Front Cover
 Agricultural research and...
 Search for a new framework

Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: Gender relations and technological change : the need for an integrative framework of analysis
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081687/00001
 Material Information
Title: Gender relations and technological change : the need for an integrative framework of analysis
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Evans, Alison
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: Africa   ( lcsh )
Farming   ( lcsh )
University of Florida.   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: Africa
North America -- United States of America -- Florida
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00081687
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Agricultural research and development
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
    Search for a new framework
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
Full Text

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Alison Evans, January 1986


Over the past decade agricultural research has turned its

attention to the plight of the rural poor and the need for

strengthening the production systems of small, low-income

farming units. In sub-Saharan Africa particularly, the

imperative of improving the region's food producing

capabilities has convinced many researchers to focus on the

identification of means to raise the agricultural

performance and welfare of self-provisioning farming

households (World Food Council 1982). Despite the fact that

production units in sub-Saharan Africa are constantly

evolving and that landlessness, in particular, is a growing

phenomenon throughout the region, a substantial proportion

of agricultural activity and food production continues to be

organised at the household farm level (Dey 1984b, World Food

Council 1982).

Farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa are extremely diverse.

However, there are a number of shared conditions and

characteristics which lend themselves to some

generalisations. One is that household labour supply

typically constitutes the main source of farm labour but

that households also have essential demands for labour other

than for on-farm use. Another is the substantial

contribution made by rural women, and especially poor rural

women, to agricultural activity, and women's almost

universal responsibility for managing the time consuming

operations of household food production, preparation and

distribution, and the basic maintenance of the domestic

economy (FAO 1984). That this is unlikely to alter greatly

in the foreseeable future means that agricultural research

must link technology generation more directly to the needs

and priorities of smallholder producers.

The record of technological intervention in the region is

however variable and marked by contradictory outcomes, if

not the outright failure, of input-intensive technological

packages. From the literature it appears that the poorest

and smallest farming households suffer most severely from

the contradictory effects of 'modernising' interventions,

and that many of the unintended outcomes seriously affect

the effectiveness and wellbeing of women producers in

particular (Agarwal 1981, Ahmed 1983, Chambers 1983, Kisseka

1984, Whitehead 1981).

The fact that technological changes have complex, diffuse,

even perverse effects on the operation of these systems

raises a number of crucial questions about the continued

effectiveness of many women in their subsistence/

-reproductive role, with ramifications for the economic

wellbeing of their dependents, farming households and

themselves. The challenging task for agricultural research

therefore lies mainly in identifying the possibilities for

solutions to on-farm problems but also in devising

technological options that are reliable and predictable

within the whole farm system and above all consistent with

the needs and interests of both women and men in family farm

households (CGIAR 1985, Hahn 1985, Fresco 1985, Maxwell


Agricultural Research and Development

The driving force behind recent research and development in

small farm agriculture has been Farming Systems Research and

Extension (FSR/E). Although FSR/E does not follow one model

it does tend to pursue a single aim: to develop

technological alternatives for small farmers to improve

their performance and increase aggregate food supplies while

protecting the natural environment (FSSP 1984). A major

advantage that FSR/E has, and one that distinguishes it from

other R&D approaches, is the potential for integrating

within a single conceptual framework, comprehensive,

interdisciplinary knowledge not only about the technical

needs of small farmers as individuals or as a group, but

also about the wider systemic implications of technological

change. For example, systemic changes in the natural

resource base, the local farming economy or the organisation

of human activity (W.W. Shaner et al 1982, D.W. Norman


At the conceptual level the FSR/E approach aims to identify

the distinctive components and parameters of the 'total'

farm system in which a small farm household functions. In

general the farming system is defined as:
'a unique and reasonably stable
arrangement of farming enterprises that
the household manages according to well
defined practices in response to the
physical, biological and social
environments and in accordance with the
household's goals, preferences and
resources' (W.W. Shaner et al 1982).

In what is essentially a functionalist view of the total

farm system researchers .aim to identify the interdependence

between components under the control of household members

e.g. crop and livestock production, and how these components

interact with physical, biological and socio-economic

factors beyond household control e.g. climate, prices for

commodities in local markets, to affect the agricultural

welfare of the farm household. By combining this knowledge

with extensive on-farm research and experimentation, systems

researchers should be in a position to recommend

technological alternatives that meet the dominant needs and

preferences of particular groups of farmers as well as

develop greater understanding into which technologies fit

where and why, and who benefits? For this purpose, FSR/E

has at the centre of its conceptual framework the family

farm household. The objective is to draw to the attention

of field researchers and scientists the interaction between

household resources and on-farm enterprises and the many

different characteristics and therefore needs and

constraints of small farming households.

