology is largely unavailable to women farmers who need

it most (Hubbell et al., 1995). In Uganda, Mary Silver of Mekerere University has prepared large

quantities of inocula using native African strains of rhizobia and is testing them, with groups of women

farmers to see if women's non-adoption is due to their relative lack of extension education, their lack of

knowledge about the specificity of bacteria in peat inoculum, or to other infrastructural constraints such

as the ineffectiveness of coating material such as gum arabic, syrup, and molasses which attract hordes

of ants that eat the seeds in Africa (C. Wortmann, G. Elkan, 1996, personal communication).

Option 7. Make combinations of organic and inorganic inputs in small amounts more accessible.

Kumwenda et al. (1995: 5) argue that organic manures alone rarely provide the productivity boost needed

by smallholders, and need to be combined with the judicious use of chemical fertilizers. Combining low

rates of organic and inorganic fertilizers should be the best way to reach women smallholders (Kumwenda

et al., 1995: 25).

Option 8. Introduce a cash crop into women's subsistence farming systems. Sustainable food

production is an important goal of development, and only when women farmers have cash will they have

a sustainable way to either buy cash inputs or repay loans for organic or inorganic fertilizers (A.

Thomson, 1996, personal communication).


Given these diverse ways to target women farmers, which one should a rural development project

use? As part of USAID's Soils Management CRSP (collaborative research support program), we at the

University of Florida propose to test these different methods in several African contexts over the next five

years, using three evaluation criteria. First, do women farmers, once exposed to one or more of these

methods to increase fertilizer inputs, continue to use them? Note that the women themselves are the only

real experts on what method works for them and whether their yields have increased as a result. Second,

how much leakage from women's to men's use is there with each method? Because women lack power

and money within the African household relative to men, they may be pressured to apply their fertilizer

to men's export crops, not their own food crops. Third, how sustainable over time is each method

relative to the other options? Given that sustainable food production and food security are our primary

goals, it is necessary to see if and how the food producers themselves, who on the continent of Africa

are women, manage the fertility of their soils in the long run.


The authors are collaborators in the University of Florida's Soils CRSP (collaborative research support
program) funded by USAID. Christina Gladwin, Peter Hildebrand, and Max Langham are professors,
and Donna Lee is an assistant professor, in the Food and Resource Economics Department, Box 110240
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611. Ken Buhr and
Clifton Hiebsch are associate professors of Agronomy; Abe Goldman is associate professor of Geography;
Peter Nkedi-Kizza and Gerald Kidder are associate and full professors of Soils and Water Management,
and Deirdre Williams is a graduate student in Anthropology. We are grateful to Steven Breth for
editorial suggestions and Anne Thomson, Sylvia Coleman, and Charles Sloger for theoretical suggestions.

1 A typical form of Cobb-Douglas production function would be estimated by ordinary least squares by
taking logarithms on both sides:
In Y =ao+ a In L+ a21nT + blnE + cEXT + dGender +e,

where Y is output, L is labor input (hired or family), and T is a vector of land, capital, and other inputs;
E is educational attainment; EXT is an index of extension services; Gender is the gender of the household
head or farm manager, and e is the error term. The coefficient that indicates gender differences here is
d, an intercept shifter (Quisumbing, 1995: 4).

2 Eicher notes that farm subsidies are still widespread in Asia; e.g., Indonesia's implicit subsidy on
fertilizer is still 35 percent, and on irrigation 75 percent (Eicher, 1995: 813).


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