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GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
THE HOUSEHOLD ENTERPRISE AND FARMING SYSTEM RESEARCH:
A CASE STUDY FROM TAIWAN
Rita S. Gallin
Michigan State University
Paper presented at the Conference, "Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research
and Extension," University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, February 26 -
March 1, 1986.
Do not quote without authors' permission.
The concept of the farm as a system and the examination of inter-
dependencies among its component parts are key to the conceptual framework of
farming systems research (FSR). FSR is predicated on a systems orientation,
but for most practitioners, the boundary of this system is carefully
deliniated at the farm level. Although off-farm activities are recognized as
important, household decision-making is assumed to depend on and to revolve
around cropping and livestock activities. Broader political and economic
structures are usually accepted as givens and their influence on farm-level
decision-making is not fully investigated. The singular focus on the farming
activities of the household leads to development strategies based on new or
improved agricultural techniques and technologies designed to overcome
local-level production and utilization constraints (DeWalt 1985; Shaner et al.
This paper draws attention to the limitations of this conceptual framework
through a case study of the evolution of the farming system in Hsin Hsing, a
village in Chang-hua county, Taiwan, between 1958 and 1979.1 A longitudinal
analysis suggests that change in the agrarian structure has been mediated by a
complex series of interactions between the agricultural and industrial sectors
of society brought about by the government's development strategies and the
broader process of the internationalization of capital. Although most village
households continue to farm, few depend on farming alone. Farming and
off-farm work have become inextricably intertwined in which we have termed the
household enterprise. Changes in inter- and intra-household dynamics in the
village are considered within this framework.
HSIN HSING VILLAGE, 1958-1979
Hsin Hsing is a nucleated village located beside a road that runs between
two market towns, approximately 125 miles southwest of Taiwan's major city,
Taipei. Its people are Hokkien (Minnan) speakers whose ancestors emigrated
from Fukien, China, several hundred years ago. Within the village, the
household is the basic socioeconomic unit. As in the rest of China, such a
household takes one of three forms: conjugal, stem, or joint. The conjugal
family household consists of a husband, wife, and their unmarried children;
the joint family household adds two or more married sons and their wives and
children to this core group. The stem family household a form that lies
between the conjugal and joint family types includes parents, their
unmarried offspring, and one married son with his wife and children.
In 1958 the registered population of the village was 609 people in
ninety-nine households or economic units chiaa). Approximately four-fifths of
the population was between the ages of one and forty-four years, and slightly
less than half was male (Table 1). Conjugal family households predominated,
accounting for 66 percent of village households (56 percent of the
population). In contrast, only 5 percent of village family households (10
percent of the population) were of the joint type, while the remaining 29
percent of family households (35 percent of the population) were stem units.
Land tenancy was widespread among villages before implementation of the
Land Reform Program of 1949-1953 a program designed by the government both
to ensure political stability (Ho 1978:162) and to strengthen agriculture as a
base for industrialization (ibid.:175).2 Prior to the land reform, 58
percent of the land was cultivated by tenant farmers. In contrast, by 1957
only 27 percent of the land was farmed by tenants. Despite this change in the
tenancy/ownership ratio, most families cultivated farms far too small to
support all family members.3
No significant industries or job opportunities existed locally to provide
supplemental income to absorb the excess labor produced by a growing
population on a finite land base. Thus, during the 1950s, almost all families
were full-time agriculturalists, deriving most of their livelihood from two
crops of rice, marketable vegetables grown in a third crop, and, in some
cases, wages from farm labor or remittances from migrants. Men worked in the
fields, taking care of tasks such as plowing, harrowing, transplanting, and
harvesting--tasks women were considered incapable of performing. Men also
assumed responsibility for the care of the more valuable livestock such as
oxen, which provided the major draft power in plowing and hauling as well as
"backyard fertilizer" to meet agricultural demands. Women managed the house
and children, raised poultry, grew vegetables in small garden plots, helped
with agricultural chores such as weeding fields or drying rice, dried and
preserved crops, and, in their "spare time," wove fiber hats at home to
supplement the household income.
Wet rice cultivation, however, requires cooperation beyond the household
level to meet labor demands at various stages of the rice production process
(Huang 1981:32, 64-65). Extra laborers are needed at transplanting and
harvesting so that these tasks can be completed within a short time span.
Cooperation is also required to ensure an adequate water supply from the
irrigation system. Thus, although household members formed the core of the
management unit, the farm system also included kinsmen and neighbors who
participated in collective labor in addition to working their own land.
