Editorial staff
 Table of Contents
 Gender and soil fertility in Africa:...
 Gender and soil fertility in Uganda:...
 Gender and soil fertility management...
 Diminishing choices: Gender, small...
 Gendered scripts and declining...
 Gender, household composition,...
 The effects of cash cropping, credit,...
 Vouchers versus grants of inputs:...
 Gender analysis of a nationwide...
 Agroforestry innovations in Africa:...
 Modeling agroforestry adoption...
 Gender-sensitive LP models in soil...
 Is fertilizer a public or private...
 Book reviews

Title: African studies quarterly
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091747/00019
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Title: African studies quarterly
Series Title: Gale Group
Uniform Title: African studies quarterly (Online)
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: University of Florida -- Center for African Studies
Publisher: University of Florida, Center for African Studies,
University of Florida, Center for African Studies
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: Spring 2002
Copyright Date: 2010
Frequency: quarterly
Subject: Electronic journals
Study and teaching -- Periodicals -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Gainesville (Fla.)
African studies -- Periodicals
Genre: Electronic journals   ( lcsh )
Electronic journals.
periodical   ( marcgt )
Abstract: Presents "African Studies Quarterly," an electronic journal published quarterly by the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Posts contact information for the editorial office via street address, telephone number, and e-mail. Lists advisory board and staff members. Offers access to the current issue, as well as to previous issues. Contains articles and related book reviews. Provides information on submissions and links to "African Anthropology."
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Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, issue 1 (May 1997)-
General Note: Title from title screen (viewed Aug. 6, 1999).
General Note: An online journal of African studies.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 7, issue 4 (spring 2004) (viewed at publisher's Web site, Aug. 19, 2004).
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Table of Contents
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    Editorial staff
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    Gender and soil fertility in Africa: Introduction
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    Gender and soil fertility in Uganda: A comparison of soil fertility indicators for women and men's agricultural plots
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    Gender and soil fertility management in Mbale district, southeastern Uganda
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    Diminishing choices: Gender, small bags of fertilizer, and household food security decisions in Malawi
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    Gendered scripts and declining soil fertility in southern Ethiopia
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    Gender, household composition, and adoption of soil fertility technologies: A study of women rice farmers in southern Senegal
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    The effects of cash cropping, credit, and household composition on household food security in southern Malawi
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    Vouchers versus grants of inputs: Evidence from Malawi's starter pack program
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    Gender analysis of a nationwide cropping system trial survey in Malawi
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    Agroforestry innovations in Africa: Can they improve soil fertility on women farmers' fields?
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    Modeling agroforestry adoption and household decision making in Malawi
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    Gender-sensitive LP models in soil fertility research for smallholder farmers: Reaching de jure female headed households in Zimbabwe
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    Is fertilizer a public or private good in Africa? An opinion piece
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Full Text

African Studies Quarterly

Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2
Spring 2002

Special Issue

Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa
Guest Editors: Christina H. Gladwin, Lin Cassidy, Parakh N. Hoon

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Editorial Staff

Elizabeth Beaver
Lin Cassidy
Michael Chege
Leah Cohen
Kevin Fridy
Corinna Greene
Parakh Hoon
Todd Leedy
Steve Marr
Kelli Moore
Cheryl White

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Table of Contents

Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa
Christina H. Gladwin (1-26)

Gendered Evidence of the Decline of Soil Fertility and Agricultural Productivity in Africa

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda: A Comparison of Soil Fertility Indicators on Women's
and Men's Agricultural Plots
Peter Nkedi-Kizza, Jacob Aniku, Kafui Awuma, and Christina H. Gladwin (27-43)

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda
Abe Goldman and Kathleen Heldenbrand (45-76)

Diminishing choices: Gender and Household Food Security Decisions in Malawi
Robert Uttaro (77-110)

Gendered Scripts and Declining Soil fertility in Southern Ethiopia
Michael Dougherty (111-156)

Testing A Diversity of Solutions for a Diversity of Farmers

Gender, Household Composition, and Adoption of Soil Fertility Technologies: A Study of
Women Rice Farmers in Southern Senegal
Amy J. Sullivan (157-173)

The Effect of Cash Cropping, Credit, and Household Composition on Food Security in
Southern Malawi
Andrea S. Anderson (175-202)

Vouchers versus Grants: Evidence from Malawi's Starter Pack Program
Amy E. Gough, Peter E. Hildebrand, and Christina H. Gladwin (203-222)

Gender Analysis of a Nationwide Cropping System Trial Survey in Malawi
Robert A. Gilbert, Webster D. Sakala, and Todd D. Benson (223-243)

Agroforestry Innovations in Africa: Can they Improve Soil Fertility on Women Farmers'
Christina H. Gladwin, Jennifer S. Peterson, and Robert Uttaro (245-269)

Modeling Agroforestry Adoption and Household Decision Making in Malawi
Paul H. Thangata, Peter E. Hildebrand, and Christina H. Gladwin (271-293)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender-sensitive LP Models in Soil Fertility Research for Smallholder Farmers: Reaching de
jure Female Headed Households in Zimbabwe
Maxwell Mudhara, Peter E. Hildebrand, and Christina H. Gladwin (295-309)

Conclusion and Implications for Policy

Is Fertilizer a Public or Private Good in Africa? An Opinion Piece
Christina Gladwin, Alan Randall, Andrew Schmidt, and G. Edward Schuh (311-321)

Book Reviews

Shady Practices: Agroforestry and Gender Politics in The Gambia.
Richard A. Schroeder. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Pp. 172.
James T. Murphy (323-325)

Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State.
Theodore M. Vestal. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999. Pp. 229.

Ethiopia: A New Start?
Kjetil Tronvoll. UK: Minority Rights Group International, 2000. Pp. 36.
Olufemi A. Akinola (326-330)

State Legitimacy and Development in Africa..
Pierre Englebert. Boulder: Lynne Reinner, 2000. Pp. 244.
Brendan McSherry (330-332)

Do I Still Have a Life? Voices from the Aftermath of War in Rwanda and Burundi.
John M. Janzen & Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2000. Pp.
Saskia Van Hoyweghen (332-334)

State, Civil Society and Apartheid: An Examination of Dutch Reformed Church-State
Tracy Kuperus. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. 211.
Lyn Graybill (334-335)

Textual Politics from Slavery to Postcolonialism: Race and Identification.
Carl Plasa. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. Pp. 172.
Samantha Manchester Earley (335-337)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa: Introduction


Abstract: Soil fertility is the number-one natural resource in Africa; yet its depletion on
smallholder farms has led to stagnant or decreasing per capital food production all over
Africa during the last two decades. Unexamined except in this special edition are the
gender impacts of the soil fertility crisis in Africa. The papers in this issue, the result of
a University of Florida project called "Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa," assume if
one generalization can be made about the diverse farming systems and multitude of
cultural traditions in sub-Saharan Africa that women farmers usually produce the
subsistence food crops, while men produce export and cash crops. African women on
small rainfed farms produce up to 70-80% of the domestic food supply in most sub-
Saharan African societies and also provide 46% of the agricultural labor. However,
women's food-crop yields are generally low -- too low by Green Revolution standards,
and much lower than men's yields. The papers collected here examine different projects
in Africa with respect to the different methods used to reach women farmers in order to
improve their soils and increase their yields. Such methods include fertilizer vouchers
and grants, microcredit, small bags of fertilizer, agroforestry and legume innovations,
and increased cash cropping by women. Results demonstrate to African policy makers
which methods work, and reach women farmers with different household compositions,
so that they can reverse the alarming trend toward declining per capital food production.


Papers in this special edition, the result of a University of Florida project called "Gender
and Soil Fertility in Africa," assume that-- if one generalization can be made about the diverse
farming systems and multitude of cultural traditions in sub-Saharan Africa, women farmers
usually produce the subsistence food crops, while men produce export and cash crops. 1
African women on small rainfed farms produce up to 70-80% of the domestic food supply in

Christina H. Gladwin is professor, Food and Resource Economics, Box 110240 IFAS, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611. She has been the principal investigator of the UF Soils CRSP (collaborative research support
project) "Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa" from 1997 to 2002. She is very grateful for support from: women and
men farmers who repeatedly welcomed us into their homes and fields; colleagues like Clif Hiebsch, Max Langham,
Pete Hildebrand, and Ken Buhr who brainstormed the objectives of this project; others who authored excellent
papers in this special edition and put in endless hours on the project; Charles Sloger who managed the Soils CRSP in
USAID and provided many insightful comments about the project's direction and goals; Lin Cassidy who endlessly
reviewed and edited the papers; reviewers who provided timely anonymous reviews; Betty Finn, Lisette Stall, and
Charity Blomely of IFAS International Programs who managed the accounting and travel; Parakh Hoon and other
editors of the African Studies Quaterly and Dr. Michael Chege, past director of the UF Center for African Studies,
who worked tirelessly to get out this special edition of the ASQ, and funds graciously provided from USAID through
the Soils Management CRSP and World Vision International. All errors and omissions are her responsibility.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Gladwin

most sub-Saharan African societies. On average, they also provide 46% of the agricultural
labor. 2 However, women's yields are too low by Green Revolution standards (three to four
tons per hectare for food grains), and much lower than men's yields in societies where a
comparison can be made (e.g., where men grow the same crops on different fields or yields of
female headed households can be compared to those of male headed households. 3 In these
situations, gender differences in productivity have been shown to be due to differences in the
intensity of use of productive inputs (such as fertilizer, manure, land and labor, credit, extension
training, and education) rather than in differences in the efficiency or management styles of
men and women. 4 Because women farmers lack access to cash and/or credit to acquire modern
yield-increasing inputs of production, they tend to produce less, and more of their crops are
consumed within the family. 5 Estimates show that if productive inputs like fertilizer, manure,
and labor could only be reallocated within the African household from men's to women's crops,
in some societies the results could mean an increase in the value of household output of 10-
In most parts of Africa, farming for women means more than monetary rewards. African
women consider farming for food as part of what makes them women and gives them a gender
identity. The cultural categories of gender in Africa today usually link farming-female-food as a
gender marker. 7 The analogy in Europe and the Americas is that women consider the cooking
of food to be feminine and to define them as women, such that "A good woman is a good cook"
is a norm many women learn during childhood when gender identities are first formed. In
contrast, African rural women define themselves by their ability to wield a hoe and grow the
food for the household. 8 For them, "A good woman is a good food farmer and a good cook."
Unfortunately, as Goheen points out for the case of Cameroon, ideology regarding gender
categories has been a major stumbling block to women's access to resources, particularly to
land. 9 The designation of women as primary food farmers/ providers used to encourage a
relative equality and complementarity between male and female qualities, but with changing
material conditions the complementary roles played by men and women have become much
less equal. 10 "The contradictions in women's role as primary food farmers have deepened, and
there is now evident a 'feminization of poverty'..." partly because government has
institutionalized these cultural constraints and created socio-legal obstacles for women farmers.
11 Whereas previously, custom alone dictated that "men owned the land, women begged for it,"
now government under the pretext of land reform has put up many hurdles for new land
acquisition. Only urban elites and "big men" can jump them and invest in land, leaving rural
women on very small landholdings.
Another barrier for women is that cash crops (and cash activities in general) have long been
considered part of the male domain in many African societies. Subsistence food crops, those
not sold but consumed in the household, are usually considered part of the female domain.
This means women food producers usually do not have access to money from the sale of cash
crops in order to buy yield-increasing inputs. They are dependent on their husbands or sons to
buy them fertilizer. Some agricultural experts claim this exclusion of women from cash
cropping was changing even before structural adjustment reforms occurred in the early 1990s.
In Uganda, women started to grow coffee while in Malawi women grew burley tobacco and
new hybrid maize varieties. In Zambia, women were growing cotton. Yet in Malawi, wives of

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002
httD:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu /asa/v6/v6il-2al.ndf

Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 3

tobacco farmers claim that their husbands buy them a few dresses and keep the rest of the
additional income from tobacco, irrespective of the amount of labor provided by the women. In
Dowa, Malawi, the NGO VEZA/HODESA has a program directed at women only. Project staff
report that husbands decide if and how much credit (in bags of hybrid maize harvested by both
men and women) is repaid to the program, because hybrid maize is still considered part of the
male domain. 12
In many African societies, men and women do have separate income streams, and this
gives some autonomy to African women. 13 Women's incomes, however, don't necessarily give
them power, which usually accrues to the male household head. 14 The relative powerlessness of
African women as compared to men is symbolized by their long hours spent head-loading
water and firewood, their devotion to subsistence crops rather than cash crops, as well as their
lack of political voice.
African women also tend to be "de facto" female household heads for some period in their
lives, so that 25% of African households are female-headed households (FHHs) with relatively
more autonomy and decision-making power in the household than women in male headed
households (MHHs). 15 They are generally poorer than women and men in MHHs, however,
and therefore less powerful in their rural communities. Due's data from Zambia and Tanzania
show FHHs have less adult labor, less access to credit and smaller incomes than male headed
households. FHHs plant smaller crop acreages, more subsistence crops relative to cash crops,
and are not as productive as male-headed households. 16 Quisumbing notes this is not directly
due to their gender, but rather their low incomes which prevent their purchase of "modern"
yield-increasing inputs of production such as fertilizer, hired labor, etc. 17 Gladwin et al. claim
that due to their relative poverty, FHHs have a greater tendency to be chronically food-insecure
than do women and men in MHHs. Policy solutions should diversify and strengthen multiple
livelihood strategies for FHHs. 18


Due to their lower incomes, rural women and especially rural FHHs, are considered a
vulnerable group. They are the first to suffer when a macroeconomic downturn or recession
hits, and the last to recover from it. 19 Women in particular have borne the social costs of
structural adjustment programs (SAPs) in sub-Saharan Africa. Because women are in charge of
reproduction of the household, they suffer first when the costs of food, education, health care,
and medicines rise due to government budget cutbacks mandated by SAPs. 20 Women are in
charge of provisioning the household with food, so they suffer first when repeated devaluations
of the local currency and the removal of fertilizer subsidies result in the rise of fertilizer prices
making its use on hybrid maize varieties unprofitable and unaffordable. 21 As Uttaro (in this
special issue) argues, women, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s changed maize varieties
from unfertilized local varieties to new fertilized flint hybrids, are now being forced to switch
back to local unfertilized varieties due to higher fertilizer prices. As a result, they again get
lower maize yields and watch their granaries empty earlier in the hungry season. Because
gender ideologies tell women they are the ones responsible for feeding the family, they

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002
httD:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu /asa/v6/v6il-2al.ndf

4 I Gladwin

especially suffer when the hungry season lengthens as a result of the changes they've been
forced to make after structural adjustment "reforms." 22
This is not to say that the "bitter pill" of structural reform in sub-Saharan Africa was
unnecessary. By now, most observers realize that globalization demands changes in the way
open economies formulate their macroeconomic policies and finance their budget
expenditures. States can no longer hang on to an overvalued exchange rate and negative
current account balance for very long. 23 Since the early 1980s, African governments have thus
been forced to learn the rhetoric of stabilization, fiscal and monetary policies, and market
liberalization measures.
The deflationary measures mandated by structural reform, however, have impacted most
severely on women in African households, especially on FHHs. Because most FHHs are net
buyers and not net sellers of food crops, they sell little if any of the export crops or tradables
encouraged by SAPs. Therefore, they are unable to benefit from increased price incentives for
tradables and market liberalization programs. 24 FHHs thus suffer when the price of food is
allowed to rise making fertilizer use on food and cash crops once again profitable, especially if
government has no safety net program in place to ameliorate the negative impacts of SAPs.
They also suffer when safety net programs treat them not as producers but only consumers of
food, creating more dependency on government handouts of the subsistence crop that they can
grow themselves.


The impacts of structural adjustment programs on African women have been amply
documented. Far less examined except in this special issue of African Studies Quarterly are
the gender impacts of the soil fertility crisis in Africa, in part a result of structural adjustment
policies. Noted agriculturalists such as Sanchez et al. claim that soil fertility is the number-one
natural resource in Africa; yet its depletion on smallholder farms is the biophysical root cause of
declining per-capita food production all over Africa. 25 Smaling et al. estimate that soils in sub-
Saharan Africa are being depleted at annual rates of 22 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) for
nitrogen (N), 2.5 kg/ha for phosphorus (P), and 15 kg/ha of potassium (K). 26
The evidence of Africa's declining food production is by now common knowledge:
Africa's per capital food production growth rates have steadily decreased at two percent per
year since 1960. In contrast, food production growth rates in China have recently soared.
Aggregate data for the early 1990s for all developing regions show that China leads the
developing world in per capital food production indices while sub-Saharan Africa trails all
developing regions. Cereal yields follow the same trend: China's 1992-94 averages at 4482
kg/ha are the highest of the developing world and Africa's are the lowest (1023 kg/ha). 27 In
contrast, sub-Saharan Africa's population growth rates 1990-1995 are the highest in the world at
three percent per annum, while China's are now a low 1.4 percent per annum. These indicators
show that Africa's per capital food production cannot keep up with its population growth rates.
It is a continent of farmers that enigmatically imports one-third of its food grains nine of its
ten largest countries are net importers of food. Yet most African economies are agriculturally-

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 5

based, with 75 to 80 percent of the labor force still employed in agriculture and most of the
gross domestic product (GDP) still generated by the agricultural sector.
The impacts of this decline in agricultural productivity are likely to be particularly severe
for African rural women, whose economic livelihoods are so closely linked to the production or
sale of agricultural products and services. Because women are the main food producers in
many African societies, they are also the key to reversing the crisis and increasing domestic food
production in Africa. Yet their lack of power at the household, community, and national levels
present constraints to national goals of food security not present in the 1960s and 70s when
Asian and Latin American countries set out to achieve Green Revolution yields and thus
transform their mostly agrarian economies. This is termed the invisibility factor in the African
food security literature, most of which is de-linked from the women in development (WID)
literature. Food security analysts correctly argue that to be effective development strategies
need to reach African smallholders, but they ignore the fact that constraints facing women
smallholders may be an important part of the problem. Eicher, for example, consistently fails to
mention that 45% of the smallholders responsible for Zimbabwe's second Green Revolution
(1980-1986) are women, nor does he indicate the percentage of hybrid maize adopted by women
nor the percentage of fertilizer subsidies benefiting women. 28 Similarly, Smale's report on
Malawi's delayed Green Revolution does not indicate women's adoption of hybrid maize. 29 Yet
women's maize varieties (as shown here by Uttaro) are mostly local maize varieties, while
hybrid varieties are mostly cash crops sold by men.
Reversing the alarming trends of declining food productivity is therefore the subject of the
papers in this special edition, which treats gender relations as an important factor in the current
crisis. Most authors agree that if governments' aim to increase food production, then they
should improve the soil fertility and replenish the nutrients recycled out of producers' fields,
who in Africa happen to be women farmers. But how this can be accomplished is the problem
vexing most governments and donors.


The main goal of development is to improve rural incomes and increase agricultural
productivity so that Africa can "structurally transform" or diversify its currently agrarian
economies, creating three complementary sectors including: a fledgling manufacturing sector, a
larger services sector, and a gradually-diminishing agricultural sector. 30 This long-term process
has been termed "structural transformation" because the process changes the entire economy,
from the flow of goods to wage and profits patterns. Tomich et al. estimate it will take quite a
long time to diversify an economy at the early stages of structural transformation, from an
economy mostly dependent on agriculture to one with developed agricultural, manufacturing,
and service sectors. 31 The time required for a CARL (country with abundant rural labor) to
diversify its economic structure is related to the "structural transformation turning point,"
defined as the point in time when the absolute size of the agricultural labor force peaks and
begins to decline. For African countries, which comprise most of the 58 countries now
identified as CARLs this is an extremely important consideration because their high population
growth rates, ranging from 2.5 to 4 percent per year, impede their reaching the structural

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transformation turning point when the economy begins to diversify any time soon. 32 For
example, in countries with population growth rates of 3.3 percent per year and 75-80 percent of
the labor force still in agriculture, Tomich et al. estimate that the time required for structural
transformation rangesfrom 32 to 58 years, even given the most optimistic (5-6 percent) annual
rates of growth of labor absorption from agricultural into nonagricultural sectors.
Unfortunately, given these high population growth rates, the nonagricultural labor force cannot
absorb enough of the total labor force to quickly decrease the size of the rural population
dependent on agriculture for its income.
If diversification of a CARL takes this long, how realistic is it that African rural women can
quickly acquire off-farm employment and thus significantly expand the scope of their nonfarm
income-earning activities? Not very. Women farmers will need at least this amount of time to
acquire formal off-farm employment-- more formal than the informal income generating
activities they now perform, because rural women are the least educated and least connected to
powerful people with nonfarm jobs in town. 33 African rural women will therefore have to rely
on the more informal "small money" income-generating activities to create their cash income
for a significant time to come. During this time period, some women, especially the FHHs, may
need a safety net program to give them public assistance. Safety nets imply a process of moving
from government programs that are open to all, regardless of income level, to programs where
eligibility is related to poverty and the level of benefits is related to the level of poverty. This
topic emerges again in Gough's article for this special edition. 34
The articles in the special issue are thus more concerned about accelerating the long-term
development process in Africa, and identifying how women fit into that process, than they are
about guaranteeing gender equity to African women. While equity for rural women is a
worthwhile goal in itself, it is not as urgent a problem in Africa today as the goal of bringing the
whole continent out of the stagnation and despair that now engulfs it. 35 Immersed in what
Chege calls "the paradigm of doom," Africa is presently inundated by gloomy reports about its
civil wars, famines, high HIV infection rates, geographical isolation, chronic mismanagement,
and negative or minimal growth rates. 36 This set of papers examines how governments and
policy planners can increase women farmers' productivity and thus bring Africa closer to the
structural transformation turning point, so that the continent as a whole can see the light at the
end of the tunnel. Yet much confusion exists in Africa today, both about gender equity and
about women's role in the process we term "structural transformation."
This is to be expected. In the 1960s and 1970s, Asians and Latin Americans were equally
confused about the aims of small farmer projects, often associating them with a communist
ideology. Similarly, many Africans are now confused about the goals of WID projects, and
identify them with perceived attempts at hegemony by "Beijing women." The result is that
thirty years after Ester Boserup first published Woman's Role in Economic Development, gender
impacts on development are still poorly understood, as witnessed by the phethora of books
about the topic from anthropologists, 37 geographers, 38 and political scientists. 39

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 7


The purpose of the papers in this special edition is to help clear up some of
misunderstandings about women's roles in increasing Africa's agricultural productivity
and to outline ways African governments can use women farmers to bring their
economies further along the path to structural transformation. The papers also
summarize the results of the project known as "Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa,"
which was funded from 1997 to 2002 by the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) through the Soils Management Collaborative Research Support
Project (Soils CRSP). In 1997 the authors of this edition began to explore, test, and
compare the many different ways African governments, non-governmental agencies
(NGOs), private volunteer organizations (PVOs), and agricultural research/extension
centers (CGIARs and NARs) can improve the soil fertility on women farmers' fields and
gardens devoted to their food crops. The different policy options African governments
can use to reach or target women farmers include:

improve women's access to chemical fertilizers via introducing grants or
vouchers targeted directly at women farmers, especially women in the
poorer FHHs

improve women's access to chemical fertilizers by encouraging the
introduction of small bags of fertilizer in local shops or market stalls, or
sales of fertilizer by the kilogram

improve women's access to inorganic fertilizers by introducing credit or
microcredit for fertilizer to women farmers

improve women's access to biological nitrogen fixation (BNF)
technologies via agroforestry innovations or grain legumes to women

improve the soil organic matter on women's fields for their food crops via
green manures or biomass transfer

introduce a cash crop into women's cropping systems whereby women
farmers can pay for fertilizer use on their food crops with cash-crop

introduce any combination of the above

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Target support for small amounts of fertilizer in the form of vouchers directly at cash-poor women
farmers producing food crops. A voucher system would allow an African government burdened
with fiscal deficits to do something about food security by targeting the subsidy directly at
women farmers who produce most of the food. This would also encourage healthy competition
between private distributors in the fertilizer industry. With such a voucher system, members of
women's clubs would receive vouchers to take to private distributors, from whom they would
buy fertilizer at a discount. The government would then remunerate distributors for the
vouchers. In this way, the government's physical presence in the fertilizer distribution system
would be minimized, and its total subsidy bill would be less than when fertilizer subsidies were
freely extended to all growers of food and export crops, men and women alike.
The vouchers would be discontinued after a number of years. Women would buy fertilizer
from local merchants on the open market at the market price, with or without credit. The
temporary program of vouchers would be coupled with a plan for supervision of women's
application of fertilizer in order to reduce leakages (the use of vouchers for crops other than
women's). The plan would also strengthen the revolving credit funds used by many women's
clubs to bail out individual defaulting members. Clubs would receive a stipend to supervise the
application of vouchered fertilizer on women's fields. Women's clubs can thus serve not only to
expand credit to women but also to supervise the proper use of fertilizer vouchers.
Donors like the World Bank, however, have spent the last ten years removing fertilizer
subsidies. Their policy now is to move to full market cost of fertilizers. 40 In fact, most food
policy analysts recommend that input subsidies, and particularly fertilizer subsidies, should be
eliminated entirely because they are a common technique used to increase the profitability of
intensive agriculture while keeping food prices artificially low. 41 Only when total fertilizer use
is low and the ratio of incremental grain yield to fertilizer application is high can such subsidies
be cost-effective, relative to higher output prices or greater food imports. African governments
burdened with large fiscal deficits should therefore consider whether fertilizer subsidies
represent the best use of their limited resources. After all, someone must pay for the subsidy.
Economists thus conclude "all subsidies tend to distort the intensity of use of inputs from their
economically optimal levels, and significant waste is a result. Since not all inputs can be equally
subsidized, output price increases will have a greater impact on productivity than will input
subsidies, especially in the long run". 42
This line of reasoning makes sense when applied to Asia and Latin America today. But it
did not make sense during the eras of their Green Revolutions in the 1960s and 1970s, when
fertilizer use contributed fifty to seventy-five percent of the increase in yields in food crops. 43
At that time the adoption of fertilizer-responsive "modern" varieties depended on fertilizer
subsidies. 44 This line of reasoning does not apply to current conditions in sub-Saharan Africa
where average fertilizer use not nutrient use is a mere seven to eleven kg per ha, and
women food producers commonly use no fertilizer. 45 Larson and Frisvold conclude that
average fertilizer application rates in Africa need to increase from ten kg per ha to fifty kg per

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 9

ha within ten years (an eighteen annual growth rate) to prevent mining of soil nutrients. 46 Yet
due to the current high price of inorganic fertilizers, farmers are now forced to extensify their
agricultural practices and clear relatively unused areas (forests and old bush) to increase total
output, rather than intensify their land use. This has led to a loss of biodiversity of aquatic as
well as woody species. Hence near-term environmental concerns in Africa stem more from the
persistent decline of soil fertility rather than from an over-use of fertilizers.
Policy interventions are thus needed to encourage women food producers to increase their
yields of traditional as well as modern varieties; and fertilizer subsidies in the form of vouchers
are the most direct policy tool planners have at their disposal to do that. 47 From the viewpoint
of the women farmers, such vouchers are preferable to an expansion of credit opportunities
because women face many more constraints to credit use than men. They are either too poor,
too old, or lack control over a cash crop with which they can repay a fertilizer loan. 48 Without a
cash crop, the risk of borrowing is particularly high for women, because they probably have to
sell some of their subsistence crop in the hungry months and deny their children food in order
to repay the loan. Rather than take that risk, they will often decide not to get credit, not to use
fertilizer, and not to increase their yields.
Fertilizer subsidies delivered by means of vouchers can decrease this risk for resource-poor
women farmers and thereby play an important role in increasing their yields and productivity.
49 Some agricultural economists agree. Eicher, for example, accuses the donor community of
failing to present a balanced view of the substantial role subsidies played (and still play) in
Asia's Green Revolution. He points out that, "currently donors in Africa are focused on a
number of policy reforms such as correcting overvalued exchange rates and removing fertilizer
subsidies rather than long-term, institution-building activities, the hallmark of donor assistance
in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. In their zeal to remove fertilizer subsidies in Africa, however,
some donors are neglecting to inform African policy makers about the role of subsidies in Asian
agriculture." 50
Pinstrup-Anderson claims that fertilizer subsidies can serve as a temporary measure to
compensate for the factors that make it difficult for African (as opposed to Asian) entrepreneurs
to freely compete in an open fertilizer market. 51 Among these factors are:

the small volume of fertilizer that most African countries import, which
weakens their bargaining position in negotiating for lower prices

high transportation costs within most African countries

high storage costs, which increase the expense of fertilizer distribution

unpredictable government policies and unstable institutions which scare off
private entrepreneurs from investing in input distribution systems

the relative ease of government's acquiring fertilizer in the past as foreign

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the tendency of governments to maintain large fertilizer stocks, which may
be released anytime and at any price and thus upset a private distribution

Pinstrup-Anderson concludes that governments should privatize fertilizer distribution in a
way that assures competition. Ootherwise, the private sector fertilizer distribution system may
be no more efficient than the public sector system it replaced. If monopoly profits accrue, it will
actually be more expensive. He also believes fertilizer prices can only be brought down if, in
the long run, governments invest in the infrastructure to reduce transportation and marketing
costs. But until they do, "there is a place for fertilizer subsidies" to compensate for the factors
resulting in very high fertilizer prices. 52

Small Bag Option

Improve the availability of small amounts of fertilizer in local markets and shops by repackaging 50
kg bags. Since most fertilizer for family food production must be carried both to the home as
well as to the food plots, the weight of the bag is an important issue. So is the amount of cash or
credit needed for the purchase. Due to its high cost today in Africa, few farmers can afford to
buy a 50-kg bag of fertilizer. It no longer is a divisible input in Africa. Further, the cost of
transporting fertilizer from the market to the home and/or field is also a factor in the scope of its
use. Having fertilizer available in smaller bags would make it both more affordable and easier
to carry.
The small-bag strategy is compatible with the views of many economists who believe that
accessibility of fertilizer is the main constraint to its increased use. 53 If fertilizer were widely
sold in local markets like cement and available in weights that could be headloaded home,
women farmers would be more likely to buy it. Also, small bags reduce the risk associated with
open bags of fertilizer absorbing moisture and becoming difficult to store over several months.
For these reasons, the sale of fertilizers in five-, ten-, and twenty-kilogram bags at local markets
should increase fertilizer use by women farmers.
As shown by Uttaro's paper in this edition, however, there are some negative features of
small bags of fertilizer. One is their lack of availability in all but the biggest market centers.
Another is the higher costs per kg of the fertilizer. Making small bags available assumes that
fertilizer distributors in Africa today would be willing to bulk-blend imported fertilizers and
assemble the product in smaller bags in Africa, rather than directly importing the bagged
fertilizer. Finally, there are higher transactions costs for a smaller bag because the cost of the
bag itself as well as the labor costs of bagging would have to be spread over only twenty-five kg
rather than fifty kg of fertilizer.
Uttaro points out that one way around this is for fertilizer distributors to sell fertilizer "by
the kg" and cut contents of a fifty-kg bag of fertilizer into smaller amounts. While this has been
done, distributors sometimes have added other inputs to the smaller bags, e.g., sand. Farmers
are now very skeptical of local traders who sell fertilizer in smaller amounts. What is needed in
now needed in Malawi, according to Uttaro, is to build farmers' trust that they will get "an
honest kg for an honest kwacha."

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 11

Microcredit Option

Expand the fertilizer credit market for women farmers via community banks operating on the
Grameen Bank model. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh targets very small loans to groups of
virtually landless women producers. 54 With two million borrowers and a recovery rate of more
than 90%, it is clearly a compelling model. By 1994, it served half of all villages in Bangladesh,
lent about US$ 385 million, and mobilized another US$ 306 million as savings and deposits. 55
The bank is unique in that its explicit goals are to alleviate poverty and create self-employment
opportunities for illiterate people (who own less than half an acre of land and have never
received a loan from the formal financial system). Since 1985, it has specifically channeled credit
to women, who are less empowered among the rural poor. Increasingly, women receive the
bulk of the loans and are the majority of the members. Their share of total cumulative
disbursement rose from a little more than half in 1985 to 91% in 1994. Female membership grew
from 65.5% of the total in 1985 to over 94% in 1994. 56 Strict observance of the norms forces
group members to be accountable to each other. Based on a group of five, the first two women
to receive credit must repay regularly for others to obtain loans. The group leader is
customarily the last to receive credit. This creates pressure among group members to enforce
the contracts, screen out bad borrowers and encourage savings. In 1994, women's savings
amounted to 74% of total savings mobilized. 57
What lessons can Africa learn from the Grameen Bank? The first lesson is that a bank with
poverty-alleviation goals can also be sustainable as a bank by lending at market interest rates.
The Grameen's lending rate has been twenty percent since 1991. 58 Its subsidy dependency index
(SDI) has decreased over time from 180% in the 1980s to 36% in 1994. 59 The second is that
women are often better credit risks than men, since loan recovery rates for general loans have
been higher for women (97% in 1992) than for men (89%). 60 Whether it can be replicated in
Africa is now being tested by Sasakawa Global 2000 programs such as Benin's CREPs (Caisse
Rurale d'Epargne et de Pret) that mobilize savings before loaning to farmers, twenty percent of
whom are now women. 61

Free Bag Option

For a short time only, introduce a system of grants or safety net program -- of small bags of
fertilizer targeted at the poorest women farmers. The term safety net refers to programs that attempt
to address a food consumption deficit in households of either the chronically poor and food
insecure or the transitory food insecure. In cases of chronic food insecurity, safety nets are
targeted at the poorest quintile or two (and rarely three) of the population, and would thus
include the majority of FHHs. In Malawi, for example, the poor comprise forty-one percent of
rural households, forty percent of whom are female-headed. Except in rare cases of severe
drought or devaluation, safety nets should not be given universally as were Malawi's "starter
packs" in 1998-2000. 63
The advantage of safety net programs, as opposed to subsidies, is that they can work
through the markets instead of disrupting them. There are several kinds of safety nets that
satisfy this criterion: "food-for-work" programs, public employment programs, "inputs-for-

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work" programs, and "vouchers-for-work" programs. If they are also "productivity-enhancing
safety nets (PES-nets)," then they target the people who are food insecure while not detracting
from the national goal of increased productivity to move the country as a whole toward
structural transformation. Devereux points out why a safety net program should also strive to
increase productivity in Africa. Because African food insecurity is caused by low productivity, it
is "best addressed by interventions to raise returns to effort" instead of merely using food
transfers to bridge a consumption deficit. "Reducing production or income deficits is a pre-
emptive strategy to reduce consumption deficits, thereby minimizing the need for safety net
interventions." 64 Safety nets that provide consumption support to people below the poverty
line especially farmers who know how to produce their own food, "have no beneficial impact
on livelihood systems," divide the poor into "workers" and "dependents," are not sustainable,
and merely deepen dependency.
PES-nets in the form of public works programs will improve the food security of
participating households if the time spent on them does not conflict with food production
activities. However, public works programs typically focus on male tasks (e.g., rebuilding
roads, bridges and water canals, reforestation projects), and thus employ mostly men. To
benefit poor rural women public works programs should also include tasks that women
typically perform, such as communal gardening, caring for communal (agroforestry) nurseries,
soil conservation programs, care of the sick or orphans of AIDs (a task usually left to
grandmother-FHHs), and care of the communal water kiosk, rubbish disposal pit, or soak-away
pit. Public works programs could also remunerate men's and women's participation in group
training sessions about family planning, literacy, and crime prevention. The definition of
"work" in "food-for-work" programs needs to be broadened, and the definition of
remuneration-for-work should be expanded. Female participation rates are higher (sixty
percent vs. twenty percent) when food payments are offered as opposed to cash wages in
Malawi's public works projects. 65
For women farmers, the most optimal PES-net would be fertilizer vouchers received for
work in "fertilizer-for-work" programs, (as suggested by Anderson's paper in this special issue),
because they are more cost-effective than programs offering a food wage and do not deepen
dependency. In Malawi, the current nitrogen to hybrid-maize price ratio is now so high that
only small amounts of fertilizer (e.g., 37 kg/ha of nitrogen) are still profitable or "optimal" for
food production. 66 At these low levels of fertilizer, however, the response from an additional
kilo of nitrogen is high. 67 Therefore, the cost of maize to the farmer growing her own maize
with fertilizer is much less than the market price of maize. This means that a safety net program
that gives a fertilizer voucher, redeemable from any private fertilizer distributor, should be
more effective than one exchanging food (maize) for work. 68 This is supported by Tsoka and
Mvula whose results show that the majority of rural residents in southern Malawi (both FHHs
and MHHs) prefer payment from public work programs in fertilizer rather than in cash or food.
69 "The evidence is overwhelming: the rural poor in Malawi see access to agricultural inputs as
a priority, and inputs-for-work for part of the year as a means of obtaining fertilizers and seeds.
The disadvantage of a safety net program in Africa is that numbers of targeted clientele
may be substantial. Kumwenda et al. estimate the food insecure comprise forty percent of the

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 13

smallholder population in Malawi. 62 Another concern that has been raised is that farmers might
sell the fertilizer given to them as a safety net, rather than apply it to their food crops. For
example, some of the fertilizer starter packs that were distributed in Malawi in 1998/99 were
sold by farmers who desperately needed the cash. 71 To see the impacts of this activity,
Anderson's paper models the situation of a poor FHH that sells a 25-kg bag of fertilizer granted
for K100. Anderson's example, based on linear programming modeling, shows that although
some farmers are desperate enough to sell grants of fertilizer and other inputs, their livelihood
systems are unsustainable as a result.


Women's constrained supply of cash, together with the removal of price subsidies on
fertilizers and rising costs may compel a majority of them to rely only on organic sources of
nutrients -- especially legumes that fix atmospheric nitrogen as the only available strategy for
increased soil fertility. At current levels of availability and use, however, "organic inputs are
rarely sufficient to meet crop demand for nutrients or maintain soil organic matter." 72 The use
of inorganic fertilizer can be supplemented or enhanced with use of organic sources of nutrients
increased considerably by enhancing the level of soil organic matter. 73 Therefore the following
are possible options for getting organic nutrients to women farmers.

Soil Organic Matter Option

Make soil organic materials of farm origin more accessible. In addition to serving as sources of
nutrients, organic materials can influence nutrient availability by:

acting as an energy source for soil microbial activity

serving as precursors to soil organic matter

influencing the release pattern of plant-available nutrients

reducing phosphorus sorption of soil.

In on-farm trials, options would include use of green manure, animal manures, improved
fallowing, biomass transfer, and legumes as sole crops in rotation or intercropped with cereals.
74 Information can be diffused via extension workshops, field days for women, and gender
"training of trainers" for extension agents. Microcredit programs can be used to improve access
to organic inputs for women farmers.

Biological Nitrogen Fixation Options

Make biological nitrogen fixation technologies more accessible. Nitrogen-fixing technologies
involve crops grown in rotation with maize such as velvetbean [Mucuna pruriens (L.)],
pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan], sunnhemp [Crotalaria juncea], lablab bean [Lablab purpureus], and

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crotalaria [Crotalaria ochroleuca], as well as trees and shrubs used in new agroforestry
technologies (such as hedgerow intercropping, biomass transfers, and improved fallow
technologies). These nitrogen-fixing technologies can be promoted by making seeds, seedlings,
and extension education more accessible to women farmers. ICRAF researchers and World
Vision extension agents are now doing this in eastern Zambia and Malawi, as well as in western
Kenya and Uganda. Other examples are the "doubling-up legumes" technology tried in central
and southern Malawi, where land is too scarce to take it out of production to plant a tree or
shrub in an improved fallow. 75 By experimenting with women farmers' test plots that
intercrop two different types of legumes (e.g., pigeon pea and groundnuts) or rotate legumes
with cereals, Snapp has shown that women farmers can improve both legume and cereal yields.
Giller et al. conclude that nitrogen-fixation from legumes can sustain tropical agriculture at
moderate levels of output, often doubling those currently achieved. 76

Organic-Inorganic Options

Make combinations of organic and inorganic inputs in small amounts more accessible. Organic
materials are frequently in limited supply and hence cannot by themselves provide the
productivity boost needed by African smallholders. 77 The combination of available organic
materials with small amounts of inorganic chemical fertilizers may be a very appropriate option
for women smallholders, especially the poorer FHHs. 78 Unfortunately, none of the studies here
found a naturally-occurring experiment that formally tested this option. Where inorganic
fertilizers were used, they were in combination with some maize stover and weeds, usually
turned under when farmers ridge their fields prior to planting. Unfortunately in most cases, not
much organic material in the fields is still green when farmers make their new ridges for the
next year.

Cash Crop Option

Introduce a cash crop into women's subsistence farming systems. Sustainable food production is
an important goal of development, but only when women farmers obtain cash will they have a
sustainable way either to buy food and cash inputs or repay loans. Cash cropping on a small
portion of women's land normally devoted to subsistence crop(s) can be encouraged by
women's clubs such as Malawi's Tikalore Clubs or tobacco clubs. These clubs give fertilizer
credit to women for both food and cash crops. The loan is repaid from proceeds of the cash
crop. Credit programs for food crops alone should not be recommended at adverse fertilizer-
food crop price ratios, because their use will only result in a negative debt spiral. However,
when women get fertilizer under credit schemes intended to improve cash cropping, they
should be free to decide to which crops they apply the fertilizer, as farmers are often better
judges of the markets and risks than outside analysts. Government can encourage women
earning cash income by expanding microcredit/ microenterprise programs for women, which
allow them to acquire credit for whatever income-earning activity they desire, whether a farm
or nonfarm enterprise. All these programs should recognize the interdependencies between
women's subsistence food production and income-earning opportunities. In Malawi, for

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 15

example, women farmers are now growing burley tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) and using its
receipts to pay back loans for fertilizer use on both subsistence maize and tobacco.79


Clearly, an African government can encourage any of these different policy options, and
one may work better than others in a particular locale. Given the extremely heterogeneous
agroclimatic and socioeconomic conditions in Africa, the authors in this special edition focused
on several naturally-occurring experiments in which an African government, NGO, or
agricultural research center tried to reach women farmers. We did not attempt to manage a
research or extension project ourselves. Nor did we plant on-farm trials (due to limited
funding). Nor did we try to revisit the issues of how to improve extension services for women
farmers. 80o Instead, we selected particular regions in several African countries and monitored
projects already in operation, to assess the efficacy of methods to target women farmers there
with soil fertility amendments. Most of the articles here should therefore be considered case
studies or micro-level studies in particular regions that might not have been representative of the
entire country, and certainly not the entire continent. At the end of the five-year project, we had
done five separate micro-level studies in Malawi (of which four are presented here), three in
Uganda (of which two are presented), four in Zambia (two are presented), and one in Ethiopia,
Kenya, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. Therefore, our focus was mainly on southern and eastern
Nevertheless, results from the micro-level studies give some indication of the popularity
and efficacy of the various strategies to target women farmers in Africa. We found, for
example, almost no use of fertilizer vouchers in all the projects we monitored. Gough's paper is
the only study of fertilizer voucher use in Malawi's Starter Pack program of 1998-2000, an input
grants program designed to give every rural household in Malawi small quantities of chemical
fertilizer, hybrid maize seed, and legume seeds as a safety net. Similarly, sales of small bags of
fertilizer in local markets and shops are rare, and only examined by Uttaro's paper. Credit use
for fertilizer was also infrequent, partly due to the collapse of credit institutions during the
structural reforms and droughts of the 1990s. But it is examined by Sullivan's and Anderson's
linear programming models in this edition. In contrast, agroforestry innovations in the form of
biomass transfers, and especially improved fallow technologies, were the subject of much
innovative research by biological and social scientists in Kenya, Uganda, Eastern Zambia, and
Malawi. These are discussed here in papers by Gladwin et al. and Thangata et al. Similarly,
research on grain legumes that fix nitrogen was popular and promising in Africa during 1997-
2002, and is described by Gilbert et al. and Mudhara et al. Indeed, both these biological
nitrogen fixation technologies were more frequently seen than animal manure use in the micro
climes and regions we focused on. The reduction in manure use as an organic fertilizer, due to
a decline in grazing land and decreased cattle production, is described by Dougherty for
southern Ethiopia; but the decline in its use was also observed in Malawi, Zambia, and
Zimbabwe. Notable in all the papers, but especially in papers by Nkedi-Kizza et al., Goldman
and Heldenbrand, and Uttaro, is the ubiquitous decline in farmers' use of chemical fertilizer
since the start of structural adjustment reforms. This last topic, and the resulting decrease in

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16 I Gladwin

agricultural productivity of both women and men farmers, is unfortunately the one common
thread seen in all the papers of this special edition.
The methodologies employed by these authors to assess the efficacies of various methods
to target women are also diverse. This was done purposefully, so that our results might be
robust across a variety of methodologies, and speak to researchers across disciplines in the bio-
physical, environmental, and social sciences. This diversity also reflected the multi-disciplinary
nature of our research team. At the faculty level, the team consisted of an agricultural
economist, one agricultural economist/ anthropologist, one geographer, two agronomists, and
one soil scientist. We were also fortunate to attract graduate students from anthropology,
economics, agricultural education and communications, geography, conservation and natural
resources, and political science. Given this diversity, we wanted the micro-level studies to
complement each other, if possible. So this collection of papers does not focus on any special
methodology. As a result, four of the papers in this collection use ethnographic linear
programming (LP) modeling, two papers use ethnographic decision-tree modeling, two papers
use consumer-to-producer ratios a la Chayanon, one paper uses scripts, one paper uses
geographical surveys, and one paper uses soil sampling techniques. All use personal
ethnographic interviews to some extent.


Unfortunately, our conclusions do not paint as rosy a picture as this heading suggests. We
did not find easy answers to the question of how to target women farmers, replenish their
depleted soils, and thus increase their productivity, especially on fields planted to food crops.
Instead, we sometimes found that the policy options expected to work are not viable options for
women to improve their soil fertility, even though they worked for men. In other locations, we
found that options that worked for married women in MHHs did not work for FHHs, usually
poorer than married women. In all the sites, we found location-specific and historical
conditions made it difficult to generalize results across all the micro climes. Yet, in order to
preview the more complicated stories presented in this special edition, the following is a brief
summary of our conclusions:

Fertilizer voucher distribution is almost non-existent in Africa. We did not find a
naturally-occurring experiment in which to assess fertilizer vouchers targeted at women
food producers.

Small bags in local shops are bought by both men and women in MHHs, but are
usually used on men's cash crops rather than on women's food crops. Small bags are
rarely bought by FHHs. Fertilizer in local markets, unlike cement, is rarely sold by the

Credit targeted directly at women is problematic. For women in MHHs, it leaks to men
in locations where cash income is the man's domain. Women use informal credit more

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 17

than formal credit. Household composition also affects credit use as FHHs are still
considered bad credit risks.

Grants of fertilizer targeted only at the poorest FHHs did not occur in Africa.
Vouchers for grants of fertilizer are problematic when grants are universally distributed.

Women plant grain legumes for food and do not plow them under when green, so they
do not usually serve as a soil fertility amendment in Africa.

Lack of land, labor, awareness-knowledge, and technical-knowledge limit women's
adoption of agroforestry innovations. Where land is available and extension efforts
alleviate the lack of knowledge constraints, poor FHHs do test and adopt improved
fallow technologies (even more so than married women in MHHs).

Combinations of small amounts of chemical and organic fertilizers may show promise.
But once again, we did not find a naturally-occurring experiment disseminating
innovative new combinations of inorganic and organic fertilizers in a formal manner,
and so we could not study this option.

Women's access to cash crops does not ensure their use of soil-fertility amendments, but
does help relieve women's cash constraints so that cash-allocation decisions may be
made about fertilizer use. In locations where women receive fertilizer credit for cash
crops, they usually use some of it on their food crops.

Given this list of rather bleak findings, we conclude that married women, like men in
MHHs, do have some good options for improving their soils: small bags of inorganic fertilizers,
fertilizer sold by the kg in local markets, microcredit programs for fertilizer use, safety-net
programs, more cash cropping, and organic options (including legumes and agroforestry
innovations). For these women, government should encourage market-liberalization programs
that include women, as well as men, as the targeted clientele. For example, private traders of
cash crops should be encouraged to buy directly from women; private stockists of fertilizer
should be urged to carry small bags of fertilizer in local shops and markets, and extension
programs that target women should be supported.
But African women farmers are not all alike. For the poorer FHHs, the options are fewer
because their resources of land, labor, and capital are less. In our opinion, their soil-fertility
options boil down to safety net programs, cash cropping, and nitrogen-fixation technologies
(improved fallows or doubling-up legumes). This is because FHHs do not have the access to
cash or credit to acquire chemical fertilizers. For these women and thus twenty-five to thirty
percent of African households, if improved fallow technologies do not diffuse or markets for
cash crops fail, soil fertility improvements will have to come in the form of safety net programs.
These findings do not bode well for the future, given Africa's limited set of resources and
its relative inexperience with safety net programs. The design and implementation of safety net
programs in Africa is a complicated business at best and a political minefield at worst. When
grants are universally distributed, their benefits are too small to significantly increase

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18 I Gladwin

household cash incomes. When they are directly targeted at female-headed households, local
men use existing power asymmetries to gain some measure of control over these resources. As
one reviewer suggested, it might be simpler to target safety net programs to very poor and poor
households, most of which are de facto or de jure female-headed anyway. Yet, as the majority of
smallholder farmers, women need to be better supported in their role as farmers if Africa is to
ever experience a "Green Revolution" transformation. Perhaps gender-sensitive safety net
programs that recognize women as agricultural producers, rather than simply as poor
consumers or helpless victims, will be worth the effort.


1. Boserup 1970.
2. Dixon 1982, Gladwin and McMillan 1989.
3. Due and White 1986, Due 1991.
4. Quisumbing 1996.
5. Due and Gladwin 1991, Gladwin 1996, 1997.
6. Udry 1996. In Malawi in 1996/97, for example, an across-the-board 20% increase in
household maize yields would have meant an increase in aggregate maize yields of
180,000 metric tons. With the price of maize now valued at Malawi Kwacha 24.00 per
kg, up from MK 1.55 per kg in 1997, this would now mean an enormous savings in the
costs of importing maize. The impact of these findings is thus quite large -- in savings of
import costs of food crops -- if governments would only adopt policies to reach African
women farmers with productive inputs for their food crops.
7. Goheen 1991: 240.
8. Moock 1986.
9. Goheen 1991, 1996.
10. Kaberry 1952
11. Goheen 1991:241.
12. D'Arcy 1997.
13. Polly Hill 1963, Gladwin 1976, Gladwin and McMillan 1989.
14. Ensminger 1987.
15. Due 1991: p. 103.
16. Due 1991:107.
17. Quisumbing 1996.
18. Gladwin et al. 2001.
19. Elabor-Idemudia 1991.
20. Meena 1991.
21. Bumb et al. 1996, Gladwin 1991.
22. Goheen 1991, Uttaro 1998.
23. Henderson 1998.
24. Mehra 1992.
25. Sanchez et al. 1997.
26. Smaling 1997: 521997: 52.

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Introduction to Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa I 19

27. FAO 1998.
28. Eicher 1982, 1995.
29. Smale 1995.
30. Tomich, Kilby, and Johnston 1995.
31. Tomich et al.1995:14.
32. Tomich et al. 1995: Table 1.
33. This length of time is also required for a country to develop strong reliable markets and
a distribution system in food crops that rural people can depend on, as well as the
physical and governmental infrastructure to support them. One year of poor harvests
and no food crops in the markets is all it takes for confidence in the markets,
infrastructure, and government to plummet. In the following seasons, women will
decrease cash crop production and revert to subsistence farming.
34. Deaton 1980, Bezuneh et al. 1980.
35. Chege 1997: 552.
36. Sachs 1997.
37. Bay 1982, Sacks 1982, Clark 1994, Davison 1988.
38. Rocheleau 1995, Thomas-Slayter and Rocheleau 1995.
39. Parpart and Staudt 1989; Gordon 1996.
40. Donovan, 1996; Saito et al. 1994.
41. Timmer et al. 1983, p.288.
42. Timmer et al., 1983, p. 288.
43. Byerlee and Heisey, 1992.
44. Harris, 1984; Van der Eng, 1994; Eicher, 1995; Goldman and Smith, 1995.
45. Lele et al. 1989.
46. Larson and Frisvold 1996.
47. Gladwin, 1991, 1992.
48. Gladwin, 1992, 1996.
49. Gladwin, 1997.
50. Eicher 1995: 807b, World Bank 1994.
51. Pinstrup-Anderson 1992:106.
52. Pinstrup-Anderson, 1992: 105.
53. Lele et al., 1989.
54. Von Pischke, 1991 p. 233; Khandker et al., 1995.
55. Khandker et al., 1995, p.: xi.
56. Khandker et al., 1995, p.: 25-26.
57. Khandker et al., 1995: p. 31.
58. Khandker et al., 1995, p.: 66.
59. Yaron, 1992, 1996.
60. Khandker et al., 1995, p.: 18.
61. Galiba, 1996.
62. Kumwenda et al. 1996: 21.
63. Mann 1998, Longley, Coulter, and Thompson 1999, Gough in this edition.
64. Devereux 1999: 57.

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20 I Gladwin

65. Dil 1996.
66. Only small amounts of fertilizer (e.g., 32-37 kg/ha of nitrogen from calcium ammonium
nitrate or CAN) are still profitable for food production (Benson 1997). These figures
assume the farmer gets no credit for food crops, pays Malawi Kwacha (MK) 700 per 50
kilo bag of CAN, and the price of maize is a high MK 6.5, a four-fold increase from its
previous price of MK 1.5 in 1997. The price ratio of nitrogen to maize is thus 10.5 with
these assumptions. It also assumes farmers take risk into account, rather than maximize
profits, so that they use inputs only up to the point where the value of the inputs is
greater than or equal to twice their costs. Using these conservative assumptions, the risk
averse farmer should apply 32 to 37 kg/ha of nitrogen per hectare.
67. Using Benson's response function for nitrogen on maize from 1600 on-farm trials
conducted in Malawi in 1995/96, we calculate that with the optimal amount of 37 kg
Nitrogen per hectare, a farmer gets roughly 26 kg maize from 1 kg of nitrogen, a very
high response rate, if she does not count her own labor as a variable cost (a common
assumption for smallholders). With CAN costing MK 14 per kg, one kg of Nitrogen
costs MK 68.3, meaning the cost of a kilo of maize for a farmer growing her own is only
MK 2.62, much less than MK 6.5, the cost if she were to buy it. For this reason, farmers
realize they need chemical fertilizer, and it has become a political football in the politics
of Malawi (Uttaro, personal communication).
68. An example is the fertilizer-for-work program initiated by Stephen Carr (1997) with the
EU in 1991/92 when 10,000 tons fertilizer were distributed in a pilot program. Field
assistants contacted local communities to ascertain what the community or village
wanted done (e.g., more classrooms, wells, access roads, or teachers' houses). In June
and July when the harvest was in and there was plenty of food, and school was out,
village women would provide the labor to build a teacher's house in return for a
fertilizer voucher that they could cash at planting time in November-December.
69. Tsoka and Mvula 1999.
70. Devereux 1999: 58.
71. Longley et al. 1999, Gough 2002.
72. Palm et al. 1997; Kumwenda et al., 1996: 9.
73. Palm et al., 1997, Kumwenda et al., 1996: 24.
74. Palm et al. 1997, Giller et al. 1997, Wortmann and Allen 1994.
75. Snapp 1999.
76. Kumwenda et al., 1996: 9.
77. Kumwenda et al. 1996: 5.
78. Palm et al., 1997; Kumwenda et al., 1996: 25.
79. Brown et al., 1996; Stephen Carr, personal communication, Anderson in this edition.
80. Staudt, 1975; Olayiwole 1991.


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Tomich, T.P., Kilby, P., Johnston, B.F. Transforming Agrarian Economies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1995.

Tsoka, M., and P. Mvula. "Malawi Coping Strategies Survey." Zomba, Malawi: Centre for
Social Research, 1999.

Van der Eng, P. "Development of Seed-Fertilizer Technology in Indonesian Rice Agriculture."
Agricultural History 68 (1994): 20--53.

Von Pischke, J.D. Finance at the Frontier. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 1991.

World Bank. Structural Adjustment in Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Wortmann, C.S., and D.J. Allen. "African Bean Production Environments: Their Definition,
Characteristics, and Constraints." Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT): Network on Bean
Research in Africa, Occasional Publications Series No. 11, 1994.

Yaron, J. "Assessing Development Finance Institutions: A Public Interest Analysis." World
Bank Discussion Paper 174. The World Bank, Washington, D.C, 1992.

Yaron, J. "Performance of Development Finance Institutions: How to Assess It?" Paper
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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Gladwin,
Christina. "Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa: An Introduction." African Studies Quarterly 6,
no. 1&2: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v6/v6ilal.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002
httD:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu /asa/v6/v6il-2al.ndf

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda: A Comparison of Soil

Fertility Indicators for Women and Men's Agricultural Plots


Abstract: The removal of subsidy under the structural adjustment programs of the World
Bank has increased the cost of fertilizers and lowered the level of fertilizer input use
among the small-scale farmers in Uganda and in many African countries. It is also
reported that female farmers lack cash or credit to finance agricultural inputs, as such
they apply less fertilizers to their crops than male farmers. In addition there is a
perception that female farmers in Africa are allocated less fertile land by their spouses.
We conducted this research to determine whether the gender difference in wealth and
land allocation between male and female farmers in male-headed households is
manifested in soil fertility indicators. We determined chemical fertility levels (fertility
indicators) in the composite topsoil samples from 5 woman-owned plots and 5 man-
owned plots in Ntanzi village, Uganda, on a Rhodic Ferralsol. A similar study was
conducted on 8 woman-owned and 8 man-owned plots in Buggala Island, Uganda, on a
Ferralic Arenosol. In total we took topsoil samples from 13 male-headed households,
and sampled by horizon 13 soil profiles. No female-headed households (FHHs) were
included in this study. Therefore when we use the words "women" or "female" we are
referring to married women/females in male-headed households. The FHHs were
omitted from this study because they had no consistent comparable "male match" with
agricultural plots from which we could take soil samples.
The study showed no statistical significant difference between soil fertility
indicators of plots owned by wives vs husbands. The soil data from wives' and
husbands' plots had low soil fertility levels of most soil fertility indicators, implying that
they had been under comparable poor management practices. On-farm demonstrations
of soil nutrient management options are recommended to convince both women and
men farmers about the benefits of improved soil fertility technologies.


Uganda is blessed with a wide diversity of natural resources: soil, climate, water and
vegetation, enabling it to grow a large number of adapted crops. However, most soils in
Uganda are older than 500 millions years and are in their final stage of weathering. The
predominant minerals in the soils are quartz and kaolinite that don't directly supply nutrients
to soils. The soils are acidic and infertile with low cation exchange capacity (CEC). Nutrients

Peter Nkedi-Kizza is at the Soil and Water Science Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. Jacob
Aniku is at the Soil Science Department, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. Christina H. Gladwin is with the
Food and Resource Economics, Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

28 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin

such as phosphorus occur in inorganic and organic forms that are not readily available to crops.
Phosphorus is fixed by oxides of iron and aluminum. Nitrogen that is low in most mineral soils
can only be naturally supplied to the soil from the atmosphere by symbiotic biological fixation
and slowly from organic matter. Potassium another essential element, is also limiting in these
soils because there are no primary minerals that can supply it. Also, due to the low CEC,
inorganic cations are easily leached out of the root-zone of most crops.-1
The total land area of Uganda is 241,000 square kilometers (km2) of which more than 25%
is unproductive. These agriculturally unproductive areas include swamps, mountains, national
parks, urban centers and open water. Arable land comprises 75% of the total land area, but
only 10% can be considered as agriculturally productive land. The remaining land surface is
rated as moderate, implying the sort of soils that will support crops under good management.
The land area under cultivation is about 4.6 million hectares (ha), with 4.3 million ha
cultivated to food crops, while cash crops cover about 0.3 million ha. The agricultural output
comes almost exclusively from about 2.5 million smallholders, 80% of whom have less than 2 ha
each. Only tea and sugar cane are grown on large estates that total about 50,000 ha. Both food
and cash crops are almost entirely rainfed. The smallholder farms in the rural areas are owned
and managed by both women and men farmers._2
Over the years, food production has been characterized by subsistence farming. A
subsistence production system usually focuses on a maximizing short-term profit, consuming
natural stocks of plant nutrients. Such a farming system has resulted in soil fertility
degradation through nutrient mining. In the past, when Uganda's population was still low, lost
soil fertility was restored through long periods of fallows. With an average land holding of
about 2 ha per household, fallows are no longer practical or the periods greatly shortened.
Research has clearly demonstrated that fertilizer inputs and appropriate land management
practices are important components of technology required to increase crop yields in Uganda._3
The removal of fertilizer subsidies under the privatization program in Uganda, in 1992, has
greatly increased the production cost for farmers without corresponding increases in producer
prices. As a result, fertilizers, more often than not, can only be afforded by the better-off farm
households who have access to cash and credit facilities.
Studies conducted in Malawi and Cameroon by Gladwin (1991, 1992) showed that the
average female-headed farm household used significantly less fertilizer per hectare than the
male-headed farm household. The studies attributed lower fertilizer use by women to the fact
that they have less access to cash and credit. 4_However, it is not clear whether these gender
differences in soil fertility management would also be reflected in soil fertility indicators
measured from fields or farms of women and men who are spouses.
The main objective of this research was to evaluate and compare the soil nutrient levels and
other soil fertility indicators from a wife's and a husband's agricultural plots at a male-headed
household in the rural areas of Uganda.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 29


Research Site and field methods

The study was conducted in two agro-ecological zones in Uganda. One study site was
located in Ntanzi village in the Lake Victoria Crescent agro-ecological zone. Ntanzi village is
located on latitude 0 15' N and Longitude 32 50' E. It has an udic and isohyperthermic soil
climate. The soils developed in a sedentary parent material derived from the underlying acid
gneisses and granites. The village has a high population density, estimated at 145 people per
km2. The soils are intensively cultivated to both food and cash crops. The main food crops
include maize, beans, peanuts, sweet potatoes, bananas and cassava. Robusta coffee is the
major cash crop. The farmers keep a small number of livestock on their land.
The other agro-ecological zone is Buggala Island where two study sites; Kagulube and
Kanyogoga villages are located. Kagulube and Kanyogoga lie on latitude 0 10' S and longitude
32 0' E, and latitude 0 10' S and longitude 32 15' E, respectively. The soils in both locations
developed on weathered sandstones. Both villages have very low population densities,
estimated at less than 30 people per km2 each. Shifting cultivation is still practiced here. The
main crops are generally root crops, such as sweet potatoes and cassava. Bananas and coffee
perform poorly. The Buggala Island has an udic and isohyperthermic soil climate. A small
number of livestock, especially goats, are kept on the land holdings.
A scouting trip was made to each of the study sites to carry out a situation analysis. The
visiting time was also used to make preliminary contacts with authorities and to identify
appropriate groups of farmers for discussion, interviews and participation in the project. The
field scouting trips were also used to observe landforms, soils, vegetation, cropping patterns,
and stages of crop growth in the selected villages. Five married couples (husband and wife)
were selected from Ntanzi village for the study, while Kagulube and Kanyogoga villages had 4
couples each, as participating farmers.
A plot of land measuring 50 m x 50 m was selected on the farm of each participating farmer
for the purpose of obtaining composite topsoil samples. Five transect lines, running across the
slope of the plot, were drawn at 10 m intervals. Along each transect, topsoil samples, 20 cm
deep, were taken with a bucket augur (7.6 cm diameter) at 10 m intervals. The five samples
obtained from each transect were thoroughly mixed and a representative composite soil sample
of one kg was obtained. Five composite topsoil samples were thus obtained for each
participating farmer.
Soil pits were located in each village (at each male headed household), based upon
discernible changes in topography, vegetation, land use and other indications seen on the
ground and from aerial photographs of the villages. The location of the soil pit was selected to
ensure that each farmer's sampled plot was truly represented. The soils from 13 profiles were
described and sampled by horizon. They were classified based on three systems of
classification FAO-UNESCO, USDA, and the local system._5

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

30 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin


The soil samples were air-dried, ground to pass through a 2-mm sieve and stored in glass
bottles. Soil pH was measured in soil-distilled water suspensions (1:2) with a pH meter.
Mechanical analysis was performed as described by Bouyoucos (1962). Exchangeable cations
were determined after leaching soils with I M ammonium acetate. Exchangeable K and Na
were analyzed by flame photometry, exchangeable Ca and Mg by atomic absorption
spectrometry (Perkin-Elmer, Model 2280). Total exchangeable bases were calculated from the
sum of exchangeable K, Na, Ca and Mg. Available P was determined by the method of Olsen et
al (1954). Total N was determined by the Kjeldahl method (Bremner 1965). Organic carbon
content (OC) was measured by the Walkley-Black method (Allison 1965) and soil organic matter
(SOM) was calculated by multiplying OC content by a factor of 1.724.


The soil data for Ntanzi village are presented in Tables 1A, IB, and 2. A representative
pedon description and soil characterization based on the laboratory soil analysis are presented
in Tables 1A and 1B, respectively. The Ntanzi soil was classified as Rhodic Ferralsols according
to FAO-UNESCO (1988). The USDA classification and the local classification of the soil are also
included in Table 1B. The taxonomical classification indicate that the soil is highly weathered,
and devoid of weatherable minerals. The values of the total bases decrease with soil depth but
tend to increase at the 170 cm soil depth indicating leaching of bases from upper horizons. The
textural class changes from loam for the topsoil to clay loam for the subsoil implying leaching of
clay from upper horizons. Based on recommendations in Table 3, the soil is deficient in SOM at
all depths. The soil has low total N, pH, available P, K, and Ca at almost all soil depths. For all
parameters listed in Table 2, there was no statistically significant difference in fertility indicator
values between data obtained from female and male agricultural plots. However, all soils have
low to deficient soil fertility indicator values when compared to data in Table 3. All topsoil
samples have a sandy clay loam texture and are acidic. The low nutrient levels in all soil
samples imply that the management practices on women and men's agricultural plots have
been similar. The low to deficient values of available macro-nutrients (N, P, K, and Ca) suggest
that the application of fertilizers should be of benefit to most crops in this village.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 31

Table 1A. Description of a Selected Pedon from Nlanzi Village
Profile Pit-PN1-Ntanzi

Location: On Christine Nanbi's plot of land in Ntanzi village, Mukono
District. The pit is about 50m south of Mrs. Nambi's house
and about 30m from the lower boundary of the plot.
Vegetation: The land is planted to bananas mixed with coffee.
Parent Material Sedentary material derived from weathered graniles and
Geomorphology- The profile is located in the middle of a long gentle slope
Drainage' Well drained.
Moislure : Upper 20 cm dry. moisI below
Rock out crops: None
Erosion No evidence

Diagnoslic characlerisfics
FAO-UNESCO Oxic B honzon
USDA: Oxic horizon

Profile Description
Soil depth (cm)

3 -20


34 -56

56 85

85 -115

Horizon descriphon
Un-decomposed and partly decomposed organic materials
Dark reddish brown 5YR % moist, loanm, strong, coarse angular
blocky, hard slightly sticky, slightly plastic many coarse and fine
rools, many coarse and medium pores. clear boundary to r*lex
horizon (sample number 43)
Dark red 2.5 YR 3/6 moist, clay loam, strong angular blocky.
firm, slightly sticky, Bhghtly plastic, few fine roots; many termite
channels, many fine pores, dear boundary to next horizon
(sample number 46)
Dusky red 10 YR V/. moist, clay loam strong angular blocky firm
slightly sticky, slightly plastic; few fine roots; many termite and
earth worm channels, many fine pores; diffuse lower boundary
.(s~_rple number 65.1
Weak red 10 YR 4M moist clay. strong angular blocky, firm.
sticky, plashc, few fine roots; many termite and earthworm
channels; many fine arid medium pores, diffuse lower boundary
(sample number 48)
Dark red 10 R 3/6 moist, clay loam; strong, angular blocky,
friable, sticky, plastic, few fine roots; many fine pores; few
channels samplee number 51 )

115- 170+ Weak red 10 R 4/4 moist, clay loam; strong angular blocky,
friable shcky plastic mary Fine roots (sample number 55)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

32 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin

Table 18. Sol Characterization Laboratory, Makerere Universny.
Kampala Uganda
Profile Pit-PN1-Ntanzi


Rhodic Ferralsols fine textured (5)
Rnodic Karidudoxs. clayey, isohyperthemic (10)
Buganda Loam series a member of Buganda Catena soil
associaUon Latentc soil 1 1

Values of laboratory data for sol samples from Pd-PNl-Nanza village
Fertility indicator Depth Depth Depth Depth Depth Depth
(Soil parameter, (cm) (cm) (cmI (cm) f(rn) (cm)
3 20 20 34 34 56 56 85 85 115 115 170+
Leb NO 43 46 165 4 91 55
pH ( O) 47 50 47 50 50 52
SOM (glkg) 289 4 7 5 2 2.5 2 6 26
Total N (1gkg) 1 90 0 90 1 00 0.90 1 00 0 70
Available P (mg/kg) 16 0 5 60 14 00 5 60 2 80 28 00
Hl-.nlAC" Erwr tai-AhlS

Ca (cimoLq/kg 3.66
NH4OAC Extractable
Mg (cmolfkg) 0 85
NHOAC Extractable
K (crnol&g) 0 18
NH4OAC Extractable
Na (cmol9kg) 026
Total bases (crnolikg) 4 95
Sand % 46
Clay % 23
541% \31
Textural class Loan

2 76

2 70 2.66


1 22 104 084 0.38

0 10

0 02
4 10


0 05
3 96

Loam Loam

010 014

0 02
3 62

0 05
1 29

3 26

1 40

0 17

0 08
4 91

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002


Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 33

Table 2. Mean values of laboratory data fo composite topsoil samples
from female and male owned agncultural plots from Ntanzi village
Fertility indicator All Wives All Husbands

(Soil parameter)
pH (H 0)
SOM (gtkg)

5 46-
;34 10

Total N (g/kg) 2 20 :
Available P (mg/kg) 5 89 -
NH4OAC Extractable
Ca (cmol/kg) 7 12 :
NH40AC Extractable
Mg (cmol/kg) 2 24 _
NH4OAC Extractable
K (cmaolkg) 0 46 ;
NH4OAC Extractable
Na (cmol/kg) 0 37
Total bases (cmol/kg) 1019
Sand% .47 2
Clay % 29 2
SiI % 24 ; 2
Textural class Sandy

t 5.60



0 10

t 0 25

clay loam

5 64 0 13
.3460 2 30
2 60 0 20
6 79 2 57

799 071


0 71 -0 14

026 -006
11 50 -: 0 30
49 t 3
26 i. 2
25 t 3
Sandy clay loam

N = 25 SOM = Sod organic matter. 95% confidence interval

Table 3. Soil Standards and Rating for Crop Production in Uganda (13)
: Sopropertyvparameter Deficient level Low level I Higi level
SpH (2.5 1 water). 4.5 52 62
SSOM (g/kg) 17 2 30 I60
Total N (g/kg) 1 NA NA
Available P (mglkg) Bray 1 !5 5 20
Exchangeable K (cmol/kg [ 0.2 04 1 3
,Exchangeable Ca (crnol/kg) 2 2 2 10
Exchangeable Mg (cmrnolkg) 0 5 NA NA
NA= Not available. Deficient level implies can not support crop growth

Immediately after the soil samples were taken from Ntanzi village, 69 farmers were invited
for a one-day seminar to discuss the issue of gender and soil fertility. Out of the 69 farmers, 20
were women. A simple survey was carried out. The participating farmers were asked if they
thought that there was a gender bias in soil fertility in their village, in the sense that husbands
allocated to their wives agricultural plots that were inferior in soil fertility. 68% of the women
felt that there was no gender bias vs. 48% of the men. The survey revealed that gender in soil

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

34 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin

fertility was not considered an issue in Ntanzi village, supporting actual soil laboratory data
discussed earlier.
The soil data from Kagulube village are shown in Tables 4A, 4B, and 5. The profile was
classified as Ferralic Arenosols, according to FAO-UNESCO (5). The USDA and the local
classifications are also indicated in Table 4B. Under the high rainfall and aided by the coarse
texture of the parent material, the soil from Kagulube village has been thoroughly leached of
bases. The increase in base concentration at the 120 cm depth is an indication of leaching of
bases from upper horizons. A similar trend is also observed for the increase in clay content to a
depth of 120 cm. Data presented in Table 4B, clearly show that the soil is highly acidic and
deficient in SOM, total N, exchangeable Ca, Mg, and K. With the exception of available P, the
topsoil from all agricultural plots is chemically poor (compare Tables 3 and 5). The low nutrient
values in wives' and husbands' plots suggest that they have been under comparable
management practices. As was observed for Ntanzi village, there was no significant difference
in soil fertility indicator values between soil samples taken from wives' and husbands'
agricultural plots at Kagulube village (Table 5).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 35

Table 4A. Descnplion of a Selected Pedon from Kagulube Village,
Kalangala Distnct Ssese Islands
Profile: Pit-PK2-Kagulube


Parent Material:
Rock out crops:

On Mr. Sirne Gyagenda's plot of land in Kagulube village
Kalangala Dislrici The pi1 is about 30 m east of Gyagenda's
Underground nuts, cassava. sweet potatoes and corn
Sedentary material derived from coarse texture acid rocks
The profile is located on a crest of a broad ridge.
1170 m
Well drained,
Moist throughout
No evidence

Diagnostic chara cer nstics
A profile of a thin brown ochric A-horizor over a deep subsoil which shows
the beginning of horizon differentiation that is taxonomically insignificant

Profile Descriptior:
S-Sol depth icm
0- 20

Horizon description

Dark brown 7.5 YR 3/3 moist, sandy loam; weak crumbs to
loose, many coarse and fine roots; many channels and
medium pores, clear smooth boundary (sample number) .

Dark brown 7 5 YR 4o3 moist, sandy loam weak Tcumbs to
20 33 loose, many coarse and fine roots; many channels and
medium pores; some pieces of charcoal; gradual smooth
boundary (sample number 35)
33- 70 Reddish brown 5 YR 4/4 moist, sandy clay Foam, weak
coarse angular blocky; friable, slightly sticky, slightly
plastic; few coarse roots, few fine roots; many channels
and fine to medium pores; diffuse boundary (sample
number 40)
70- 120 Reddish brown 5 YR 5/4 moist, sandy clay, strong coarse
sub-angular blocky, firm, sticky, plastic; few coarse roots,
few fine roots: many channels and fine pores; diffuse
boundary (sample number 6?)
120 140+ Reddish brown 5 YR 5/4 moist. sandy loam weak coarse
sub-angular blocky; friable, slightly sticky, slightly plastic;
few fine roots, many fine and medium pores (sample
number 29)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

36 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin

Table 4B: Soil Characterization Laboratory, Makerere University
Kampala, Uganda
Profile Pit-PK2-Kagulube


Ferralic Arenosols (5)
Typic Kandhapludults: fine -loamy, Siliceous, isothermic 1 D0)
Bugoma series: (11)

Values of laboratory data for soil samples from Pit-PK2-Kagulube village
Fertility indicator Depth Depth Depth Depth Depth
(Soil parameter) (cm) (cm) (cm) (cm) (cm)
0-20 20-33 33-70 70-120 120-140+

Lab NO


pH (HiO) 4.6 4.8 4.6 5.0 5.3
SOM_ _kg) 1 0 140 105 60 265
Total N (g/kgj 1.20 0 70 0 90 0.70 1.70
Available P (mgtkg) 66.0 56.0 77.0 344.4 61.6
NH4OAC Extractable
Ca (cmoAkg) 0.95 0.60 0.71 0.96 3.60
NH,OAC Extractable
Mg (cmolig) 036 020 037 102 1 29
NH4OAC Extractable
K (cmol/kg) 018 014 0 17 0 17 0 55
NHCOAC Extractable
Na icmoi/kg; 030 005 005 0 08 029
Total bases lcmolikg; 1 79 0 99 1 30 223 573
Sand% 74 70 153 49 65
Clay% 11 17 34 39 19
Silt% 15 13 13 12 16
Textural class Sandy Sandy Sandy Sandy Sandy
loam loam clay clay [Gam

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 37

Table 5. Mean values of laboratory data for composite topsoil samples from
female and male owned agricultural plots from Kagulube village
Kalangala Distnct. Ssese Islands
Fertility indicator All Wives All Husbands
H(Sod parameter
pH (HO O) 543 019 5 25 k 0 23
SOM (gikg) 1510 310 1510 350
Total N (gkg) _1 40 + 0 20 1 40 0 20
AvailableP (mglkg) 202 73 + 66 91 133 24 5308
NH.OAC Ex1ractable
Ca (cmol/kg) 5 02 1 39 2 97 0 71
NHAOAC E xtractable
Mg (lcmolfkg) 1 28 0 32 0 92 : 0 21
NH,OAC Extractable
K (cmolikg) 0 64 : 0 18 0 53 0 10
NH4OAC Extractable
Na (cmol/kg) 0 24 : 0 06 0 24 0 05
Total bases (cmol/kg) 7 18 i 049 4 66 0 27
Sand % 72 1 2 69 5
Clay% 111 14 2
Silt % 17 *2 '17 3
Textural class Sandy loam Sandy loam
N = 20. SOM = Soil organic matter. 95% confidence interval

The data for Kanyogoga village are shown in Tables 6A, 6B and 7. Like soils of Kagulube
village, the Kanyogoga soils are classified as Ferralic Arenosols. The soil from the pedon is
deficient in total N, and exchangeable bases (compare Tables 3 and 6B). The soil has extremely
high amounts of available P as was observed for the soil from Kagulube village. The leaching of
bases and clay from upper horizons to lower horizons is also evident (Table 6B). As was
observed for Ntanzi and Kagulube villages, there was no significant difference in values of soil
fertility indicators between soil samples taken from female and male agricultural plots (Table 7).
Similarities between data obtained from woman- and man- owned agricultural plots are an
indication that the plots have been under similar farming systems and management practices.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

38 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin

Table 6A. Descnpbn of a Selected Pedon from Kanyogoge Village,
Kalangala Distrct. Ssese islands
Profile: Pii.-PKG.lKarnyogoqa

Parent Material:
Rock out crops:

Profile Description:
So.. iepth mr
0 46


60 76

About 1 km east of Kalarigala town in Karnyoogga village
Mature cassava
Colluvium and possibly lake alluvium
The profile is located in the middle of a long gentle slope
1150 m
Well drained.
Moist throughout
None wlthin the pit but many located 100 m from the pit
No evidence

.. Horizon g! ...desc.p.._n
Dark reddish brown 5 YR 312 nmosl, sandy loan, weak
crumb: unable, norm-ticky, non-plastic, many coarse and
fine roots; many termite channels, many fine and medium
pores, clear, smooth boundary (sample number 83)
Reddish irrown 5 YR 4/4 momis. Sandy loam. weak crumb.
friable non-sbcky, non-plastic. few coarse root; many
termnte channels, many medium and line pores, clear
smooth boundary ample number 3
Yellowish red 5 YR 5/6 moist, sandy day loam; weak
coarse sub-angular blocky; friable, few coarse and many
fine roots: many termite channels, many medium and fine
pores, abrupt boundary to sandstone layer (sample
number 17).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 39

Table BB: Soil Charactenzation Laboratory, Makefere University
Kampala Uganda
Profile: Pit-PKG 1-Ka nyogoa

FAO-UNESCO Ferraic Arenosols (5)
USDA: Typic Kandhapludulls fine-loamy. Siliceous, isothermic t10)
LOCAL Kikwayu series: (11)

Values of laboratory data far soil samples from Pit-PKG1-Karnyogoga village
Fertility indicator Depth (cnm) Deoth (cm) Depth (cm)
(Soil parameter)__ 0 46 46 60 60- 76
LaD NO 83 3 317
pH (H-:O 4 8 4.9 -51-
SOM gk'g) 310 250 23 0
Total N (/kg) 2 40 1 50 1 70
Available P (mg/kg) 9380 260.0 180 0
NHIOAC Extractable
Ca (cmol/kgj 1 80 1 03 1 14
NH4OAC Extractable
Mg (cmo'kg) 0 26 0.29 0.30
NH.OAC E xtractable
K (cmolMk2) 021 _0.17 0.14
NHOAC Extxactable
Na (cmollkg) 0_08_ 0 13 0 05
Total bases icmol/kgi 2 35 1.62 1 63
Sand '%'" 74 70 53
Clay% -_ 1_1 17 34
Silt 15 13 13
Tfertural class Sandy ioam Sandy loam SanIy clay loam

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

40 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin

Table 7. Mean values of laboratory data for composite topsoil
samples from female and male owned agricultural
plots from Kanyogoga village. Ssese islands
Fertility indicator All Wives All Husbands
(Soil parameter)

pH (H11O)
SOM (glkg)
Total -N (g/kg)
Available P (mg/kg)
NH4OAC Extractable
Ca (cmol/kg)
i i

4.49.,020 4 16 10.23
23 rk A0 40 in an C0 r 0

2.60 0.20
144.48 31.73

1.25 040

3 40 0.30
130.08 t 25.64

1 50 + 0 62

NH4OAC Extractable
Mg (cmol/kg) 0.39 + 0 11 0 45 + 0 15
NHOAC Extractable
K(cmollkg) 0.52 0.12 0 33 0.17
NH4OAC Extractable
N a (cmol/kg) 0.24 t 0 07 0.23 + 0.07
Total bases (cmol/kg) 2.40 0 18 2 51 + 0.25
Sand % 69 t 6 69 7
Clay % 6 1 6-- 1
Silt % 25 15 257
Textural class Sandy loam Sandy loam

N = 20. S( )M = n il organic matter; }

95 c rinfidence initrcal

The fertilizer recommendations for the banana-based cropping system in Uganda are 100
kg N and 100 kg K ha-1 yr-1, respectively. The recommended input rates for coffee are 100kg N
ha-1 yr-1 and mulching. These soil management recommendations are rarely practiced neither
by women nor men farmers. The cost of fertilizers is too high, and in some rural locations,
fertilizers are not readily available (2).
Interviews with some household farmers by Aniku et al., (2001) revealed that most farmers
are aware of the decline in soil fertility. These farmers would like to increase the productivity of
their soils, but they are afraid to use fertilizers because they have been told that fertilizers
destroy soil productivity. Including N-fixing legumes in crop rotations can increase soil
fertility, but farmers would not include soybean in their cropping rotations because they believe
soybean exhausts soil fertility. Most farmers in Ntazi, Kagulube, and Kanyogoga villages have

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 41

had some elementary schooling. They would therefore be willing to adopt improved land
management methods when the benefits can be clearly demonstrated to them.


Gladwin et al., (1997) have proposed a toolbox of solutions to overcome constraints faced
by female farmers when trying to improve the productivity of their farmlands. The suggested
solutions include: fertilizer vouchers, small bags of fertilizers sold in local shops and markets,
microcredit for fertilizers, grants or free bags of fertilizers, as well as organic-source option and
techniques such as nitrogen-fixing agroforestry innovations and rotations of legumes. Because
the farmers need to be convinced on the benefits of fertilizer inputs, there is a need to
demonstrate these benefits in on-farm experiments.
The solutions suggested by Gladwin et al. (1997), are targeted towards assisting women
farmers to improve their land management practices._6- This study has shown that for male-
headed households, there is no difference in soil fertility indicators measured in agricultural
plots owned by husbands or wives. This implies that husbands do not allocate soils of inferior
fertility to their wives to farm. If there are lowered yields and less productivity on women's
fields, therefore, the differences might be due to other (socioeconomic) factors, such as women's
lack of cash or credit for fertilizers, and women's lack of extension information about new soil-
fertility technologies.
Vosti and Readon (1995) have suggested that the adoption of land management
technologies need to be widespread. They pointed out that "unsustainable practices on non-
adopting farms could harm neighbors and degrade the shared resource base". 7_We are
suggesting that in Uganda the solutions proposed by Gladwin et al. be reconsidered to target
both poor women and men farmers.
In this study we found no significant difference in soil fertility indicators between men-
and weman-owned agricultural plots. This should not be surprising because soil-forming
factors (such as parent material, climate, vegetation, topography, and time) have nothing to do
with gender issues. However, this study clearly shows that the soils in the two regions of
Uganda are deficient (have low levels) on most soil fertility indicators. In addition, both male
and female farmers are not convinced of the benefits of fertilizers as agricultural inputs. On-
farm demonstrations on the various soil management technologies are recommended to
convince both men and women farmers of the benefits of the technologies.


1. Harrop 1970, 43.
2. