WOMEN, MIGRATION AND THE DECLINE
OF SMALLHOLDER AGRICULTURE
by Elsa M. Chaney
and Martha W. Lewis
Paper Presented to the Board for
International Food and Agricultural
Development, Washington, D. C.
This Report was prepared for the Office of Women in Development, United
States Agency for International Development, AID/OTR 147 80 94.
The views and interpretations are those of the authors and should not be
attributed to USAID or to any individual acting on its behalf.
In the total world food supply picture, small farmers play a crucial role, parti-
cularly in less-developed countries and in production of food for the poor.
Smallholder systems are being undermined by many forces, and the implications
for future food supplies are ominous. Women's participation in the smallholder
sector is central; overlooking it can distort development efforts to strengthen
this primary source of food and social stability.
Migration is a major ingredient in the decline of smallholder agriculture. The
family farm and the community suffer from the loss of labor when young men
leave to work as wage laborers in agriculture or in distant cities or countries.
With cash remittances, the family left behind must shift production and consump-
tion patterns. A dependency on remittances develops, resulting in loss of self-
sufficiency both in food production and material necessities. With this new
cash-created dependency comes a breakdown in the worksharing systems that
have been a factor in holding the community fabric together, and a reluctance to
take up agriculture again if the migrants return.
Agricultural development programs sometimes threaten rural economies as well
as smallholder agriculture. When agricultural production is directed towards
export, foreign exchange earnings often go for purchased luxury goods and imported
food for urban consumers. Modernization and mechanization usually mean less
employment in agriculture; for those who continue to work in that sector, a
changeover to purchased food from traditional home-produced food frequently
results in lower nutritional levels.
Projections of world food supply indicate that there will be serious shortages,
particularly for Third World countries. This will mean inadequate nutrition levels
for millions of poor people.
There now is a body of development literature documenting women's contribution
to agricultural production and making it "visible. The picture that emerges is
that women predominate in food cropping, in subsistence agriculture, in hoe
cultivation. When production is commercial, based on a mechanized system or
on the plow, men are in control.
Neither rural women themselves or agricultural economists judge women's labor
in food production by the same standards as men's work on crops that are sold.
Besides ignoring women's contributions in planting, weeding and harvesting,
economists evaluating agricultural productivity overlook the support tasks per-
formed by women: fetching and carrying, feeding laborers, caring for small
animals, producing and reproducing the labor force -- their own labor power,
their partner's and their children's.
S Chaney and Lewis Executive Summary ii
Recognition of the role women play as food producers still is inadequate for re-
sponsible development planning. Major works on agricultural development over-
look completely this key factor in production. Yet many studies exist documenting
women's capabilities in farm production and management -- if they have sufficient
support and inputs. Scholars on migration see the pattern of women staying be-
hind as a strategy to preserve the "patrimony" on the land; to keep the smallholding
as a social and economic security factor for the family; to make a home in which
to raise and feed the children -- and often to send food to relatives in the towns
because their wages sometimes do not cover all their expenses. When men mi-
grate, the women carry on the farming somehow (taking over cash crops as well
as raising the food), but when women leave -- unless they can arrange for a
surrogate mother/housewife -- the farm is abandoned.
Because of the important role women play in family farming, the forces undermin-
ing small farm systems deprive women of an important source of economic produc-
tivity. When families produce for a cash market, the income often is attributed
to the male's labor, goes to his control and is less apt to be spent on improved
nutrition and quality of life for the family.
This paper is not solely an argument for equity or for the recognition of the spe-
cific contributions women make to food production. Rather, it suggests that any
policies designed to increase food for the poor will not succeed unless they take
into account women's role as food producer and, preeminently, as producer of food
for the poor.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A. Smallholder Agriculture and While the productive potential of small family
Food Production farming systems is increasingly recognized,
much remains to be learned. Research and
development efforts have concentrated on the crops and technologies of larger
and mechanized systems. World food needs demand that greater emphasis be
placed on research and development studies on small farming systems with
1. Improving growing methods and varieties of crops grown on small-
holdings, with special emphasis on women's crops.
2. Developing appropriate production, harvesting and processing machines
and tools for small fields and terraces -- designed for family use.
3. Designing small systems in which the crops grown are food crops
the family needs for improved nutrition.
4. Studying the economics of small farms to measure the value of foods
and services provided outside the cash economy.
5. Assessing the social and psychological contributions to health and
stability of rural society provided by smallholder farming systems.
6. Describing and analyzing smallholder survival strategies which in-
clude a creative mix ,of off-farm employment, food production, manu-
facture of items for sale or barter, etc.
When agricultural development projects are designed, consideration should be
given to their impact on small farm systems, national food supply and parti-
cularly the effects on the supply of foods poor people eat.
B. Women's Contributions in Women's contributions in agricultural produc-
Smallholder Systems tion -- especially in food crops -- has been in-
visible to economists and planners. Equity and
successful agricultural development demand:
1. Learning in exact detail, through time allocation studies and other
methodologies, what women contribute in smallholder systems.
2. Modernizing strategies in which the value of women's food production
and processing roles are recognized, and in which they are given the
Chaney and Lewis Conclusions and Recommendations iv
resources -- credit, training, access to inputs, tenure rights --
to strengthen and enhance their productive efforts.
3. Mechanisms to foster the organization of rural women so that they
can begin to define their own needs, discover or invent ways to
help themselves, and pressure the political system for the supports
and services they and their communities need.
4. Creation of simple materials on the interface among nutrition,
health, food production and food consumption.
5. Training of rural workers beyond "home economics" to give instruc-
tion in nutrition and health linked to vegetable gardening and staple
6. Studies of wild foods, their nutritional contribution and role in family
C. Effects of Male Outmigration A great deal of study has gone into
on Food Systems/Women's Work exploring the impact of migration on
urban areas and on individual migrants.
Little has been done on the effects of migration on the people, particularly the
women, left behind. We need:
1. Detailed analyses of the effects of male absence on women's work
load, and particularly on women's food production efforts.
2. Policies and programs to strengthen and enhance women's work in
family food production, and to ease their burdens.
3. Assistance to women in carrying out cost/benefit calculations on
their own cash-conserving and cash-earning options, so that
they can decide the opportunity costs of whatever possibilities
may be open to them in food production, wage employment, etc.
4. Cash-earning opportunities for women which combine with their
I. THE DECLINE OF SMALLHOLDER AGRICULTURE AND WORLD FOOD SUPPLY
Introduction: Hunger and malnutrition among the rural and urban poor in many
countries continue despite years of agricultural and industrial development pro-
grams and substantial real progress in enlarging the gross product and raising
productivity. Apparently there is a failure in the anticipated linkage between
general economic development and the advancement of welfare for many in the
population. In a reappraisal stimulated by these conditions, development experts
are taking another look at smallholder food production systems for values perhaps
overlooked in efforts to push world agriculture into large-scale, capital-intensive
modes of production. Ironically, this interest arises at the same time there are
forces undermining smallholder systems and actually causing the abandonment of
land. (Wortman and Cummings [1978 ] is one reexamination of these issues.)
In this paper, we argue that migration of males to cash-earning opportuni-
ties off the farm is one major ingredient endangering smallholder agriculture,
and particularly the production of local food. In Part I, we discuss the reasons
smallholder agriculture appears to be losing ground, and the effects on the food sup-
ply and the nutritional status of the poor. In Part II, the emphasis is on women's
role in small farm systems, especially their preeminence in food production. We
cite evidence that the absence of able-bodied men puts enormous burdens on the
women left behind to carry on the agricultural work and care for their families. As
Chaney and Lewis 4 Page 2
a consequence, the production unit may decline, and sometimes is abandoned.
This paper is not a treatise on the productive superiority of smallholder
over large, capital-intensive agricultural systems. Rather, it suggests that
smallholder farms play an important role in producing food for the poor, in rural
income distribution, in sustaining family and kinship networks, and as a productive
asset for rural women. In many world regions, women grow the family food. If
they have access to land, women's economic power may be greater than in wage
labor, and they have a security factor on which to rely if their jobs disappear.
We do not advocate that women should choose to raise food instead of income-
earning activities in all cases. Often women will decide to do both, if they have the
opportunity. Rather, we are suggesting a careful cost/benefit analysis of wage em-
.ployment and family food production both by designers of projects and the women
themselves.2 There are high economic and social opportunity costs in depending on
IThere are many experts, however, who do assert the productive efficiency of
small farms. The World Bank (1980: 42) reports "wide-ranging evidence that (com-
paring similar types of agriculture) smaller farms outperform larger farms in value
added per acre. In a Scientific American issue on food, Scrimshaw and Taylor
(1980: 88) note that "yields per acre are usually higher on smallholdings than they
are on larger farms since families use their many hands to exploit what we have
described as the intensive margin. Nor is it always the case that small farms can
be consolidated into larger entities. Much of the land abandonment and production
decline about which we write is associated with hill and/or poorer land where mechan-
ized systems cannot be introduced, yet where labor-intensive efforts and improved
farm practices on terraced hillsides result in productive enterprises.
2Women already are beginning to make such analyses. Rogers (1980: 143-47)
sees women's desire to strengthen their control over the subsistence sector as a
conscious, countervailing strategy to men's virtual monopolization of cash crops;
she agrees with Pala's (1976: 22) contention that far from being a retreat to traditional
work, women's efforts to build up their control over subsistence sector activities has
meant increased numbers of women doing what was traditionally men's work in agri-
culture. She observes that if women lose even this asset to the demands of men for
their land and labor, they may be in a much more disadvantaged position.
Chaney and Lewis Page 3
cash to buy food. Moreover, the wage-earning equivalent of home-produced food
is rising as world food supplies tighten and prices soar -- a trend that will pro-
bably continue for many years.