At the empirical level within the limits of the current

climate of agricultural policy making in developing

countries the FSR/E approach is used primarily to reduce

the degree of error in-finding the appropriate technical

'fix' for market based problems of agricultural production.

Consequently most applied FSR/E to date has concentrated on

market oriented cropping systems research or commodity-based

research. This focus, along with time considerations and

resource constraints, has meant that practical systems

research has tended to bypass many of the interpersonal or

qualitative stages in the diagnostic process to concentrate

on the quantitative, technical relations of market-oriented

production i.e. production economists have tended to
dominate the collection of 'social-science' data while

scientists emphasise the need for more detailed technical


So despite its claims to have a very broad understanding of

the needs and preferences of small farm households and the

systemic effects of technological change on the farm

household, in practice FSR/E has been restricted to finding

technological solutions to a limited range of production

- problems using essentially market criteria to measure the

costs and benefits of changes within commodity based

cropping systems for overall household welfare.

In making very limited use of the potential it has for

farmer-based research current FSR/E has implicit within it a

restricted set of methodological choices for identifying

diverse needs of farming households and recommending

solutions that do not prejudice certain household members or

particular groups within society (Butler-Flora 1984). This

is particularly relevant when considering gender issues in

agricultural development and on a number of counts FSR/E is

ill equipped for:

(a) understanding the distribution of costs and
benefits between women and men in the same farm

household of alternative technological choices and

extension projects. Also finding out under what

conditions technological changes benefit men but
disbenefit women as household members or as a

larger group in society.

(b) identifying and meeting the technical needs of

women as farmers particularly as producers and

consumers of food.

The fact that technological dominance has taken over FSR/E

in recent years and belied what it set out to achieve at the

interpersonal level explains to some extent the failure of

researchers to consider how farming systems are constituted

in gender terms and what influence gender has in shaping

economic outcomes in agricultural development. Within the

methodology itself there are a number of procedures and

assumptions which have tended to reinforce gender blindness:

(1) -By using market or monetary criteria to identify

productive components in the farm system and measure

their contributions to household income and welfare

many of the value-adding or maintenance activities that

are not directly comparable in monetary terms are left

out or considered costless in the economic equation.

For example non-monetised household-based activities

such as food production (secondary foods, upland

intercropped crops etc.); processing and preparation

for direct consumption; fuel and water collection;

house repair. From micro-level research we can see

that this has important gender implications because

while men, women and children do perform such

activities it is almost universally female household

members who contribute most of their own labour time,

energy and resources, as well as exchanging labour and

resources with others, to perform these activities.

This tends to be true at intra household and

inter-household levels. By treating these activities

as complementary to the farm unit rather than

components of it (Fernandez 1985, Lele 1985),

production economists have neglected many important

interdependencies between monetised and non-monetised

activities and the importance of gender in shaping

interactions between sub-systems and household resource


(2) Production, economists and technicians are primarily

concerned with aggregate output levels and

recommendations for improving agricultural performance

and household welfare have generally focused on

particular sub-systems e.g. the cropping system, and

finding agronomic explanations for production

constraints and bottlenecks. This has often been

without careful consideration for the possibility that

the basis for production constraints or particular

farmer decisions lies not in the sub-system itself but

in other parts of the farming system.

This has two implications:

(a) that planned changes within, for example, the

cropping system which appear to offer visible

benefits in terms of aggregate household output

and income, may have unanticipated .differential

productive impact on individual household members.

Whether this impact is likely to be beneficial or

detrimental is not entirely clear until we know

the multiple fit of activities household members

are responsible for household based, on-farm,

off-farm etc. and the nature of their

Relationship with the cropping system itself i.e.

where do they fit into the cropping cycle, are

they unpaid, do they control any of the products

or revenue, how does this vary by gender?

(b) Systems researchers have very often neglected the

possibility that a more appropriate and effective

solution to overcoming farm based constraints lies

in indirect measures or non-farm activities. That

is, improving the productivity of household based

activities, many of which are women's

responsibility, may have a positive impact on

amounts or quality of labour, resources,

management available for farm production, e.g.

raising the productivity of household water

collection could increase the amount of time and

energy women have available for direct farm

production or, alternatively, improving the

conditions for secondary food crop production and

processing could have positive health and

nutrition effects for the whole household which

would improve the efficiency of labour inputs into

farm or off-farm activities especially during low

energy or 'hungry' seasons. This neglect has

tended to obfuscate the specific needs that women

might have as direct producers, processors,

traders or as the vital human elements in

household food, water and fuel linkages.

(3) Because of stereotyped models of household units and

static assumptions about intra-household labour

relations and resource allocation, the FSR/E approach

has assumed that the effect of technological change on

farm household members can be simply read off from

visible changes in the technical division of labour.

The assumptions are that:

(a) household units follow a Eurocentric model with a

male household head and a dependent wife and

children (Allison 1985) and that relations between

household members are concretised within the

prevailing division of labour which responds in

predictable and systematic ways to changes within

the physical and economic environment.

(b) the division of. labour and resources reflects a

complementarity of household needs and interests

which ensures the equitable distribution of

benefits of overcoming production constraints

within the household.
However the current state of knowledge about rural

production systems and the experience of technological

change suggests that the organisation of human activity and

the nature of households is much more complex and that

technical change does not effect the technical division of

labour.and resources in any systematic way (Whitehead 1981).

It also suggests that relations between women and men in

farming households are not solidified within the technical

division of labour nor are their interests and needs

necessarily complementary. In fact the gender division of

labour is only the outcome of very much more fundamental

processes of negotiation and exchange between the genders

which are in a constant state of flux. The Eurocentric view

of the household is particularly misleading in West African

countries where women and men tend to occupy structurally

different positions within the farm economy, not only in

terms of task allocation and combining different types of

enterprises, but also in terms of different access to

factors of production inputs, credit, others' labour time,

off-farm employment opportunities, markets, incentives, etc.

S Whilst there are many examples of farm-household enterprises

in which both men and women have a conjoint interest, there

are numerous others for which women and men have separate or

conflicting interests and for which their economic and

technical needs are likely to differ, e.g. in Sierra Leone

women's interests in improving swamp rice farming or

intercropping to produce a marketable surplus have seen to

be in conflict with men's interests in upland farming and

their use of work gangs and household labour in the

production of market crops. Polygyny also compels wives to

have independent access to cash income which involves

managing a number of non-farm income-generating enterprises

-palm oil processing, soap and pottery making, dyeing cloth-

that are quite separate from men's and involve managing very

separate budgets and resources even when living with men in

the same extended household (Richards and Karimu 1981).

The search for a new framework

The problem with most popular farming systems models is that

they take a selective and comparative static view of the

workings of the farming system. What is needed are more

searching concepts and methods for looking at the gendered

farm-household system and understanding the basis for the

gender distribution of costs and benefits of technological

choices and identifying some of the specific technical needs

that women have. Unfortunately due to lack of empirical

evidence -this paper can only offer some initial thoughts on

how this might be achieved.

Conceptual Issues

(1) Develop a conceptual model that treats the small

farming unit as an interlocking system of market

production, subsistence economic and reproductive

enterprises articulated at farm and household levels.

Reproductive activities include primarily domestic

services necessary for family survival. A central

defining feature of this interrelated system is the

multi-activity household, the sets of conditions -

enterprise mix, resource and labour allocation, market

interaction, budget constraints and reproductive

considerations that shape the economic participation

and welfare of female and male household members. It

is important to see that these sets of conditions are

not immutable and that depending on the total matrix of

productive, and reproductive activities that comprise

any one farm system they are likely to alter, for

example, with seasonal changes, changing life-cycle

positions of household members, changing opportunities

in the local economy, etc.

(2) By using a conceptual framework along these lines it

should be possible to generate data on the key sets of

conditions that shape the differential participation of

household members and give explicit attention to the

most important interactions between enterprises that

vary by gender.

From the wealth of anthropological literature at our

disposal it appears that vital information is needed on

intra-household resource allocation and on the relative

weight of market and non-market, social and economic forces,

in shaping the differential distribution of women's and

men's labour time, resources, management and control within

the total farm system. Information of this type would be

invaluable for investigating the possibility for

productivity gains in non-monetised enterprises which have

either a direct or indirect productive impact on household

members. It is also crucial for increasing the

understanding amongst agricultural researchers and

extensionists about why planned changes in the technological

and economic balance of, for example, cropping systems, have

unanticipated, sometimes detrimental, effects on other

enterprises, often outside of the production arena. In

Africa this is a commonly cited problem for women farmers,

particularly in the poorest households (Dey 1981, 1984a,

Guyer 1980, Whitehead 1981) where women's workloads have

either tended to intensify at the hands of technological

changes or their lands and income sources have diminished.

Yet without understanding exactly how women's multiple

activities lock together and interlock with other

enterprises in the system, it is very difficult to clearly

establish at the margin the aggregate net effect of

technological change upon the total workload or economic

welfare of individual household members and particularly the

differential effects on women and men.

Methodological Issues

A conceptual model such as this raises a number of important

methodological considerations for farming systems research.

(1) At the stage of selecting recommendation domains

agronomic, topographic and general socio-economic data

continue to be crucial, however there is increasing

recognition for the need to take into account different

household forms, family structures and composition. In

Africa this most probably entails taking account of

polygynous household forms, extended family structures,


female-headed households and the complex variation in

authority and power structures that determine the

location of decision making, access to resources etc.

in household units (Allison 1985). At this stage it is

important that researchers be aware of the different

'structural' positions that women and men often occupy

in African households and how these are related to

different decision-making processes, separate budget

constraints, different access to inputs and markets

incentives and opportunities.

(2) Problem identification: at this stage it is

particularly important that information about the

differential structural positions of women and men in

the farming household be linked to precise data about

household resource allocation, labour utilisation and

the multiple fit of activities which women and men are

responsible for. This is because identifying dominant

constraints and bottlenecks, for example'in labour or

resource allocation, must take into account the degree

of flexibility and substitutability that exists within

the organisation of farm-household activity and where

potential trade-offs or conflicts might emerge between

the genders when releasing a constraint within one

sub-system involves creating another elsewhere in the

system important research points are:

(a) the degree of flexibility and substitutability

between the role of women's labour in farm

production and household-based production relative

to men's;

*(b) the substitutability between women's labour and

capital i.e. productivity enhancing technologies,

relative to other household members;

(c) the flexibility and substitutability between
women's labour and that of other family or

household members i.e. husbands, children,

neighbours or hired-in labour (Lele 1985).

Much of the information that can be gathered about

these points will be qualitative rather than

quantitative, which should be recognized by researchers

and extensionists who have tended to devalue the

importance of such data in planning on-farm research

and evaluating responses by farm-households.

(3) Finally, during the on-farm research, extension and

evaluation stages gender- should become an integral

criterion for the analysis of dominant constraints and

the recommendation of solutions that are reliable and

predictable for both women and men within target

groups. For example:

(a) It is important to recognize the mixed strategies

'that women employ to meet basic household needs

and the potential impact that trade-offs or

curtailments within these strategies have for

individual and household welfare.

(b) There is increasing evidence to show that women's

technological and economic needs are different

from men's and must be researched and evaluated in

their own right, e.g. in their vital role as human

elements in food production and processing, water,

fuel and nutrition linkages, intra and inter

household levels.

(c) It is important to trace the distribution of male

and female labour time and resources within total

production cycles, e.g. crop production from

cultivation to processing, consumption or sale, to

understand the net welfare effects of changes

within the cycle, i.e. labour and resource or

income effects at the margin. It may be that

changes in cropping patterns intensify women's

unpaid labour effort during weeding, harvesting

and processing stages which conflicts with their

labour needs elsewhere in the farming system, or,

it may be that a new crop variety, despite greater

workload, offers women potential income gains

through the processing and sale of crop

by-products, over which they have marketing

control which effect is dominant cannot be

established a priori.

(d) Account must be taken of the economic role that

household service activities play in maintaining

the productive function of the farming system and

what are the non-pecuniary costs borne by

individual household members (usually women) in

providing such services under low.productivity,

time-consuming and arduous conditions.


It has been suggested in this paper that if gender issues

are to be given explicit attention within agricultural

research and technology development then an alternative

analytical framework is required. Such a framework should

give explicit attention to the different sets of conditions

that characterise the economic participation of women and

men and this involves looking at the integrated farming

system as a gendered system of production and reproduction.

The purpose of such a framework is not only to examine

existing evidence with greater rigour but also to generate

specific hypotheses, tests, data and methods that break down

gender biases within agricultural research and extension.

There are however a number of general problems which must be

addressed if attempts to build an alternative framework are

to be considered feasible:

(1) The problem of overcoming the methodological divide

between technocratic and social science research; that

is, integrating effectively quantitative and

qualitative methods and data.

(2) 'The problem of time. For instance, the time scale that

ARIs' or donors' demand for FSR/E does not seem to

concur with the time scale that sociological or

socio-economic research requires.

(3) The current climate of national and international

agricultural policy making is not conducive to

channelling research resources into more extensive data

collection or funding programmes for scientific/genetic

research into secondary food crops, non-farm

technological needs etc.

(4) There is the question of whether male-female economic

relations within rural production systems are so

culturally specific that the possibilities for a

generalisable analytical model are slim.

Despite these problems, if in the future there is to be any

clear understanding of the relationship between gender

relations and the economics of farming systems and

technological choice, there is a real need to question the

conceptual basis of popular methodological approaches to

agricultural research and development and construct

Alternative frameworks for gathering empirical data and

testing hypotheses in which gender relations are an explicit




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