-at the Univefrsi--of -r--n--
GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
A COMPARISON OF RURAL WOMEN'S TIME USE
IN TWO VILLAGES IN MALAWI
*Lila E. Engberg
Jean H. Sabry, and
Department of Family Studies
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Paper prepared for presentation at the GENDER ISSUES AND FARMING
SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION CONFERENCE
Sponsored by THE WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE PROGRAM
University of Florida, Gainesville
February 26 March 1, 1986
*Lila E. Engberg is Associate Professor in the field of Family
Economics and Management; Jean Sabry, Professor in Applied Human
Nutrition; Susan A. Beckerson, was a graduate student (1981-83)
Department of Family Studies. The data for this research was
collected in Malawi by Susan Beckerson in 1982.
The primary purposes of this paper are to present
production activity model for categorizing and comparing
time use in rural households, and to illustrate the use of
the model. A secondary purpose is to discuss the
relationship of women's time use to the food supply and
nutritional status of household members in two Malawi
villages. According to Ettema and Msukwa (1985:49) "Little
is yet known about the dynamics of cropping patterns of the
.smallest farmers, or for that matter, of related issues like
the relationship between cash cropping, the cultivation of
'food crops destined for home consumption, and the
nutritional status of the family."
In this paper we will explain the theoretical
perspective that led to the use of the activity model, then
we will describe the research methodology and methodological
problems related to collecting time use data, then the
results. We are not satisfied that we have truly accurate
records from the Malawi study. The picture is incomplete.
Two seasons only, were examined:- pre-harvest and post-
harvest, and the work of one male and one female (his wife)
in each of 28 households. The sample size was small because
of the detailed measures taken, measures of time use, food
stored, food consumed and nutritional status. Measurement
of each category of variables is complex. Details will
not be described but some of the results will be presented
with the hope that further inter-disciplinary research of
this nature will be encouraged.
2. Theoretical Perspective
Study of the formal, monetized economic sectors and
not the informal or base economies of the household or
family is conventional in the field of economics. Cash crop
agriculture is visible and recognized but two sectors of
economic activity tend to be invisible and overlooked -
subsistence food production and household production (Evenson,
1981). Chipita (1981:6-7) uses the term indigenous
economics when referring to subsistence production. He
argues that conventional economics does not help us
understand how the micro-economic unit of the family or
Two main categories of production are identified in the
production model adapted from Beutler and Owen (1980:17) -
market production and home production. The production
activity model attempts to integrate social and economic
theory by taking into account the social relationships
involved in productionI. Market production involves
exchange of money, goods or services. Home production does
not. The output of home production have "use" value rather
than "exchange" value. See figures 1 in the appendix and
note that home production is divided into separable and
inseparable components. Household and subsistence
production are separable or market replacable. Reid's
classic definition of household production stated below has
been considered most appropriate.
Household production consists of those
unpaid activities which are carried on
by and for the members, which
activities might be replaced by market
goods, or paid services, if
circumstances such as income, market
conditions, and personal inclinations
permit the service being delegated to
someone outside the household group
Subsistence production has the same characteristics. The
activities can be delegated to paid workers, the outputs
have exchange value on the market and are conceptually
different from outputs which have "use" value.
In addition to market production, household and/or
subsistence production, household members engage in another
kind of production referred to in .the model as social
production. The latter type of production is called
"inseparable" because of the social relationships involved
(Beutler and Owen, 1980:18). Activities identified as
social production are carried out only by a member of the
family and cannot be handed over to paid workers.
Activities are organized by reciprocity and are called
grants (Boulding, 1970). Grants are one-way transfers of
goods and services. Bivens (1976) gives examples and
indicates their "use" value or function. It is to integrate
family members into the system. Beutler and Owen (1981)
subdivide the inseparable, into three categories: (1)
intra-household, grants, (2) inter-household grants, and (3)
community service. Activities such as caring for,
socializing and/or educating the children, caring for the
sick and the elderly, serving as mediators inside the
household would fit the first category. Helping kin or
neighbours in the village, helping at weddings or funerals,
would fit the second category. Community self-help,
voluntary work, and social participation as representatives
of the household would fit the third. All are family
obligations and essential in indigenous economies.
A production activity model such as the one just
described could characterize the various types of
production activities carried out at the level of the
family. It could capture more fully, the activities
and responsibilities of women and help us recognize and
better understand the allocation of their labour.
3. Measuring Home Production
Measuring the various types of home production is very
complex. The invisible nature of the activities, the
seasonality of some activities, the definition of household,
the number of people involved, and the problems of assigning
a monetary value to non-market activities are among the
problems. Reports by the International Centre for Research
on Women (1CRW, 1980) and Minge-Klevana (1980) provide
reviews of methodology related to measurement procedures.
The study of time allocation is the method generally used
for gaining information about all aspects of life.
Basically, there are four methods of collecting the data:
1) the time-diary or self record, 2) the interview, asking
respondents to recall time spent the day before on a limited
number of pre-categorized activities, 3) day-long continuous
observations; 4) random spot observations, and a combination
of the above. The recording may be a free listing or may be
organized according to predetermined categories. The time-
diary method is not possible in a semi-literate population.
Only two approaches the interview recorded recall, and
observation are available. Day-long observations were
chosen for the Malawi research in order to gain a more
complete picture of the actual amount of time spent on each
particular activity (Beckerson, 1983). The methodology used
will be described in the next section.
4, Methodology for Study of Labour Allocation in Two Malawi
The study carried out in Malawi was divided into two
phases. The first phase, carried out in August 1981, was a
general survey of rural household functioning in the two
villages (Mkwinda and Patsankhondo). For this study
household was defined as a unit which may include both
family members and persons other than kin, who occupy a
housing unit as a social unit in terms of division of
labour, social interaction and sharing of benefits (Janelid,
1980:85). In the case of Mkwinda village 32 registered
tobacco growing households were included, and in
Patsankhondo, 31 subsistence farming households *
Additional criteria for household selection were that the
age of the eldest child born to the resident wife be between
12 and 16 years of age and that the child be presently
living in the selected household. This was, to obtain
comparability of households in terms of the age of the
female respondent and the developmental stage in the family
life cycle. As it turned out, all 32 tobacco producing
households and 22 subsistence producing households were
headed by males during the time of the survey. (Beckerson,
Information collected in Phase I of the study was used
to develop the approaches to the second phase. Phase II of
the study was carried out in February and July, 1982; during
the height of the growing season, and after harvest. For
this more detailed part of the study a smaller sample of 14
households was randomly selected from each of the two
original sets of household total 28. (Beckerson, p. 87).
Interviews were carried out in Chichewa by five Bunda
College of Agriculture students. Four of the students (two
males and two females) continued the survey work throughout
all phases of the study, working as male/female teams with
the researchers (Beckerson, p. 86). Within each season
identical questionnaires were used to interview the males
and females about specific pre-categorized activities. The
respondents were asked to recall three week-days of
activities within each category and to estimate an
approximate block of time spent on the activity. The
interviewer translated the time into hours and minutes on
the record sheets. See the appendix for the list of
activity categories and the tasks for February. A different
set of crop production activities was designed for use in
July. Since each list of activities was pre-determined,
based on information from Phase I of the study it was easier
for the interviewers and respondents to remember the tasks.
Recall of three days was considered sufficient because there
was little variation in the day to day pattern of
activity at each season of the year (Beckerson, p. 93).
Recall is not necessarily the best data collection
procedure because of the difficulty of estimating the
amount of time spent on each activity. The information was
supplemented by observation of seven women in each of the
two villages, (Beckerson, p. 94). A random morning and
random afternoon were selected to observe each woman in each
season. Both primary and secondary activities were recorded
at five minute intervals.