This situation in the village began to change in the late 1950s and early
1960s as the growing intensity of population pressure on the land created
problems of underemployment and farms too small to support household members.
Increasing numbers of village males-began to migrate to the larger cities of
the province to seek jobs and supplemental income (Gallin and Gallin 1974).
During the earliest phase of this population shift, migrants tended to be
older, married men. Some eventually brought their wives and children to the
city. Others continued to maintain'their families in the village while they
worked away from home. As a result, the population of the village in 1965 was
different in some--though not all--ways from the population in 1958.4
The number of people resident in Hsin Hsing remained fairly constant over
the seven years from 1958 to 1965 (see Table 1). Approximately four-fifths of
the resident population continued to be between the ages of one and forty-five
years, but the percentage of the population aged sixteen to forty-five years
decreased slightly. The percentage of males dropped from 48.7 percent to 44.9
percent, and more striking, only 34 percent of the sixteen- to
forty-four-year-old cohort was male'.
The emigration of males added responsibility for the household farm to
women's traditional responsibilities. Married women became farm managers.
They hired people to plow, to transplant seedlings, to weed, and, if the men
could not leave their work in the city, to harvest the crops. They also paid
wages and taxes and arranged to exchange rice for fertilizer under a
government "barter system."5 In addition, they spent a great deal of time
in the fields supervising laborers or checking the flow of irrigation water.
Women, in short, became primary farm managers rather than an auxiliary labor
force within agriculture, assuming responsibilities formerly monopolized by
the men of their households.
The new sexual division of labor occasioned by the migration of men was
facilitated by Taiwan's land consolidation program begun in 1962. As farm
labor was extracted from the rural areas to fuel industrialization, the
government began taking steps toward replacing human labor with farm machines
(Ho 1978:159; Huang 1981:121-128). It rebuilt the physical structure of farm
land, consolidating scattered, fragmented holdings and reorganizing irrigation
systems and roads to establish the precondition for farm mechanization. In
addition to making it possible for farmers to eventually use farm machinery,
this reworking of the landscape also reduced labor demands in the rice-growing
season by requiring less labor for travel to scattered plots, for
transportation of farm tools to and harvests from the fields, and for
monitoring irrigation water. The program thus made possible changes in farm
management that contributed to the feminization of agriculture.
As migration out of the village continued throughout the 1960s, labor
shortages became acute, farm profits decreased, and agricultural production
declined. (In Taiwan as a whole, production leveled off and varied by a small
amount from year to year in the late 1960s [see Taiwan Statistical Data Book
1979:59]). This decline in production might well have continued but for
certain international and national developments in the 1970s.
The spur for change had come originally from the influx of foreign capital
in response to the government's policy of export-oriented industrialization.
Industrialization had brought about rapid urbanization and migration from
rural areas to the cities. But industrialization had not been restricted to a
few urban centers in Taiwan. During the 1960s, industry began to disperse to
the countryside to gain access to low-cost labor and raw materials. By 1971,
50 percent of the industrial and commercial establishments and 55 percent of
the manufacturing firms in Taiwan were located in rural areas (Ho 1979).6
The move of industry to the countryside was accelerated in 1973 by the
government's implementation of policies to spur rural development (see Yu
1977). Large segments of the rural population had been absorbed by urban
industry, and the value of a farmer's production in 1972 was only one-fifth
that of a non-farm worker's production (Huang 1981:3). To stem the stagnation
of agriculture, the government abolished the rice-fertilizer barter system in
1972 and instituted a guaranteed rice price in 1973. In 1973 the government
also enacted the "Accelerated Rural Development Program" to stimulate farm
mechanization (Yu 1977).
The enactment of this policy, which created a climate in which farmers
believed they could derive profits from the cultivation of their land, was
followed by the oil crisis of 1974 and the world recession and inflation of
1974-1975. These events, in combination with the resultant changes in the
world market, slowed the pace of industrialization in the cities of Taiwan
(Taiwan Statistical Data Book 1979:78). More than 200,000 urban workers lost
their jobs (Huang 1981:163) as some factories shut down and others cut back
production. As a result, the city began to lose the aura of El Dorado and the
countryside began to acquire one of promise.
A comparison of the structure of the village population in 1979 with
the population in 1958 and in 1965 suggests one result of these developments.
By 1979 only 383 people lived in Hsin Hsing, but the proportion of males had
increased to 50.9 percent. More striking, males constituted 51 percent of the
sixteen- to forty-four-year-old cohort, approximately one and one-half times
the percentage of males in this cohort in 1965. In part, this difference
reflected a decrease in male emigration and an increase in the migration of
unmarried females to urban areas. But the difference also indicated the
return of earlier emigrants in response to rising costs and intense
competition for jobs in the cities, relative to rural areas.
Further examination of the data suggests another way in which the
villagers responded to national and international developments. By 1979,
conjugal family households no longer predominated in the village; only 45
percent of households (30 percent of the population) were of the simple type.
Fully 18 percent of family households (34 percent of the population) were of
the joint type, while the remaining 37 percent of family households (36
percent of the population) were of the stem form.
The reasons for this growth in joint family households have been
documented in detail elsewhere (Gallin and Gallin 1982a; R. Gallin 1984a and
1984b). Suffice it to say that the villagers believed that this type of
household provided the means for socioeconomic success in a changing world. A
household that included many potential wage workers, as well as other members
who could manage the household, supervise children, and care for the land, had
a better chance of diversifying economically than did a household of small
Demographic changes, then, paralleled changes in the economic system of
the area and village. Labor-intensive factories, service shops, retail
stores, and construction companies burgeoned in the market towns and rural
countryside. By 1979, seven small satellite factories, three artisan
workshops, and twenty-six shops and small businesses had been established in
Hsin Hsing (Gallin and Gallin 1982b). Four-fifths (79.7 percent) of the
village men and over one-half (54.4 percent) of the women in the productive
ages were engaged in off-farm economic activities.
But this does not mean that off-farm employment supplanted agricultural
work as the sole occupation of village households. Fully 83.6 percent of the
village households continued to farm, but, of these, only 6.6 percent (or 5.5%
of the total village households) depended on farming alone (Table 2).
Households engaged in both farming and off-farm work were by far the most
common (78.1 percent) in Hsin Hsing in 1979. Only 13.7 percent of.village
households were engaged solely in off-farm work.
One reason so few households depended solely on farming to support
themselves was that they considered farming an unprofitable venture. On
average, Hsin Hsing farmers realized less than NT$2,000 (US $55) from the rice
they grew on .097 hectare of land in 1978. Moreover, family farms had
decreased in size as a result of traditional inheritance patterns and the lack
of an open, liquid land market after the Land Reform. In 1979, the average
acreage tilled by a farming household was about .078 hectare per person, a
considerable decrease from the .116 hectare per person cultivated in 1957.7
Nevertheless, Hsin Hsing farmers continued to cultivate the land
because: 1) it was "a resource that must be used"; 2) it was a source of food,
specifically rice; 3) taxes levied on it had to be paid; and 4) additional
taxes were imposed if it was not cultivated. In economic terms, then, the
farmers' marginal incomes were greater than their marginal costs. That is,
the costs to them of not cultivating the land were higher than the costs of
cultivating land. To achieve this greater marginal income, however, the
villagers changed their patterns of land use and farm management.
Traditionally, the first and second annual crops were devoted to the
cultivation of rice. In 1978-79, however, only 65.6 percent of Hsin Hsing
farmers cultivated rice during these crop periods (Table 3); 19.9 percent gave
over part of their land surface to the cultivation of vegetables or sugarcane,
and 14.8 percent cultivated no rice at all. Moreover, in the third crop
period traditionally devoted to the cultivation of vegetables for marketing
- more than one-third (36.1 percent) allowed their land to lie fallow. These
changes in patterns of land use were related to changes in patterns of farm
We noted that, in the 1960s, the migration of men and the assumption by
women of a major responsibility for the cultivation of rice had undermined the
traditional pattern of work done by farm households and patterns of
cooperation among households. The introduction of power tillers, threshers,
and harvesters rang the death knell for inter-household cooperative labor and
led to increasing task specialization. Men with capital and technical
knowledge bought the machines and moved around the countryside, performing
work for individual farmers on specific days.8
The introduction of the power tiller which is used to transport
materials, tools, and crops as well as to till the land was accompanied by
the demise of the village cattle population; only one ox remained in Hsin
Hsing in 1979 and it was kept as a "pet." The disappearance of cattle from
the village increased the use of chemical fertilizer, although this was not
the only factor responsible for rising fertilizer consumption. The
abolishment of the barter system in 1972 lowered the price of chemical
fertilizer and heightened its use.
Yet other innovations affected farm management practices. Herbicides
were introduced to eliminate weeds, thereby reducing the time women spent in
this arduous field task. Tube wells, operated by diesel engines, replaced
human energy in obtaining irrigation water. The operation of this equipment,
however, was monopolized by men; they had been taught to operate it by
extension agents and they believed "it is just as easy to operate it ourselves
as to teach the women how to do it."
In short, the mechanization and chemicalization of agriculture led to a
shift from animal and human to fossil energy. But it did not displace women
from the land; some women continued to serve as farm managers, hiring and
supervising the agricultural labor force in the absence of their husbands who
worked off-farm. Other women came under the direction of a male manager,
engaging in farming tasks and supervising paid laborers. These tasks,
however, increasingly became the work of older women who assumed the role
responsibilities of their daughters-in-law to release them for off-farm
employment (see R. Gallin 1984a).
Households without such a supportive network adopted other strategies
to promote their well-being. They used their small amounts of land in ways to
obtain the largest amount of income from it. Some increased the amount of
sugar cane they grew. Because the government-owned Taiwan Sugar Corporation
assumed most of the responsibility for cane cultivation, men could work
off-farm while women tended to the irrigation of the.fields. Others increased
the amount of vegetables they grew, the men drawing upon the labor of their
wives and children to help them in production. .In contrast to Gleason's
(1985) findings, then, households chose labor-intensive production when female
labor was less, rather than more, available.
In sum, the policies adopted by the government to foster economic
growth were accompanied by profound changes in Hsin Hsing's farming system.
The penetration of the industrial labor market and technological advance led
to the reorganization of inter- and intra-household relationships. Increasing
involvement in off-farm employment by Hsin Hsing villagers was accompanied by
the demise of kin and neighbor-based cooperative labor groups and changes in
the sexual and generational division of labor. Agricultural tasks formerly
done by farm households or related households were performed by a few paid
specialists. Managerial positions previously restricted to men were held by
women. Farm work originally carried out by younger women was conducted by
older women. In the course of adapting to the outcomes of the political
economy of Taiwan, the villagers' work in agriculture and industry became
inextricably intertwined as they strived to ensure the viability,
productivity, and growth of the household enterprise.
This longitudinal study of the evolution of the farming system in Hsin
Hsing has a number of implications for farming systems practitioners. First,
as the case makes clear, the organization of the farming system in the village
at the three points in time (1958, 1965 and 1979) was highly dependent on and
could not be understood apart from developments in other sectors of the
economy. For example, out migration of males in the early 1960s, occasioned
by the government's policy of industrialization, set in motion a series of
changes in the social organization of the productive process resulting in the
decline of inter-household cooperative labor and the increased involvement of
women as farm managers. By the mid-1970s, government agricultural policies
and the spread of industry to rural areas had brought about labor shortages in
the agricultural sector, resulting in production stagnations and declines.
Although most households in Hsin Hsing continued to farm, in nearly all cases,
farming was combined with, and conditioned by, off-farm employment. Both
farming and off-farm employment had become essential components in what we
have termed the household enterprise. Although this specific configuration of
events may be unique to Taiwan, the underlying processes are not and have been
documented in other contexts (Ferguson and Horn 1985). This suggests that
there are strong arguments for viewing off-farm activities as central rather
than as tangential to a farming systems approach.
Second, this case study showed how changes in the agricultural
production process were mediated by alterations in household or family
organization. There was more involved here than changes in family size and
composition over the household developmental cycle. The Hsin Hsing material
demonstrates alterations in the prevalence of different household types over a
twenty year period in'tandem with changes in the national economy. In 1958,
the conjugal family household was the most prevalent in the village, but, by
1979, less than half of the village households were conjugal units and the
number of stem and joint family households had grown. Household structure was
both influenced by larger processes of economic development
(industrialization, out-migration) and exerted an influence on the paths this
development took. For example, in 1979 household organization was affected in
part by local employment opportunities in industry and itself influenced farm
management practices. Stem and joint'family households, having different
kinds of labor resources, were involved in different kinds of agricultural
production and labor allocation practices than were conjugal family
households. This case study, then, suggests that farming systems
practitioners should gather information on the range of household types. It
is within this context that the division of labor by gender and age and its
implications for technological development can best be analyzed.
1. The-research, carried out by B. and R.S. Gallin, covers the period from
1957 to 1982. The first field trip, in 1957-58, involved a
seventeen-month residence in the village. This was followed by two
separate studies, in 1965-66 and 1969-70, of out-migrants from the
area. The latest research spanned two months in 1977, six months in
1979, and one month in 1982. During these visits, the Gallins
collected data using both anthropological and sociological techniques,
including participant observation, in depth interviews, surveys,
censuses, and collection of official statistics contained in family,
land, school and economic records.