Smallholder agriculture is declining in many developing countries because
of forces not necessarily related to its social and economic value (we discuss some
of them in the next section)., This decline has disastrous .effects on nutrition be-
cause small cultivators produce many food items in the diets of the poor -- for
example, tropical root crops such as yam and cassava, and plantain which grow
easily and cheaply on small holdings (Berg 1980: 25). According to a World Bank
study (1979: 3), cassava is a major source of calories for 300 million people, many
of whom are rural and poor. Food grains such as wheat and corn, while cheap
on the world market, are often beyond the reach of the poor because their countries
lack foreign exchange to import grains or the ability to subsidize their sale to con-
sumers. Government programs to encourage food production (as in the Green Re-
volution) have had hurtful consequences; for example, high fixed selling prices to
encourage the production of grain can lead to a drop in legume production which
affects the marginal diet of low-income groups (Scrimshaw and Taylor 1980: 83).
The decline of the small farm sector causes (and at the same time is itself
accelerated by) the outmigration of male farmers and increasing burdens on the
women left behind. Women must manage the household and care for the family,
but also provide the family food and produce the cash crops. Remittances from
family members who have migrated may be irregular and inadequate, and at times
may cease altogether.
Chaney and Lewis Page 4
There is some evidence that women -- most often left without secure
title to land, credit, inputs and extension services -- may find the workload so
onerous that they take their children and also leave the rural areas for the towns.
Not only is the food supply in some countries seriously endangered by migration,
but the existence of the small farm sector itself is in jeopardy. In some regions,
there are increasing numbers of abandoned farms and unused agricultural lands.
In other areas, large farms have swallowed up small farms. Often these large
enterprises do not produce food for people of the region or nation, but rather food
and other crops for export. For example, fresh vegetables for the U.S. market
grow in Mexico on land formerly producing local traditional foods, and Egyptian
agriculture has shifted to supply the European market and the Egyptian middle class.
Developing nations can ill afford to lose the crucial contribution small farm
systems make to food supply. Agricultural policies sensitive to food and nutrition
of the poor must address not only the general problems faced by small farmers, but
in particular must devise strategies to encourage and enhance women's contribution
to this sector. Lack of understanding of the roles women perform, and lack of
support and services to women left behind on the land as men are forced to migrate
because of insufficient farm income, exacerbate the decline of smallholder agri-
culture in many world areas.
Smallholder -Agriculture: Smallholder agriculture is the production system evolved
Sector in Trouble
by rural families living on the land to provide their basic
human needs of food, clothing, shelter, security for the young and the old, and other
family supports. It is a complex of interdependencies based upon a variety of
Chaney and Lewis Page 5
contributions from family members -- physical strength, judgment and experience,
intuition and imagination, light labor and heavy labor. Production above household
needs is sold, bartered for other kinds of food or family needs, given away or fed
to animals to be converted into animal protein food.
The household on the small farm is not always the stereotypical (in U. S. terms)
family: father, mother and children. Often elderly parents and other kin live in the
household. Other kin who contribute vital support to the family may not live in the
household -- they may be away permanently or temporarily doing migratory labor.
According to Safilios-Rothschild (1980), in many developing countries adult females
head 30 to 40 percent of rural households.. One study of village women in Ghana found
that 65 percent of women over 18 are solely responsible for their children's daily
nutrition and other requirements (Bukh 1979).
The smallholder system is vulnerable on a number of fronts, not all of which
will be treated in detaiL here. Among these are natural calamities such as drought,
hurricane and flood; erosion of land and destruction of water resources; mistaken
development strategies and issues related to land tenure. This section examines in
particular the effects on small farm systems of migration and of competition from
large, capital-intensive agriculture. The land tenure situation also is reviewed.
Migration affects rural communities in complex, sometimes contradictory
ways. Benefits include relief from overcrowding and underemployment; capital in-
fusions through remittances that make it possible for the family to stay on the land
and to relieve some of the drudgery with labor-saving implements; and fallow, or
"rest" for overcropped, wornout land. Detrimental effects of out-migration on the
smallholder system are the development of dependency on cash from wages or remit-
Chaney and Lewis Page 6
remittances, and consequent loss of self-sufficiency; loss of labor affecting the
capacity of those remaining behind to cope; poorly cared for land and deteriora-
tion of agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation ditches; breakdown of work-
sharing customs; rejection of agriculture as a way of life with the loss of young
adults to the community in their most productive years -- leaving behind women,
children and the old.
Ireland is the classic example of migration-caused decline in agriculture.
As Power (1979: 134) describes it, "once emigration reaches endemic proportions
(as it has in Ireland), a kind of human depression and a social despair sets in,"
leaving a "devastatingly destructive individualism that makes even the simplest co-
operative venture... extraordinarily difficult." Colvin, et al. (1980) talk of the
deprivation, sadness, decline and despair which permeate the social atmosphere
in regions of male out-migration in the Senegambia, particularly in Mali and Mauri-
tania. The authors also make the point that not only are some regions being emptied
out, but that whole countries are becoming peripheral -- with their only export
Since migrants [from Mali are predominantly males in their most
active ages from twenty to thirty-five years, their absence has a
serious effect on the age and sex structure of the population in the
Many efforts to assess the costs and benefits associated with international
migration are underway. There is some evidence that the developed nations have
gained more from labor migration. They secure a cheap, flexible labor force,
workers in their most vigorous years, and they avoid the social costs of rearing
and educating them, however minimally, as well as caring for them in old age if
they do return home. Some argue that sending countries also gain: a safety valve
for excess population, for example, as well as remittances which ease foreign
exchange shortages. Others counter that such "benefits" are illusory since most
remittances are spent on inflationary consumer goods, and few countries have
figured out how to capture remittances for productive investment.
Chaney and Lewis Page 6a
areas of origin. This is most notable in the Sonike areas where
average male migration is near 40-50%, and some villages ex-
perience absentee rates of up to 70% of the active male popula-
tion. In the absence of men the work devolves on women, child-
ren and the old people and deteriorates in both quantity and quality
.... The loss of active hands means a net loss of agricultural
produce in the area and the remittances tend to be spent for non-
productive investments rather than agricultural equipment, fer-
tilizer, water supply, processing, or cottage industry ibidd.: 227).
Colvin and her associates profile similar patterns in the other countries of the
Senegambia, in one of the few in-depth treatments of migratory movements and
the effects of the migration on regional economic and social structures, with con-
sistent attention throughout on the impacts on the region's women.
In a study of migration from ten rural Mexican communities, Cornelius
(1976: 14) found a "point of no return" when demographic and economic decline
is beyond reversal (two of the ten communities had reached this point):
There appears.., to be a threshold point in the out-migration process
beyond which the costs of out-migration to the sending community
outweigh:the benefits. As long as close relatives of permanent emi-
grants remain behind, the flow of remittances is likely to continue
and the local economy remains viable. When a large share of these
nuclear family members die or move, an irreversible process of
decline may begin.
Another example of "flight" can be found among the Garifuna of Guatemala, where
traditional male tasks in fishing and cropping were taken over by women when men
left for wage labor. Ten years later women also were migrating and sending back
remittances. Subsistence farming had practically cased (Gonzalez: 1976). Many
more examples could be cited from the literature.
According to a United Nations Development Program report (1980: 26),
30 percent of the economically-active male population of Yemen is working abroad,
Chaney and Lewis Page 7
and some villages are virtually depleted of active males. In poor country after
poor country, migration is having disastrous effects on small farm food produc-
tion. In Jamaica, one sees idle land owned by migrants in New York City or Toronto,
unfarmed because it needs soil conservation treatment no tenant or squatter can
afford (or qualify for under government programs). In the Dominican Republic, one
is told the reason for the idle land is that the farmers are "gone. In the arid
Middle East, irrigation systems have deteriorated from lack of maintenance, and
in Jordan "schemes to develop the Jordan Valley for irrigation are foundering from
lack of manpower" (Birks and Sinclair 1979b: 296). Mueller (1977: 157) notes that
in Lesotho, per capital agricultural output.is declining each year:
There is increasing population pressure on the land which is con-
stantly eroding. Though migrants use their land as a base on which
to house their families and from which to extract what produce they
can, they do not put back into the soil what is necessary to prevent
Migration sometimes results in manmade calamities which also destroy food
production capacity. Haiti is such a manmade calamity. Hills are denuded, soil
eroded, population pressure on land is severe and "continuous mobility and insta-
bility" of the rural people is a permanent condition" (Berggren, et al. 1980: 15).
In Pakistan, according to Birks and Sinclair (1979a: 118), cash remittances from
migrants were spent for water pumps which proliferated; the water was extracted in
such volume and the water table fell so rapidly that "doubts now exist over the future
of water supplies in that area. "
Standing (1979: 46) points out how the introduction of cash exchanges in agri-
cultural systems -- and the necessity to earn cash to pay rent and taxes -- can induce
Chaney and Lewis Page 8
Relaxation of feudal forms of exploitation also means that barriers
to migration are lowered.... the shift from a system of compulsory
labour services to rents in kind (such as sharecropping) increases
the opportunity for the peasant or some member of the peasant
household to become an absentee landholder. For rather than pro-
duce his own allotment, the change implies that the peasant is able
to acquire the means to pay the rent through migration in search of
wage employment, leaving the remainder of the household to pro-
duce the family's subsistence.
Then, as is the case in Yemen (Birks and Sinclair 1979b: 297), as returns to
working abroad begin to exceed those from agriculture, rural people come to view
migrant laboring as their major source of income, "displacing agriculture from the
central focus of their economic lives. ". In Oman, seasonal farming -- particularly
labor-intensive winter wheat production, \has dropped to one-fourth the area under
cultivation twenty years ago because work in the oil fields is so much more lucrative
than food production (ibid.). Many migrants also go abroad to escape the grinding
poverty of agriculture as a way of life. When they return to the family left behind,
they often use their new resources to take up different and easier, higher-status work.
Not only may it be difficult to return to farming because the holding has deteri-
orated in the farmer's absence, but work-sharing systems which make farming
viable may have broken down. Many writers point to the destruction of reciprocity as
another major impediment to continued food production during the time of the
migrant's absence, and to the revival of agriculture upon his return. In Philpott's
study (1973: 103) of migration from Caribbean Monserrat, for example, communal
work sharing, which made heavy rural work more festive, has practically disap-
peared, and land has been abandoned.
The migration of key family members also contributes to the already difficult
question of who decides -on agricultural improvements. In a major soil conservation/
Chaney and Lewis Page 9
small farmer productivity effort in Jamaica, the director pointed to the land tenure
situation and absentee owners as a major difficulty facing this project. Insecure
land tenure can be a disincentive to long-term land improvements such as terracing
and other soil conservation practices, development of irrigation capability, and
planting of tree crops. Firm tenancy or land ownership usually are requirements
for agricultural production credit, as well as credit for land improvement. No one
wants to put time and money into land that can be taken away. Moreover, insecurity
about future tenancy discourages proper care of the soil and water resources, fur-
ther undermining the productivity of the land.
That land reform can increase agricultural productivity is known. Accord-
ing to the World Bank's 1980 Report (p. 41), a land reform usually will increase agri-
cultural output after an initial period of adjustment because "small farmers tend to
apply more labor per hectare and to use land and capital at least as productively as
large farms. Power (1979:151) outlines a series of measures to improve small-
If certain bottlenecks in the production system are removed (the cri-
tical question is the distribution of land), 5 % growth rates in agri-
culture can be achieved... and the 5% growth could be based on the
production potential of the peasant farmers. These bottlenecks
comprise archaic land tenure arrangements, lack of credit; poor
research and extension services; unproductive agricultural tech-
niques; shortages of fertilizer and water supply, and an under-
developed rural-industrial sector.
In addition to questioning the efficacy of large cash-crop food production
systems, experts sometimes have doubts about collective or group production
efforts. Among others, Cohen (1979: n.p.) points to evidence that pro-
ductivity is far higher on the kitchen plots of collective workers than on their team
Chaney and Lewis Page 10
farms. The nagging question, he says, is "whether private land holders actually
have more incentive to care better for their land and increase its productivity
than those who only share in the output of a group production effort. "
S Other difficulties not related to migration beset the smallholder. Competi-
tion from large capital-intensive systems is a factor. As agriculture around it
modernizes, the small farm loses ground if the farmer does not adopt or cannot
afford modern agricultural techniques. The emergence of large landowners and/or
capital-intensive systems can saturate local markets with increased production from
expensive fertilizers, mechanization and technology inputs, driving the small pro-
ducer without capital or access to creditiout of the market. Development models of
the past twenty years have reinforced this trend. In the press for export earnings
and increased yields, more emphasis has been placed on crops that grow well in
mechanized or extensive systems; little or no resources have been invested in re-
search, marketing and processing, or improved seeds and fertilizers for the crops
grown on small farms -- preeminently food crops and particularly foods grown for
people of the region.
The emergence of large operations not only creates overwhelming competi-
tion, but sometimes undermines the viability of small units by siphoning off family
members as wage laborers, further precluding the poor from taking advantage of
new technologies (Standing 1979: 49). Inflated land prices, created by the larger
farmers expanding and by land purchases financed with cash remittances from
family members working off the farm inhibit the smallholder from "rationalizing"
his or her own farm to viable unit size. At the same time, high land prices may in-
duce a family to sell out and move on. -
Chaney and Lewis Page 11
Smallholder Agriculture in If agricultural modernization were producing adequate
Third World Economies
food, and if all people had sufficient purchasing power
to achieve good nutrition levels, concern for the demise of the smallholder might be
just a sentimental exercise. However,: much of the production from large, modern
agricultural enterprises in developing countries goes into export, and export earnings
often are spent on imported luxuries for the middle classes -- liquor and food,
automobiles and gasoline, fashionable clothes and other consumer goods. Decreased
nutrition levels for the rural poor are the result.
Modernization and development affect not only large enterprises, but also can
put the smallholder into non-food cash crops which would, of course, be advantageous
if there were nutritious food to buy at reasonable prices and if small farmers could
count on good returns for their products. In the real situation today, -however, small
farmers would be wise (and need to be encouraged) to keep some degree of food self-
sufficiency. If governments make no alternative plans to grow foods which poor people
eat, it is hard to see how taking smallholders completely out of food production --
either by substituting non-food cash crops or by neglect so that people migrate and
abandon their land -- is a sensible policy.
Food supply projections on Third World agriculture are not encouraging.
For example, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa,
Projections of demand in Africa for food are running ahead of pro-
jections of production with disquieting implications for food prices,
the need for greater imports draining foreign exchange and particu-
larly for the nutritional status of the poor. Estimates are that by
1985 demand for food will be 77 percent higher than in 1970 while
production will have increased by only 45 percent. Concern for the
crisis this will provoke has directed more attention to the produc-
tivity of small farms and the contribution they can make towards
food self-sufficiency (n. d., n.p.).
Chaney and Lewis Page 12
The serious economic implications for Third World countries because of
smallholder agriculture decline are many, as are the implications for human
suffering. Some experts now are saying that the small farm sector deserves re-
appraisal because it has the potential to produce for the urban masses through con-
centration on indigenous resources of land and labor, without resorting to expensive
imported inputs necessary in modern mechanized systems. The full potential of
small farming systems for productivity and for stabilizing or invigorating rural
societies cannot be known, however, until these questions are explored through re-
search and development efforts comparable to those devoted to large farm systems.
It is evident that there are conflicting trends in the food supply/demand pic-
ture in the Third World, and it is precisely here that we need more information.
For example, food production may decline when farmers turn exclusively to cash
crops or migrate to earn cash, lowering food production at the same time that cash
is available from crops or remittances -- and thus creating more demand for food,
higher prices and greater need for more cash (and thus for more migration).
If the small farm family shifts from producing subsistence staples in response
to the attractions of the cash market, effects on the family's nutrition may follow.
Increased income can encourage increased food prices; purchased food is often pro-
cessed food, and the formerly self-sufficient family may have a higher cash flow
and lower nutrition. Families eat a complex variety of foods in rural areas -- some
wild, some randomly-intercropped -- that over the years has evolved into a balanced
diet. They may find it impossible to recombine and achieve the same balance at a
local market. The knowledge of wild foods also can be lost. In Jamaica, urban and
rural people eat a nutritious amaranth called "calaloo" as greens. The same plant
Chaney and Lewis Page 13
grows wild in the mountains of the Dominican Republic where malnourishment is
severe, yet its food potential is unknown or forgotten. Rogers (1980: 146) points
out how the encroachment of forests and waste-land
has resulted in the destruction of large parts of the 'ecological matrix'
on which so many of women's economic activities depended, such as
tending poultry and livestock, straw-plaiting and weaving, or collect-
ing wild plants and spices for home consumption or sale.
As Rogers notes, not only does food for the poor decline with introduction
of world market cash crops or with migration, but related home industries fall by
the wayside as well. When subsistence-producing families begin to live on cash
wages, they develop new consumption patterns. They turn to the market for items
previously produced in the domestic unit -- plastic utensils instead of wooden, deter-
gent instead of soap, polyester readymades instead of cotton homemade clothing.
Many of these items also are imported, using foreign exchange. Standing (1979: 47)
sees the loss of family labor from outmigration as another cause of the decline in
Though out-migration will not lead to a labour shortage in all house-
holds, for very many it will. Often it will do so in a scarcely visi-
ble way, because the initial consequence will be that poorer house-
holds are merely precluded from taking advantage of new productive
opportunities or are forced gradually to abandon traditional domestic
In sum, evidence is mounting, as Kreuger (1980: 20) notes, that with
government and financial emphasis on commercial agriculture for export, the
peasant, economy is destablilized and a food producing potential is undermined,
in addition to the other social and economic disruptions. As he observes,
In spite of government programs intended to increase agricultural
production, Mexico's food imports have increased... by 167 per-
cent during the last six years....If these trends continue, by 1982,
Chaney and Lewis Page 14
34 percent of the money from petroleum will be used for food imports
and by 1990, 72 percent of the oil money will go for food. The night-
mare for some Mexican economists is that Mexico might follow the
pattern set by Venezuela of using oil to buy food, a pattern which not
only depletes non-renewable resources but also destroys campesino
In the discouraging picture sketched above, smallholder agriculture can pro-
vide a safety factor -- a crucial supplement to purchased food,. Imported food and
food aid. In smallholder "mixed farming systems, a combination of crops is
grown to satisfy a variety of food needs, not one or two cash crops which may fail
Small farms utilize a set of survival techniques learned over generations experi-
encing the vagaries of weather and history. As Jerome (1977: 293) puts it, "The
mini-agricultural systems of the subsistence agriculturist demonstrate stability,
self-sufficiency, efficiency, productivity, and richness -- characteristics consis-
tent with health and well-being. "
There is an appropriateness in the developing world of a food production
system that emphasizes human labor increments where labor is abundant. Small-
holder production can reemphasize the wide variety of traditional foods and condi-
ments, and counter the faddism of "modern" foods -- often less nutritious, more
expensive processed foods which have to be imported.
A vigorous smallholder sector also means that savings in foreign exchange
can be achieved through reducing food imports -- both luxury and staple foods. And
with some small farm production, modest amounts of foreign exchange can be earned.
When there are more farm families with incomes and purchasing power, internal
markets for manufactured and craft products can develop in rural areas. King and
Byerlee (cited in Zalla[1979: 4]) found that 84 percent of all increases in consumer
Chaney and Lewis Page 15
expenditures in rural Sierra Leone "are for goods produced in small-scale agri-
culture, fishing, industrial and service sectors."