There were no significant differences in mean hours per
day obtained by the recall method as compared to the
observation method except for the report of domestic
activities of tobacco growing households in July, and of
subsistence households in February.3 The mean time reported
in this paper, therefore, is an average of the two the
recall and the observation data.
5. Study of Food Supply, Food Consumption and Nutritional
In the interest of brevity no details will be provided
in this paper regarding the methodology for the study of
food supply, food consumption and nutritional status of
household members. It is important to note that the output
of subsistence and household production has "use" value.
The mean-time spent by husbands and wives in the two
seasons in each farming system is presented in four graphs
(Figure 2 in the appendix). Graph Al and A2 illustrate the
seasonal labour differences in the tobacco producing
households, B1 and B2 the seasonal labour inputs in the
subsistence households. The following comparisons can be
noted; based on the production activity model presented
earlier in this paper.
a) Both husbands and wives are involved in market
production (tobacco) as well as in home production.
Market production is minimal in the subsistence
households, and minimal in July (after harvest).
b) The Household production took the largest proportion
of women's time in each of the two villages in each
season. In every household the daily time spent on
meal preparation exceeded the time spent on any of the
other household tasks (mean time 1.36 to 2.88 hours).
c) The mean-time spent by women on all production
activities did not vary much from season to season, nor
in each farming system (about 12 hours per day).
d) In comparison to the women, the men spent between 4.13
and 6.42 hours in production per day. The longest
working time for men was in tobacco farming during
e) During the tobacco growing season in February, the
women of Mkwinda spent fewer hours on subsistence and
household production than they did in July. They
shifted their work time away from home production to
market production. No such seasonal shifts were
evident in Patsankhondo the subsistence producing
f) Both men and women were equally involved in subsistence
production during July, in Patsankhodo. At that season
of the year the three tasks that took up the time were
harvesting, carrying maize home from the gardens, and
g) Only two activities were accounted for within the
category social or inseparable production, namely child
care and health care. Note that both husbands and
wives participated but the mean time spent by wives was
slightly higher than that of their husbands (1.40 mean
hours per day by the wives as compared to 0.91 mean
hours spent by husbands).
The data for this category of production is incomplete.
The time spent in learning, in helping kin or
neighbours, in attendance at funerals or in community
self-help was not recorded. During the time of the
study, for example, interviews had to be re-scheduled
six times in Patsankhondo and five times in Mkwinda,
because of funerals. On some occasions respondents
were away from home for two days at a time (more
frequently during the rainy season in February, than in
July). Whether or not such activities could be
categorized as 'social production' may be debatable.
Nevertheless, attendance and help with funerals is a
family obligation, with reciprocal benefits.
7. Outputs of Production
The complete home production activity model proposed by
Beutler and Owen (1980:24) includes inputs of resources
throughputs of production, and outputs of utility and
standard of living. Among the outputs studied in Malawi
(Beckerson 1983:130-182) were those presented in figures 2
to'6 in the appendix. Figure 3 presents the mean amount of
traditional foods stored by 14 tobacco growing and 14
subsistence farming households. The mean amounts of maize,
groundnuts, beans and peas found stored by the subsistence
households in July was greater than that stored by the
tobacco producers. The mean amount of dried leaves stored
was somewhat greater in the tobacco, as compared to the
Regarding food consumption note Figures 4 and 5. The
mean number of cups of maize flour (ufa) used per day for
making the dietary staple food nsima was higher in the
subsistence farm households.
Finally, regarding nutritional status it was noted that
the members of sample households from Patsankhondo the
subsistence farming village, were somewhat better off than
those from Mkwinda (Beckerson, p. 184).
a) Significantly fewer children were malnourished in July.
b) The female adults in the sample had significantly higher
mean weights in Feburary and in July.
c) Male and female.adults had significantly less weight
change between February and July.
d) Female adults were less lean in February, as indicated
by a significantly higher mean body mass index.
e) Significantly fewer female adults were underweight in
February and in July.