2. The'program began with a 1949 law, "Regulations Governing the Lease of
Private Farm Lands in Taiwan Province," which provided for a ceiling on
farm rental of 37.5 percent of a predetermined estimated yield and
proceeded with a "Three Step Program" instituted in 1951. According to
Chang (1954:20), "the first phase, also the mildest reform, seeks
improvement of the tenant's living without overthrowing the tenancy
system or changing the tenant's status. The second phase, the
converting of a fraction of tenants into owner-farmers by selling
public land to them, may be taken as a trial or transitional stage.
The third phase, Land-to-the-Tiller, aims at turning all tenants into
owner-farmers the last and final goal of land reform. (See also
B. Gallin 1966:93-98 for a discussion of the land reform program.)
3. In 1957, 45 percent of the village families cultivated below .5 hectare
and 84 percent cultivated below 1.0 hectare. Put another way, on the
average .12 chia of land was cultivated per person in the village.
(One chia equals about 2.39 acres or .969 hectares.) (See B. Gallin
1966 for a detailed description of the village during this period.)
4. The sources of the data contained in Table 1 differ as indicated.
Correlation with other statistical materials, however, confirmed the
accuracy and comparability of the two data sets. These materials
included enumerations based on the Gallin's own surveys and field
interviews with individual village family units cultivating land,
maintaining 14vestock, and owning farm implements.
5. The rice-fertilizer barter system, begun in 1950, was an official
government program by which farmers received chemical fertilizer on the
basis of land cultivated in exchange for fixed amounts of rice through
local Farmers' Associations acting as agents for the Provincial Food
Bureau. Ho (1978:181) has suggested that "the high price of
fertilizers was in part a consequence of the government's policy to
subsidize industrialization at the expense of agriculture."
6. Ho's data are not disaggregated by area, but the Gallins' observations
suggest that throughout the 1960s industry mainly penetrated towns and
rural areas within commuting distance to cities, not the more distant
countryside such as the village area studied.
7. In Taiwan, as a whole, the average farm size decreased by half between
1939 and 1970, from about 2 hectares to less than 1 hectare (Ho
8. According to Gleason (1985:14), farm mechanization in Taiwan displaces
women from agriculture. If Gleason worked with Hakka women, this may
be the case; women from this ethnic group play a comparatively greater
productive role in agriculture than Hokkien women (Cohen 1976:54). In
the case of the Hokkien community of Hsin Hsing, however, farm
mechanization did not displace women from agriculture. Rather, it
turned over certain tasks traditionally performed by male farmers to a
few male specialists.
of Hsin Hsing by
Period and Age, 1958-79
1958 1965 1979
Age N % N % N %
1 15 . . 269 44.2 237 46.8 151 39.4
16 44. ......... 235 38.6 166 32.8 129 33.7
45 64. .......... 90 14.8 78 15.4 78 20.4
65 and older ........ 15 2.5 25 4.9 25 6.5
TOTAL . .. 609 100.0 506 100.0 383 100.0
SEX RATIO . 95 82 113
Sources: 1958, Household record book, Pu Yen Township Public Office; 1965 and
1979, Field Interviews
Note: The figures for 1958 are for all people registered as members of
Hsin Hsing households, regardless of whether they were resident or
only registered there. An estimated 509 people actually lived in
Hsin Hsing in 1958. The figures for 1965 and 1979 record only
people resident in the village. In 1965, 612 people were registered
as members of Hsin Hsing households, compared to 606 people in
1979. Totals of percentages may not add up to 100 because of
Occupations of Hsin Hsing Households, 1979
Occupation N %
Farming only . . ...
off-farm work. ..
Off-farm work only .
Retired. . .
Source: Field interviews, 1979
Land Use of 61 Farming Households,
Hsin Hsing, 1978-79
Crop N %
First and Second:
Rice only . . . 40 65.6
Rice and vegetables . . 6 9.8
Rice and sugar cane . . 6 9.8
Sugar cane only . . 9 14.8
Sugar cane. .. .. .15 24.6
Vegetables. .. . . .. 24 39.3
Fallow. . . . 22 36.1
Source: Field interviews, 1979
Note: Because sugar cane takes 18 months to mature, the 15 households raising
this crop during the third growing season may include households that
grew sugar cane in the first two cropping periods.
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