World Food Supply Global food supply has been growing, and some agricul-
and the Third World Poor
tural experts see technological breakthroughs bringing
even greater increases. Nevertheless, the poor still are vulnerable because their
access to food is governed not only by the world supply, but by their own (and their
governments') purchasing power, especially as food prices rise. Most expectations
are that the period of cheap world food prices (which held except for short periods
of world drought as in 1973-74) is about to end. The great surge in corn production
achieved with the introduction of hybrid seed and short -season varieties has leveled
off. The recent period of abnormally good weather seems to be running its course.
Costs of all inputs are increasing, and the supply of good land and mineral fertilizers
is decreasing. Moreover, in the developing world the demand for food is not inelastic
as in rich countries. There is growing demand for food from the new industrial wage
workers and their families receiving remittances -- new arrivals in the market
World food reserves available for food aid have never been adequately re-
built since the drought of 1973-74. There are conflicting opinions on what consti-
tutes an adequate reserve to meet emergencies and still not depress world prices to
the point of creating disincentives to production. Whatever constitutes an adequate
reserve, there are limits in political will and ability of rich countries to provide
food through disaster aid, concessional sales, food-for-work programs and the like.
Periodic failures in "world market" crops because of drought, disease and
Chaney and Lewis Page 16
disaster precipitate steep price rises for all food: even local foods are much more
expensive, at least while the crisis lasts. Increasing costs (and uncertainties) of
transport because of the rise in oil prices -- as well as unrest and war in oil pro-
ducing regions --ultimately will factor into food prices.
Degredation of the world's resources of productive land has awesome impli-
cations for food supply for everyone. The worst destruction, however, is on hilly
or marginal land where poor people farm. The Sahara is advancing south at a rate
of three-and-one-half miles per year. Topsoil long ago eroded off the hillsides of
the slash-and-burn agriculture of the Caribbean, Central and South America;.the
subsoil now is being washed away. Salts are building up on irrigated land, and
fossil ground water supplies are waning. New lands opened to replace lost acreage
are less productive and more fragile. Disturbing and deforesting them creates n.w
erosion problems of serious consequence.
The dimensions of the food and nutrition problems can be seen in projections
made by the World Bank. In studies using data from five developing countries,
reported on by the Bank's chief nutrition officer, Alan Berg (1980: 24), estimates
based on the most optimistic set of assumptions (high income growth and stable food
prices) show a sharp reduction in the proportion of the population that is under-
nourished, yet over 150 million people still suffering that condition. More realistic
assumptions project a depressing picture.. Berg says ibidd.) that a key conclusion
of this analysis is that "increases in income and in food production are likely to fall
far short of what is required to meet basic needs in nutrition."
It becomes clear that increased production will not necessarily ease the hun-
ger of the poor. Most analyses project increases in demand for food in the years
Chaney and Lewis Page 17
ahead. If these predictions are borne out, the food produced to meet this demand
will be those foods wanted by people with money to pay for it. Foods suitable for
commercial markets, especially for exportation, are principally those crops
grown on large mechanized farms. Many world market crops are not "expensive"
in comparative terms -- no farmers in the world receive less for their wheat and
corn than do U. S. farmers. But without foreign exchange, the Third World poor
have little access to these bargains, nor any assurance that the bargains will always
be available to meet demand.
Food crops are produced in the Third World, however, on small plots with
few inputs other than labor. While such crops return little to the farm family for
their hard work, they are the basic foodstuffs of the family and the poor of the
country. They are cheaply produced. 3 These foods are .he tropical root crops
such as cassava, cocoyam, potato, and yam -- in short, poor people's food.
Berg (1980: 25) estimates that the benefits of a 10 percent increase in the production
of cassava would be received entirely by the calorie-deficient group, whereas a
10 percent increase in the supply of beef would add three times as many calories
to the daily diets of the adequately-nourished as to those of the calorie-deficient.
As he further notes, although poor families spend most of their income on food,
3The small or subsistence farmer is usually in the business of growing food
for his or her family and selling the surplus above family needs for whatever price
,can be gotten. Essentially, small farmers provide a subsidy to the landless and
urban poor in the Third World, much as the developed world's farmers subsidize the
middle class in their countries with cheap food. The exception is in the European
Economic Community and Japan where farmers are assured a fair return and public
policy is directed to maintaining a viable agriculture.
Chaney and Lewis Page 18
...in many countries more than 40 percent of the population has
calorie-deficient diets, and upward of 15 percent have gross defi-
ciencies. Second,- the foods they buy differ markedly from those
bought by the rest of the population. In Indonesia, for instance,
the lowest three income deciles obtain about 40 percent of their
calories from cassava and corn; by contrast, the upper three de-
ciles obtain about 14 percent of their calories from these foods.
Third, and contrary to common assumptions, poor people tend to
have an adequate balance between protein and calories in their
diets even when an important share of their calories comes from
low-protein starchy staples ibidd.: 24).
Some attention to small farm sector food production in ThirdWorld economies
would therefore seem to be warranted, in the light of the precarious world food
situation; problems of adequate supply and distribution to the poorest strata can
be alleviated, at least in part, by some degree of food self-sufficiency provided by
Smallholders in Rural Society Smallholder agriculture is valuable also because it
provides the basis for a healthy rural society. The
economic contribution in a local market for modern sector goods and services that
farm families can make has been mentioned. If the decline can be reversed and
adequate support extended, smallholder agriculture might -- with adequate family
planning -- stabilize the rural population and slow down out-migration. A healthy
rural society could prepare the young who must migrate by giving them the necessary
health, education and emotional strength to be productive members of urban communi-
ties. A strategy. to enhance smallholder agriculture could support a reserve labor
supply in dignity, and prevent premature migration before the urban sector is ready
to provide jobs.
The farm families of the United States were raising and educating the future
Chaney and Lewis Page 19
workers in industry, the professions and business for decades before the massive
migration from rural America that occurred from the 1920s to the end of the
1950s. The exodus took place with relatively little pain (except for the landless
farm workers from the Southeast) because people left farm homes with good skills,
education and health. The story is much the same in post-World War I Japan. A
healthy rural society, supported by adequate returns to agriculture in a small farm
system, sent the surplus children to town prepared to be productive, competent
workers in a modern industrial economy. (Shinpo 1973).
In the less-developed countries today, the rural people are leaving their
homes from weakness, not strength. In the beginning of migration, those with am-
bition and energy often leave first, and the community left behind is even weaker
because of the loss. Because they feel impotent to confront the forces arrayed
against them, Krueger (1980: 20-21) observes, Mexican peasants "migrate to the
already overburdened urban areas or to the norther frontier.... Such rural to
urban exodus causes villages to be abandoned or towns to be inhabited by children
and the aged."
In Africa, migrant workers in the mines are men in their most productive
years -- those years when, if they were home, they might put energy into improving
agricultural practices. Wives left behind are also in the prime of life, but in their
childbearing and rearing years. The burden of keeping the farm going on top of
family responsibilities leaves them little energy for creative development efforts.
Such a cycle becomes self-perpetuating. As Mueller (1977: 78) outlines it in
Lesotho, the father leaves to work in the mines. Food production declines, and the
family fills the gap with cash remittances on which it becomes ever more dependent.
Chaney and Lewis Page 20
With fathers absent, sons are responsible for herding the animals and thus are
unable to attend school regularly. The absent father cannot instruct the son in
animal husbandry; because he hasn't been to school, the boy has neither practical
nor academic education and must also migrate for work. (See also Bryant [1977J.)
Development does not, however, always strengthen rural society if it is
poorly devised. Stavrakis and Marshall (1978: 162) describe the negative changes
in local customs brought on by the rapid rise in sugar cane production in a rural
Belize community. Cash earnings from labor in the sugar cane plantations were used
to purchase food which families formerly had grown in small corn fields and vege-
table gardens. This change resulted in women having less control over productive
resources and becoming more economically dependent upon males. Moreover, many
of the cultural practices of reciprocal food exchanges with relatives were no longer
possiblewithout corn production for chicken and pig feed. Thus, agricultural de-
velopment contributed to undermining family cohesiveness. Such examples could be
multiplied. Another example of undermined family life was related by a rural
development project director in the south of the Dominican Republic. Increased cash
flow did not go into improved quality of life for the farm workers' families, but
rather into rum and "another family" for the men -- not an uncommon occurrence.
Involving women in development planning and giving them more control over the
returns from agricultural production could prevent development results of this kind.
Finally, family farming provides a family with a "security option. People
at the margin have learned to devise a package of survival techniques which may
include keeping one foot on the land, work at one or two outside employment, barter-
ing and trading and, for those who have migrated, a refuge for times of unemployment.
Chaney and Lewis Page 21
II. WOMEN IN SMALLHOLDER AGRICULTURE AND MALE MIGRATION
"Invisibility" of Women's Contri- Any discussion of smallholder agriculture must
bution to Agricultural Production
include attention to the crucial roles women
perform in what still is the basic food system of the world's poor. It is not our
purpose here to document in any detail the range of tasks rural women perform;
a growing body of scholarship is making visible the significant contributions of
women, particularly to the smallholder agricultural sector.
Boserup (1970), de Wilde (1967), Pala (1975), Paulme (1963), Spencer (1976)
and Van Allen (1975) were among the first to summarize the evidence for Africa,
and since then case studies on many countries and tribes demonstrate that women's
labor contributions to agriculture often equal or exceed those of men -- justifying
Boserup's early contention that Africa has a female farming system par excellence
(1970: 16). Goody and Buckley (1973: 108) classify 279 societies in Africa (including
those bordering the Mediterranean) and marshall evidence that women play the major
role in cultivation, or at least an equal role to men, in 71 percent of them.
In the Middle East, there is evidence that women, especially among the poor,
have always played a greater part in agriculture than has been acknowledged (Youssef
1977); with the migration of men from such countries as Yemen and Jordan, women's
participation in agriculture is rising (Azzam 1979: 50). Evidence for Asia is not
so abundant. -Sakala (1980) in her extensive bibliography of South Asian materials
includes some annotated entries, but probably the most complete assessment is
Nelson's survey of the literature (1979). She deplores the fact that the data which
exist are "piecemeal and difficult to put together in any meaningful comparative
Chaney and Lewis Page 22
fashion" ibidd.: 2). However, Goody and Buckley (1973: 109) note that wherever
one finds the hoe in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, women usually play the
dominant role in agriculture. Al-Qazzaz (1977) provides an extensive, annotated
review of women in rural areas of the Middle East and North Africa.--
In Latin America, most experts estimate that women's participation rates
in the agricultural work force are at least 20-30 percent in the Hispanic regions
(much higher than official census figures indicate), and very much greater in the
Andes (Deere 1977; Deere forthcoming; Leon de Leal and Deere 1980; Deere and'
Leo6n de Leal, forthcoming).
A recent article by Irene Tinker (1979: 11-24) pulls together information on
women's agricultural activity from many recent studies, as does the paper prepared
by Chaney, Simmons and Staudt (1979) for the World Conference-on Agrarian Reform
and Rural Development. There are annotated references in Buvenid (1976) and
Rihani (1977), two recent bibliographies on women in development. :Rogers (1980)
is the most recent summation of data from all world regions, and Zeidenstein
(1979) is another good source.
Part of the difficulty in documentation is the fact that in many countries,
women's work in agriculture is "invisible, because women's status is misreported
as "housewife" in census and other statistics when, in fact, women may spend more
time in fieldwork than in housework. Even in Thailand, where women represent 45
percent of the workforce in the official statistics, a Thai scholar (Dr. Amphorn
Meesock Kyunying in National Council of Women of Thailand 1977: 36) observes that
"so much of women's contribution to family income, especially in the rural areas,
is unquantifiable and therefore generally ignored." Nor has the problem been faced of
Chaney and Lewis Page 23
how to count what is produced and consumed on site -- and to calculate the cash
women conserve, especially in growing and processing food.
When women are asked probing questions about what they actually do, how-
ever, they do not confine their descriptions to cooking, fetching water and taking
care of house and children. In a survey of women in two rural villages in Thailand
ibidd.: Appendix II), 73 percent of the women surveyed said their principal occupation
was agriculture: either growing rice, tending crops or raising animals. Only 6
percent said that their main job was "housewife. In Jamaica, a survey in the cen-
tral mountainous region found that 22 percent of the smallholdings are managed
principally by women (U. S. Agency for International Development 1977: 56). Even
when they are not the principal farm operators, however, spouses of male farmers
participate regularly in farm production activities: 47 percent help in most farm
operations, while another 21 percent help at least in planting and harvesting (Jamaica,
Ministry of Agriculture 1977: Table 156). In countries where a strong tradition
exists confining women's role to the domestic sphere, unless survey questions are
carefully constructed, women may self-identify as housewives because they, their
menfolk and their societies perceive this as their only socially-sanctioned role --
even when they spend long hours in agricultural tasks (Deere forthcoming).
Other scattered statisticalevidence now indicates that women's contribution
to farming has been and continues to be far more substantial and more crucial to its
success, particularly in the small farm sector, than either survey or census data
have indicated. Formal counting operations in the past have seriously underestimated
the extent of women's participation in a host of productive activities -- because the
concepts and categories used to define "work" do not capture what Boulding (1977:78)
Chaney and Lewis Page 24
calls the "partial, private and voluntary nature of the within-family income
transfers" in which women engage. However, interpretation of statistical sources
must be cautious. Scott (n. d.: 2-3) has argued persuasively in a recent research
note that the drop in women's agricultural participation in the 1972 Peruvian census
from high rates registered in 1940 may very well be real and not due to faulty
census definitions. Women, she says, over the years have been steadily forced
out of cottage industry (which used to be combined with peasant farming in several
regions of the Peruvian Sierra); out of coastal agriculture as mechanization of some -
processes proceeded (women and children were preferred for jobs such as cotton
picking, rice transplanting and weeding, before machines were introduced), and out
of the Sierra as minifundist agriculture disintegrated. Census data, in fact, show
high rates of outmigration of both women and men from highland areas formerly
typified by peasant farming and cottage industry.
The same explosion of women from paid employment has occurred in many
developing countries; for example, in Brazil census data show that women made up
45.5 percent of the workforce in 1872 (and 35 percent of those in agriculture); by
1920, their numbers had fallen to 15.3 percent of the workforce and only 9.4 per-
cent of those in primary occupations (in the decades between 1960 and 1980, women's
participation in the workforce increased to about 23 percent) (Saffioti 1978: 184-86;
Population Reference Bureau 1980). In Jamaica, women in the agricultural labor
force declined from 49. 2 percent in 1891 to 19. 9 percent in 1943 (there was an
absolute decline in numbers of women farm workers, from 137,600 to 45,600)
(Roberts 1947: 87).
In other countries, women carry on "invisible" agricultural work behind the
Chaney and Lewis Page 25
walls of their compounds -- for example, sorting and storing seed, winnowing
and thrashing grain, as well as processing, shelling, husking, grinding and
pounding all types of grains and nuts; extracting oil from peanuts, palmnuts and
coconuts, and caring for animals. Hill (1972: 121) documents that even under
"strict rural house seclusion," women in the Hausa areas of Northern Nigeria own
about two-thirds of the sheep and goats. In Egypt, Syria, Morrocco, Sudan and
the Yemen Arab Republic, large numbers of women participate in agricultural
work within and outside their compounds (Azzam 1979: 44-45). In Egypt, con-
trary to what the 4 percent official figure implies, according to Smock and Youssef
(1977: 60), women frequently undertake field work, food processing, seeding,
animal husbandry, cutting, weeding, carrying of fertilizer and other agricultural
tasks. As the authors point out, men cannot do some of these tasks "without invit-
ing public disapproval for engaging in what is regarded as a woman's job. An
official of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities recently observed
(Pkrez-Rarmrez 1978: 17) that it is imperative for women's presence in demographic
and other statistics to be "unveiled" in order to provide a more valid base for
development programs -- his remarks have general application, and do not apply
only to women in Muslim societies.
Division of Labor by Sex In all but the poorest strata, where agricultural and
in Agricultural Production
household tasks sometimes are carried out inter-
changeably by women and men, everywhere there appears to be a division of labor
by sex. Such a division is important to document for our purposes here, since
most cultures define the food crops grown for family consumption as a female
---------- ----------- ,
Chaney and Lewis Page 26
responsibility, and the cash crops (whether food or fiber) as male.
Boserup in 1970 (pp. 15-35) suggested an initial division between extensive
(hoe) agriculture, associated with shifting slash-and-burn strategies and engaged
in principally by women growing food, and intensive (plow) agriculture, carried out
primarily by men. As agriculture modernizes, a further division appears: men
generally are in charge of commercial crops (to which women may, however, con-
tribute substantial amounts of labor), and women concentrate their efforts on the
subsistence crops eaten by the family (although'some of these may also be sold).
While "male" and "female" crops may vary by culture, those to be marketed tend to
be perceived as men's, and those destined for the family table as women's (for spe-
culation on how the division of labor in agriculture originated, see Etienne and Lea-
cock [19,J3 esp. 12-16).
-While such classifications may not hold for every culture, some degree of
labor division between the sexes occurs almost everywhere. For example, in Ghana
the situation is much more complex, according to Smock (1977: 202); there, many
female farmers (more than in other African countries) produce a surplus for sale,
and women have never been excluded from cocoa farming, Ghana's principal cash
crop. However, Smock cites several studies which document trends found in Ghana
and elsewhere: female holdings tend to be smaller than male; more females engage
in subsistence foodcrop farming, and there is less opportunity for women to expand
cocoa farming because they cannot so easily get land. In still other areas of Africa,
where the plow is not used, men and women work on a variety of crops (Hill 1972:
121-23). Sometimes the division exists more in perception than in reality: in
Andean rural communities, there is much more:overlap in tasks and greater
Chaney and Lewis Page 27
participation of women in agriculture than the men are willing to acknowledge
(Bourque and Warren, forthcoming).'
Elsewhere, however, increasing numbers of case studies appear to document
the notion that in many cultures, men clear the land and do the initial plowing,
while women plant, weed and help with the harvest. In Jamaica, for example,
on steep hillside farms where it would be difficult to use a plow, the turning of the
soil both for family garden and cash crops usually is done with a fork by a male.
Interestingly, such work often is called "plowing, perhaps in recognition that a
man would do it with a plow if he could. There are many comments when women
"plow" with a fork, because the work is,considered too heavy for them. In several
communities of the Peruvian Andes, women do not touch the plow because of cultural
taboos and social pressures (Bourque and Warren, forthcoming). The division of
labor in the Peruvian Andes appears typical of many other parts of the developing
Here[in the Montaro valley] women do practically all the farming
tasks; hoeing with great clumsy-looking implements, sowing, weeding,
spreading the maize crop to dry, herding cows and sheep. The men
plough with oxen and turn the earth with the ancient Inca "hand plough,"
the chaquitaolla (Wilson-Ercoli 1980: 8-9).
Definition of Male and Female Part of the problem in sorting out the contribution
women make in agriculture, and particularly
their role in food production, is the fact that women perform a range of tasks which
are not defined as strictly "agricultural, but which contribute to the overall farm
enterprise. Women may, for example, wash and repair the soiled clothes of the
fieldworkers (including their own); they may carry lunch to those doing field work
Chaney and Lewis Page 28
(including providing their own food); they may prepare the substantial meals which
in many labor exchange systems are an important part of the compensation for
extra harvest hands; they may go to town to buy seed, a new hoe or machete handle,
or to stand in line to pay a tax or secure a document.
Women themselves might not always define these tasks as part of the agri-
cultural endeavor, and their partners would be even less likely to do so. Bourque
and Warren (forthcoming) suggest that men have a "male-centric" view of agricul-
ture, defining it narrowly as those tasks directly related to the farm enterprise:
plowing, planting, harvesting. In the Andes, for example, women may dig out the
silt from the irrigation channels, lead the'burros out to the fields on irrigation day,
and carry out the noonday meal -- but only opening the sluice gates to let in the
water, a carefully-regulated male task -- would be defined as "irrigation" (ibid.).
Alongside their agricultural tasks, women in developing countries also labor
in the household. It is difficult in peasant econoinies to separate what household
tasks are "agricultural, and which fall outside the definition (if indeed, any do).
In some sense, almost all of women's household duties -- including their primary
role in bearing and rearing children -- contribute to the production and reproduction
of the agricultural labor force (and subsidize the industrial workers as well). Never-
theless, such tasks generally are not defined as part of the farming endeavor..
Ironically, several studies now show that even when time spent on household tasks
is not counted, women's agricultural labor time on family food and cash crops often
outstrips the hours men spend farming. (For a resume of studies on women's work
load in rural areas, see Rogers[1980: 155-58 ]De Wilde [1967: 85]early observed
that considering their domestic labor, women usually experience higher labor
Chaney and Lewis Page 29
peaks than men in Africa. Detailed studies measuring the hours women spend
in performing household/agricultural labor are few, but a pioneering work is
that of Zeidenstein and Abdullah[forthcoming]. Several of the selections from a
book edited by the International Center for Research on Women forthcoming after
its "Women and Poverty" seminar several years ago also deal with measurement of
women's work load.)
Women's Preeminent Role What several recent efforts to document the role of
in Food Production
women in agriculture have argued is that women are
entitled to participate in development because they represent one-half the persons in
rural society. Women already are "integrated" in development, this argument goes,
because they are :productive, contributing members of peasant households -- what
is wanting is formal recognition of what they already do, along with efforts to en-
hance their contributions and ease their burdens (Papanek 1977: 15).
We are sensitive to arguments of equity -- there is no good reason to shut
out half the human race from development programs and projects because they are
female. What is of primary interest here, however, is the specific contribution
women make to food production. Quite aside from any considerations of justice, we
would argue that any policies designed to increase food for the poor simply will not
succeed unless they take into account women's role as food producer and, preeminently
as producer of food for the poor. As the Economist put it recently,
More is at stake than "women's rights" in getting to see the "invisi-
ble woman ". As subsistence farmers, it is women who provide the
food that the poor actually eat. If development is a process meant to
benefit the poor, then it would follow that planners should pay more
attention to the subsistence sector, to its economic contribution and
to the people who work in it (1979: 70).
Chaney and Lewis Page 30
Documentation on women's preeminent role in food production in Third
World countries is growing. The United Nations Protein Advisory Group (1977)
drew together extensive evidence for Africa, and Rogers (1980: 158-66) cites the
evidence for other world areas as well. There also are references in most of the
individual country studies cited in this paper. What is clear is that in many cul-
tures, even where women take part only occasionally in labor on the field crops,
they often have exclusive responsibility to produce the bulk of what the family eats.
Indeed, as Bryson (1979: 57) reminds us, crops with the highest nutritional value
often are the "minor crops" -- vegetables and legumes -- grown in some areas only
There is some evidence that women's preponderant responsibility in provid-
-ing family food in some of the world's poorest nations may have increased over the
past few decades, as men's opportunities diverted them from food production -- first
to trade in ivory, wood, wool and other products later to grow commercial crops
for market sale, and most lately because men often can find better off-farm employ-
ment jobs as migrant laborers. Hay (1976: 9 Iff) has a good description of how the
out-migration of men turned the economic strategies of women towards increased
foodcropping, over a long period in Kenya's history, and Bukh (1979) documents the
same pattern in an Ewe village in Ghana -- men gave up cultivating yams for the
family diet, and started to earn cash, first by growing cocoa and later by migrating,
leaving food production mainly to the women. Smale (1980) found that male migration
goes far back into the history of Mauritania, and is endemic in both pastoral and
sedentary production systems in that country. Women cultivators are laboring more
now, she says, as male migration accelerates. Colvin, et al. (1980) find similar pat-
terns in the Senegambia.
Chaney and Lewis Page 31
There is other evidence of women's increasing responsibilities to grow
food. Weil (1976: 183) says that traditionally, Mandinka [The Gambia] wives
participated in a minor way in food production, particularly garden crops, but
since World War II, women have borne the burden of food production, until today
they are responsible for the major portion of household food as male Gambian
farmers have become dependent upon an increasingly commercialized market and
production system. Rogers (1980: 142-43) cites several sources that attribute
the original emphasis on cash crops for men to a concern of colonial authorities
that men were underemployed in relation to women -- the male occupations of war,
hunting and herding all diminished under colonial rule. Other societies have been
highly mobile for generations: Lowenthal (1972: 2-13) documents the fact that Carib-
bean and West Indian countries have been emigrant since European settlement.
Most are characterized by "a paucity of men, he says; sometimes there are only
two men to three women, or even one to two ibidd.: 219):
The scarcity of the able bodied makes it hard, if not impossible to
cultivate family farms, cope with marketing and transport, and keep
up community organization.... as the labour force dwindles, field
crops give way to cattle and coconuts, pasture succeeds tillage, and
wilderness encroaches on pasture.... commual work groups and
reciprocal labour services fade away ibidd.: 220-22).
In the tropics and subtropics, family food production is carried out on a
continuous cycle, and is an intricate art based on "lore" passed from mothers to
daughters since-unrecorded times. Every food crop has its own schedule and place
in the rotation; there is no real beginning or end (the fact that most food crops are
annuals or biennials, and that many cash crops are perennials may have some
important implications for women and men in relation to who migrates, to be dis-
Chaney and Lewis Page 32
discussed in more detail below). Food production involves gathering and pre-
serving the seed for each crop; carefully calculating the best time and place to
plant according to the season and mix of crops; preparing the seedlings and seed
beds; watering, weeding, cultivating, harvesting. After that, some items must be
processed and stored -- or prepared for sale -- and the cycle of each crop begins
Women until recent times also added substantially to family food through
gathering and processing many wild species of fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs.
In some world areas, women still add substantially to family diet through reaping
these "free goods, where encroaching cash-cropping, deforestation, or ecological
decline have not destroyed the environments in which such species flourish, or where,
notions of what are "modern" foods have not led to neglect of traditional food sources.
Cloud (1978: 69) mentions wild plants and fruits as an important fall back while
crops are ripening or as a reserve in years of crop failure. Rather than ignore such
contributions, Kyunying (National Council of Women of Thailand 1977: 36) suggests
that they be counted as family income. In Thailand, she says, women make a signi-
ficant contribution through
such things as tender sprigs of vegetable picked from the hedge and
cooked for dinner, or fresh eggs from laying hens kept underneath
the house, or a few fish from a nearby pond. Without such things,
taken so much for granted, half the rural population would be in
danger of malnutrition.
Interesting discussions of women's special knowledge stock or "lore," related to
both cultivated and wild species of foods and their properties, are contained in two
papers by Elise Boulding (1977 and 1978).
There is another set of tasks which falls to women, intimately connected to
Chaney and Lewis Page 33
food production systems of the poor. In the National Academy of Sciences recent
study, Post-Harvest Food Losses in Developing Countries (1978), we see the follow-
ing photos:- girls and women sun drying rice in central Java; rice threshing in In-
donesia; winnowing paddy in Burma; corn husking in Cameroon; sun drying salted
catfish in Cambodia, and selling fermented cassava flour in Kinshasa market,
Zaire. Defining post-harvest losses as those that can be measured by loss of weight,
loss of quality and loss of nutritional value, the authors point to a potential 10 per-
cent loss in durable (cereal) crops, and a 20 percent loss in perishable (vegetables,
fruits, fish) crops ibidd.: 17; 168). Yet, they say efforts to reduce food losses be-
tween harvest and consumption are almost entirely neglected because there is no
awareness onthe part of governments of the seriousness of food losses, nor of the
fact that simple interventions could reduce them significantly ibidd.: 160-161).
The NAS recommendations include the notion that traditional, non-market,
largely subsistence food production offers particularly important opportunities for
food conservation since "efforts to reduce loss at this level will affect large numbers
of needy people" ibidd.: 171). Pointing to extension services as a basic mechanism
for education and training in after-harvest food conservation, they cite a "mismatch"
between trainers and people being trained: the extension workers are male, but it
is women who are most involved with food between harvest and consumption:
In some countries this is particularly evident where women--
who are producers and marketers of basic foods as well as the
family members responsible for food preparation -- are bypassed
by male extension workers. Women may regard many of these
activities as ones of which men can have no useful knowledge. Un-
less women can be trained and employed as extension agents and
given full backing (including the same career opportunities as men),
many of these producers and marketers will not be reached ibidd.: 160)
Chaney and Lewis Page 34
In most peasant cultures, women also play a substantial role in marketing
surpluses from both cultivated and uncultivated sources as a means to earn cash.
There are data from a number of studies which indicate that women use this cash
to buy other foods for the family, or in some other way "invest" it in family wel-
fare; some experts say that males are not so much inclined to do so.
Also missing from most analyses is any consideration of what women save
in terms of family expenditure with the food they grow, gather and store. "Income
conservation" is not a concept considered by agricultural economists, and crops/
animals consumed by the family sometimes are not even counted in family income;
only what is sold for cash is calculated in the total. Most often, these important
items in the family diet contributed "in kind" are hidden income-transfers made
by the women.
In sum, home-produced food has economic value that deserves recognition.
Food prices are going up everywhere in the world, and there can be little realistic
expectation that they will decline; there will be ever greater demand for food be-
cause of population growth and because of the improved economic situation from
successful development efforts, where this occurs. This means that even if peasant.
families achieve an improved cash position, they may not be able to translate cash
into improved quality of life if the people of the region become totally dependent
upon the market economy for food. At the same time, any food produced by the
family will have increased cash value. Moreover, the potential for inflation in
food prices in the local situation is enormously increased as new cash-crop income
competes for a smaller quantity of locally-produced food -- again enhancing the
value of home production.
Chaney and Lewis Page 35
Additional factors contribute to raised food prices. Local market prices
must reflect increasing costs of distribution and delivery tied to rising crude
oil prices. There is another energy cost to the family -- the human time and exer-
tion, as well as fuel costs, expended in getting food home over difficult terrain.
It follows then that in evaluating energy expended in home food production, energy
expended in the alternatives must be considered. While it is difficult to measure
exactly the cash savings in a family food production effort, the validity of the argu-
ment is evident.
Recognition of Women Until the early 1970s, "progress" in agriculture sometimes
As Food Producers
implicitly included the notion that women would retire from
the fields to their proper domain of the household. When capital-intensive agriculture
was at the center of development strategies, such a stance seemed logical: production
would be increased through judicious applications of modern inputs and technology;
thus, the woman's labor would no longer be necessary to the farming enterprise, and
the surplus children also could migrate to the cities where new industries would absorb
In recent times, however, planners have been looking once again, as we noted
above, to the viability of small farm systems. The swollen cities with their jobless
millions, sometimes approaching 35-50 percent of the population, and the urgent
need to feed both urban and rural people without going broke on food imports, have
contributed to a growing body of new thinking about the small farm sector. Many
development scholars and practitioners believe such systems deserve reappraisal
and study, as well as assistance, because they could make the crucial difference in
a nation's ability to feed itself.
Chaney and Lewis Page 36
What is curious in this reappraisal exercise is the virtual absence of
recognition for the role women play in smallholder agriculture, particularly in the
production of family food. Indeed, whole books and entire articles now have been
written (and reviewed) on world food supply/small farming systems without a single
mention of the fact that it is women who produce much of the food grown in the Third
World. Even men who have observed these systems at firsthand apparently cannot
"see" women doing agricultural work. Recently, in a presentation on small farm
systems in Ecuador, the plant biologist (male) kept underscoring the wealth of agri-
cultural knowledge that fathers pass to sons -- without once noting that the slides
he had himself taken pictured principally women and girls, doing the farmingL and
that some of this knowledge no doubt passed from mothers to daughters as well. As
an Economic Commission for Africa study (n. d.: n.p.) puts it,
in nearly all the documents concerned with productivity of the small
farmer, the assumption is that this small farmer, who is to produce
more food, is a man -- "the farmer, he"....this is a false assumption
since it is predominantly the women who produce the food crops, in
addition to helping their husbands to weed their cash crops, harvest
them and carry them to market.
Wortman and Cummings (1978) are among the latest scholars to create a
stir.in development circles with an otherwise landmark book on small farms and
food production -- a book marred, however, by the authors' difficult feat inlwriting
it without ever mentioning that it is women who grow the food in most small farm
systems and without making a single recommendation on how women's efforts might
be enhanced so that they could do it better. Earlier, Lappe'and Collins (1977)
followed the same pattern, leaving women out of their more controversial but widely-
disseminated Food First. (It is fair to point to one book, a multi-country World
Chaney and Lewis Page 37
Bank study (de Wilde 1967), which made many references to women's lack of
incentive and male control over women's earnings. Connell, et al. (1976) also cite
extensive evidence of women's participation in food production.
The failure to acknowledge women's role as food producers has practical
consequences, nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in the tendency to exclude
women from extension services and access to agricultural credit and inputs (Staudt
1975-76 and 1978). This omission becomes particularly evident in resettlement
schemes which ignore women's agricultural role. Cloud (1976: 5) documents how
families in a resettlement project in the Volta River basin began to leave because
the women found the situation intolerable; no land was provided to them for kitchen
gardens so they were unable to fulfill their obligations to provide sauces for the
millet, nor was there access to wells, grain mills and market places, all regarded
as essentials. Many of the women insisted on leaving (see also Economist 1979: 70).
Other examples are frequently found in.the literature. In a case related by
Palmer (1980: 42), men in an irrigated rice resettlement project wouldn't eat the
rice, yet their wives were not given enough land to grow staples and had to sell rice
plants to buy sufficient for their needs. In another resettlement of highland Indians
in the lowland plains (the San Julian project in Santa Cruz, Bolivia,) the staff appeared,
according to the evaluation carried out by Stearman (1978: 12-13) "to have little real
interest in the question of integrating women in the orientation program, and actually
feel that females [including female staff ] may be detrimental to the project. Yet,
the author (an anthropologist) says:
In the rural highlands, women play an active role in family decision-
making, agricultural activities and marketing. They have a great
deal to say about the control and expenditure of family income; they
Chaney and Lewis Page 38
are the primary caretakers of livestock; women select the seed for
planting and participate in all phases of agricultural production; and
women comprise the bulk of marketing networks.
Many women, suddenly divested of their traditional responsibilities by the San Julian
project, and expected to "content themselves only with cooking, washing and house-
keeping, which for a highland woman who has experienced broader horizons is in
effect an insult, say they cannot get used to life in the project, and they return to
their home villages ibidd.: 13).
Several .studies indicate, nevertheless, that women are good farmers and
managers when they have the resources they need to support and enhance their efforts,
and sometimes even without such assistance. Bryson (1979: 49) says that Cameroonian
women have achieved a "near miracle" in modern times by keeping pace with food re-
quirements of the growing populations in both rural and urban areas, in spite of the
lack of improvement in their techniques and the difficulties of working the soil with
simple implements. In two parts of Africa which typify areas of extensive male out-
migration, Staudt (1979: 10) mentions studies by Moock and her own research in
Kenya that suggest the "productivity gap" between the sexes may not be as marked
as anticipated: in one study, women produced the same amounts with less inputs than
men farmers -- they made up in efficiency and hard work what they lacked in re-
sources. Fortmann's (1979: 2) data on maize practices also shows no significant
differences between men and women farmers -- female participants were as "modern
as male, and male non-participants as traditional as female. Rogers (1980: 106)
notes that often women are expected to raise funds for their development projects,
although valuable as indicators of motivation, she says, these activities demand an
inordinate amount of time to raise even minimal amounts, restricting the time and
Chaney and Lewis Page 39
energy available for more directly productive work. Sometimes women cannot
get funds even when rural development projects are undertaken in their districts,
and funding-for male activities is abundant.
On the other hand, there also are indications in the literature that women
-abandoned and left without supports may become less efficient, discouraged farmers
(as men left without the partnership of women are prone to become). In a village
of Botswana where one-third of the households were headed by women, those with
male heads produced an average of 1.9 bags of sorghum, compared to 1.2 for
female-headed households (Report on Village Studies 1972: 140 and 152). Bukh's
(1979) shows how women, because they have less access to capital and technological
knowledge, are forced to lower their productivity and to grow crops of lower nutri-
tional value. Women in the Ewe village she studied, for example, replaced yams
(which require a much longer growing period and more labor) with cassava, which
is much lower in protein. Staudt (197,8) treats this issue at length.
While we should not like to overdraw the point, we want to suggest that there
is good evidence that because women are society's nurturers par excellence, there
may be a solid basis for the nearly-universal relation between women and the culti -
vation of food crops. In much of the developing world, the family's life and good
health depends upon the food women provide; families and women themselves are
reluctant to separate definitively from the security of a food-growing plot. In
Africa, a common practice is for the men to migrate and leave their wives and
families behind to live from the subsistence cultivation. Bledsoe (1980: 181) ob-
serves that many young men in Liberia who work for wages marry to obtain sub-
sistence food -- their salaries are insufficient to maintain them.
Chaney and Lewis Page 40
Anthropologists have determined that women contributed significantly more
to family subsistence through food gathering than males did through the hunt in
tribal systems. Rohrlich-Leavitt, et al. (1975) gives a resume of the evidence,
as do several of the articles in Etienne and Leacock (1980). Women were the
probable inventors of horticulture; in times past when men went out to hunt, they
often returned empty handed; women in warm climates, however, gathered and/or
cultivated upwards of 80 percent of the food consumed by tribal peoples.
Moreover, it is striking in the literature how often the woman on a small-
holding is the nurturer also of future generations -- or indeed, keeps hold of a
small piece of land precisely to be able to carry out such activities. Gooassns
(1976: 50-51) portrait of older women in Guadaloupe could be duplicated on any
Caribbean island, in many an African village, or in the South American highlands
where daughters who have gone to the coast to become domestic servants often send
their children back to the home village:
The fostering of grandchildren, nieces, nephews and godchildren
is indeed universal among older women who participate in the
local culture and its values. Husbands and sons may spend their
money on a car or in the local bar, but a woman usually has her own
small landholding and earned income, and she uses these to fulfill
her responsibilities as mother, foster mother, grandmother, god-
mother ibidd.: 50).
Women with their acute powers of observation and their centuries of accumu-
lated experience in growing things are preeminently fitted to care for the wide
variety of plants and animals found on the typical small farm. 'Modernized farm
systems (there is no implication here that small farms also cannot be modern)
are based on much simpler farm procedures, depending today on near-mechanical
Chaney and Lewis Page 41
prescriptions for planting, fertilizing, irrigating and harvesting (usually) one or
two crops. In contrast, the small farm appears to the observer -- used to
straight rows and exact spacing -- as chaos. The small farmer with a mixed
cropping system interplants, using some varieties as shade for others, and hedging
his/her bets against disaster by including more than one type of the same crop.
Good diet depends not only on producing food, but on producing the right kinds
of food. Women are open to learning to grow the proper food crop combinations to
make a complete diet. The authors have collaborated recently on several experi-
ments with "Family Food Production Programs, built around growing a planned cy-
cle of nutritious vegetables keyed to the starchy staple crops found in many parts of
the world. Prepared in the proper amounts and combinations, vegetables/staples
provide a complete diet with only occasional animal protein. In Jamaica, a Family
Food Production Program has trained 20 young extension women who are high school
graduates, most of them from the hillside farms around Christiana where the project
headquarters is situated. Intensive nutrition and health education are linked to teach-
ing gardening skills to the farm women, with attention also being paid to the nutri-
tional value of wild plant species.
Rogers (1980: 106-7) points out how "home extension" in some rural areas
is becoming more relevant to the real needs of rural women and families. In the
Zambia, newly-formed women's groups expected to be taught sewing, yet "they
changed their attitude radically as food became scarcer and more expensive, and
became keen on learning agricultural techniques (ibid.). We also found women in
Jamaica and the Dominican Republic becoming aware of the economic value of their
subsistence activities. As in the examples Rogers cites, female home extension
Chaney and Lewis Page 42
workers in effect, if not in name, were becoming agricultural extension officers.
Centrality of Women's Role in the Small The small farm operation, whether
Farm Operation/Male Migration
strictly subsistence in nature, or
whether some of the production enters the cash economy, in some ways centers
more profoundly around the woman and her tasks than around the man and his work.
Women's contribution appears to be more necessary, and this is nowhere more
evident than in the patterns of out-migration from rural areas in much of the Third
World today. It is well established in the demographic literature that men go first,
leaving their womenfolk behind. While'this is partly because some immigration
countries do not encourage or permit the migration of families, there still is some
evidence that in the case of small farms, it is the man who goes off to seek employ-
As Leon de Leal and Deere/note in their study of four Colombianrrural-
communities, "as the family loses access to the means of production, men are
proletarianized, either locally or by migrating to other zones in search of work;
generally women will remain behind on the farm tending the crops and animals."
In the Syrian Arab Republic, a rural community survey (United Nations Development
Program 1980: 10) discusses the plight of women left behind because of various forms
of male migration: "from rural to urban areas in search of construction or other
employment; and from rural areas to neighboring countries short of labor. Several
authors speak of female "shuttle migration, that is, women who move back and
forth between town and countryside. In Obbo's (1980) sample of women migrants
to Kampala, there were some Luo women whose husbands had been in the capital
for twenty years:
Chaney and Lewis Page 43
The responsibility of maintaining the rural base fell heavily upon
the shoulders of women. They shuttled between city and country
at least two to four times a year, the number of visits depending
on the range of their responsibilities in the village. Some women
visited their husbands inbetween weeding, planting and harvesting
food and cash crops, leaving their relatives to take care of the
homes. Others with no relatives visited their husbands in the city
only twice a year, and spent the rest of the time farming and taking
care of the younger children ibidd.: 84).
It is true that women migrants now outnumber men on migration indices
in several world regions; nevertheless, before jumping to the conclusion that most
of these women have gone off leaving partners and families to fend for themselves,
we need to do much more research on the age compositionof the female migrants
and on the composition of the families left behind. (For two state-of-the-art papers
on women in international migration, see International Center for Research on
Women 1979 and Chaney 1980 .) Certainly we saw many female farm operators
in the Jamaican hills, and many farm families whose daughters had gone to King-
ston; rarely, however, does one encounter a farm family with no adult woman. On
the one hand, female-dominant migrant streams may be fed by the out-migration
of daughters; on the other hand, when a woman migrates without her male partner
and her family, she most often leaves behind an elder daughter, another female
relative or a grandmother to look after the family.
We do not want to assert that every smallholder operation centers around
a wife/mother surrogate (whether the male is present or absent); indications are,
however, that in the long run this is almost always the.case. Babb (1976: 4)
speculates that this is so because women are less dependent upon men than men
are upon women: women's greater role flexibility means that they have at least
some familiarity with agricultural work, she says. She notes that in the highland
Chaney and Lewis Page 44
Peruvian communities she studied, "greater sympathy and assistance" seem to
be directed toward the lone male than to the woman on her own, perhaps because
of men's greater "helplessness" and higher public status. Babb adds a humorous
saying from the people of Huaro (taken from the field notes of Nunez del Prado):
a yunta (yoke of oxen) will replace a husband, but only another woman can replace
From the above discussion, it follows that the first person to migrate from.
the smallholder plot often is the adult male, and demographic studies confirm this
tendency. In some cases, however, young daughters may be the first family
members sent because they have less claim on the land and often can find work
as domestic servants in the towns. Daughters as long as they remain single are
counted on to provide cash for the farming operation from their wages; they often
preserve close links with their families on the land. If sons leave, as many do,
there is a loss of labor. In some cases, this may not be crucial if plots are
small, but in other cases some farming operations may have to be curtailed.
Indications are that the wife goes only when she has a mother surrogate. to whom
she can pass on her responsibilities; in some cases adult women can get jobs in
the cities and towns more easily than either youths or adult men, although such
jobs tend to be low-paid and low-prestige occupations.
Because we customarily think about migration almost exclusively in terms
of those who go, the women left behind have received scant attention. Several
migration experts (among them, see especially Keely L1979J) have pointed out that
there seems to be an implicit assumption in sending countries that the family
structure, particularly if there is an extended kin network, is quite capable of
Chaney and Lewis Page 45
absorbing the shock of migration and taking up the slack when husbands, fathers
and sons.depart. The scattered evidence we have about what actually happens
when adult males migrate for extended periods indicates that family structures
are, in fact, strained -- sometimes to an intolerable degree.
When women are left alone through absence of husbands, fathers or eldest
sons, they may have difficulty coping with both the household responsibilities and
work on the land. Where they do the bulk of the agricultural work in any case,
women may not find male absence so burdensome. But often women must take
on unaccustomed tasks in the cash cropping -- including not only the cultivation
(which they sometimes do in any case), but the planning and marketing decisions.
Nor are women always able to get the help they need when they need it.
Reciprocity of labor exchange in the countryside often functions on a male net-
work; women's networks exchange goods and services, but not work in the fields.
Labor is difficult to hire, and is in demand on other farms at the same time.
Extended family systems -- for example, male relatives left behind in the rural
areas -- may no longer fulfill their support functions. In one African tribal
group, for example, brothers of absent males who are, by custom, supposed to
extend help to their sisters-in-law are no longer doing so. (Gordon 1978: 8-9).
Women are bearing the burden of their own and their partners' responsibilities,
often able to count on help only from their mothers and sisters.
If they do not get the support and assistance they need, women may cut back
on agricultural activity or abandon little by little many of the farm operations.
There are some indications that agricultural productivity is decreasing in areas
of heavy out-migration of men. Land goes out of production, or
Chaney and Lewis Page 46
the same land is used over and over again because there is no one to clear new
land. Terraces fall and are not repaired. Waterways and irrigation systems
silt up and are not dug out; other repairs are put off or neglected altogether.
Sometimes women fall back into just sufficient subsistence production to feed
themselves and their households (ICRW 1979: 116-18; Mueller 1977: 76-77; Birks
and Sinclair 1979: 220; Myntti 1978: 42). On the other hand, some studies show
that women aren't given enough responsibility -- for example, to make timely
decisions on what to plant or on the sale of crops. At times they must defer. to
male relatives, or the decisions must wait until the absent male comes home. -
Connell, et al. (1976: 142) cites evidence from a number of studies on the
effects of male outmigration on agriculture; he challenges the notion (asserted in
several reports) that output will not generally suffer until one-third to one-half of
the men are gone. Such estimates are based on unproven assumptions, he says,
and cites one study in Western New Guinea where the people left behind had
abandoned settled agriculture and reverted to gathering wild sage (ibid.).
Rogers (1980. 166-74) also has a good survey of the impacts on agriculture (and
the burdens on women) of male migration, asking "Where have all the young men
We can only speculate here on the reasons why, in almost every case, the
smallholder enterprise must have a wife/mother or replace her with a surrogate
within a reasonable time, in order to survive. Because these are no more than
explorations on the topic, we have put our speculations in the form of questions
to be asked in further research, rather than statements of fact:
Chaney and Lewis Page 47
1. Do women stay behind on the land because women are more involved
in annual crops (garden, family food) than men, while male agri-
cultural crops often are perennial or else (like yam) long term --
once well-established, the men can afford more time away from their
crops for seasonal migration?
2. Do women stay behind because they are more apt to be able to manage
the cash crops (or are perceived to be able to do so), while the men
find it difficult to cope with the many-faceted set of tasks the farm,
3. Do women stay behind because they are more likely to be in charge
of farm animals which either have to be liquidated, or else left in
the care of a responsible adult?
4. Do women stay behind because working class husbands cannot support
them and their children in the city and, moreover, need their contri-
J bution of foodstuffs from the family plot to survive themselves in the
towns? Is there a reluctance to lose the security factor which the
5. Do women stay behind because someone has to remain to preserve
title to the land and to keep the "patrimony" together -- the livestock,
house and buildings (however humble), fencing, cleared land, irri-
gation channels, terraces? Once let go, such infrastructure even
on a small, poor farm is hard to replace.
S -" ,6. Do women stay behind because they feel they have a better life in
r, ^ the country in some cases -- if they have a viable, worthwhile role
S .l i to perform? Do they feel that the land gives them control over some
'l '\ resources they might lose in the city, and which might not be re-
Splaced by the wages they could earn? Is cash in the city always
preferable to access to land and to the assets such access implies?
Whatever their reasons for remaining, there are many evidences that women
are overwhelmed with work in the countryside and too poor to take advantage of
modern inputs, technology and training which might lighten their workload. They
are left out of credit, agrarian reform and extension schemes. In the case of
women left alone, such omission has even more serious consequences than for
women with male partners who qualify for all of these supports.
When women find that they cannot make it, especially in cases where the
Chaney and Lewis Page 48
absence of the male partner is prolonged, they may in the end decide to
leave the land themselves. In this way, the last links to the family plot may
be broken, and if the male member does return, he will join his family
in the town or city to which they have gone.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Our conclusions and recommendations follow the Executive Summary,
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