Note figure 6 which shows that a larger proportion of
the children in subsistence producing households
maintained normal weight for height as compared to those in
the tobacco producing villages between February and July.
The larger stores of maize available in one set of
households compared to the other could account for this
difference. Other aspects of health status could also
account for this difference. At this stage we must be
cautious about making implications about the relationships.
The major purpose of this paper was to draw attention to
the fact that household production and subsistence
production are important components of the family economy.
Women contribute a large proportion of their time to these
two sectors of production, but their work tends to be
unrecognized because it is a part of the informal or non-
monetized economy. A comparison of work done in two Malawi
villages by a sample of 28 households suggests that the
women are indeed contributing a larger proportion of their
time to these sectors as compared to their husbands. Women
are also contributing, along with their husbands to cash
crop production through the work done on tobacco. During
the tobacco growing season in February the women tended to
shift their time away from subsistence and household
production towards tobacco production. They did not add to
the length of their working day (mean 12.15 hours) but cut
back on the time spent particularly on meal related
activities. The women were not 'pulled into' additional
It is suggested that a shift in rural women's time use
towards cash crop production could lead to lower rather than
higher standards of nutritional well-being of all household
members. Such a conclusion is tentative because of the
small sample size and the number of variables examined.
The use of a production activity framework for
categorizing types of production has advantages for
economies such as those in rural Malawi. Market production
and home production are the two major types of production to
be recognized and valued; especially with respect to women's
role. Home production cannot easily be valued in monetary
terms but could be valued in terms of outputs such as health
and well-being or standards of living of households.
Household and subsistence production are both categorized as
separable home production or market replaceable production.
Social production such as care of family, kin and community
is called inseparable home production because of household
members obligations to such activities. It is not market
replaceable and requires more attention in research because
of the trade-offs in terms of time utility.
There are only 24 hours in a day. More time spent in
one type of production means less time available for another
type. If rural women shift their time towards cash crop
production and reduce time spent in home production there
may be drastic consequences in terms of food shortages
during the transition. There is a need for research which
examines more thoroughly the relationships between various
types of production, activity patterns of males, females and
children in small-scale farming systems; and the production
outputs. Much is still to be learned about economic
behaviour and its influences on productivity family well-
1. This is not the whole of the production activity model. See
Beutler, Ivan F. and Owen, Alma J. "A Home Production
Activity Model Home Economics Research Journal Vol. 9, No. 1,
September, 1980O. figure 6 p. Inputs in terms of human and
material resources and outputs of utility and levels of
living are included in the model.
2. See Beckerson, Susan A. "Seasonal Labour Allocation, Food
Supply, and Nutrition in Subsistence and Semi-Subsistence
Farming Households in Malawi, Africa" Master's Thesis,
University of "Guelph, 1983: Tables 6 and 7 p. 88.
The mean number of persons per household in the study was
found to be as follows:
Phase I Households (1981)
Number of Households 32 31
Mean number of persons
Adult 2.69 2.56
Children 3.50 3.39
Infants .44 .45
Phase II Households (1982)
Number of Households 14 14
Mean number of persons per
Adults 2.29 2.43
Children (Feb.) 4.43 4.43
(July) 4.36 4.43
Infants 0.79 0.79
3. To check the validity of the three day recall data, Beckerson
used two-tailed non-paired, student's t-tests; at the 1% and
5% levels of significance. The mean hours for one day as
observed in each of three activity areas (cash crop
activities food crop activities, and household activities)
for the females was compared to mean hours per day of the
recall data (Beckerson p. 104). Results (Table 13 p. 128)
indicated that the women respondents may have over-estimated
the time spent on household activities.
(An activity list for use in February in Malawi, 1982 by
Susan A. Beckerson)
(i) Market Production
(a) Tobacco Production (weeding, fertilizer application,
banking, removing flowers, sucker control,
harvesting, transporting leaves, other tasks).
(b) Other Income-Earning Tasks (making goods for sale,
collecting produce for sale, work for wages).
(c) Marketing (selling or trading)
(ii) Subsistence and Semi-Subsistence Production
(a) Hybrid Maize Production (weeding, banking,
fertilizer application, other tasks).
(b) Production of Local Maize (tasks as above).
(c) Production of Groundnuts, Beans, Peas, Vegetables (as
(d) Sweet Potato Production (as above)
(e) Animal Care (grazing cattle or goats; feeding fowl,
pigs, rabbits, etc., preparing feed; milking,
collecting eggs, slaughtering animals, cleaning
animal shelters, other).
(iii) Household Production
(a) Food Related Activities (gathering fruits or wild
vegetables, collecting insects, planting and caring
for fruit trees, collecting vegetables from the
garden, beermaking for home use, storage of food
items, shelling and pounding maize, meal
preparation, cooking and serving, washing-up and
storing utensils, going to the maize mill).
S(b) Shopping (for food and other household needs)
(c) Obtaining Fuel and Water (collecting firewood and
the domestic water supply, planting trees and care
(d) Household and Farm Maintenance (cleaning the house
and surroundings; building or repairing housing,
food stores, animal shelters, fences, garden
structures, garden tools, furnishings or equipment
for the home).
(e) Clothing Activities (Making and repairing
clothing, laundering, taking materials to the
(iv) Inseparable Home Production
(a) Intra household production
Child Care (feeding, bathing, punishing, teaching
and playing with children)
Health Care (tending to the sick at home? taking
the sick to the health centre, clinic, hospital, or
healer, fetching medicines).
*(b) Interhousehold grants
*(c) Community service
*not recorded by Beckerson
Beckerson, Susan A. "Seasonal Labour Allocation, Food Supply, and
1983 Semi-Subsistence Farming Households in Malawi,
Africa". University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario:
Beutler, Ivan F. And Owen Alma J. "A Home Production Activity
1980 Model". Home Economics Research Journal Vol. 9
"The Grants Economy and Study of the American Family:
A possible Framework for Trans-disciplinary
Approaches". Home Economics Research Journal Vol. 5
No. 6, pp. 70-78.
Chipeta, C.H.R. Indigenous Economics A Cultural Approach.
1981 Smithtown, New York: Exposition Press.
Ettema Wim, and Msukwa, L. Food Production and Malnutrition in
1985 Malawi University of Malawi, Zomba: Centre for
Evenson, Robert E. "Food Policy and the New Home Economics".
1981 Food Policy pp. 180-193.
ICRW The Productivity of Women in Developing Countries:
1980 Measurement Issues and Recommendations. Washington,
DC: International Center for Research on Women
Office of Women in Development, Agency for
"Rural Development and the Farm Household as a Unit
of Observation and Action" in The Household, Women
and Agricultural Development. Wageningen, The
Netherlands: Proceedings of a Symposium Department
of Home Economics Agricultural University.
Minge-Klevana, Wanda. "Does Labour Time Decrease with
1980 Industrialization? A Survey of Time Allocation
Studies". Current Anthropology 21. pp. 279-297.
TYPE OF PRODUCTION ACTIVITIES
Figure 2 Mean Time Spent Per Day by Husband and Wife in
Two Farming Seasons
(N = 14 households)
Al Tobacco Producers
1 2 "- 3 4
:i::::::: :: :: 2.5
1 '2 3 4 5
1 2 3. 4 5 6
F 1 h o
......................... : :: :: : :
1 2 3 4 5
I it t
.::::.:::??ii!! !:~_ ::::iiii!iii::::.'.:!!?ii i
- - -. .- - . .
Figure 3. Mean Amount of Traditional Foods Stored in July
by Two Types of Farming Systems
(N = 14 households)
Ground Nuts Stored
Beans and Peas Stored
I Tobacco Producers
Figure 4 Mean Number of Meals Per Day
Figure 5 Mean Number of Cups of Maize Flour per Day
Figure 6 Normal Weight for Height All Children
N = 73
Beckerson. p. 162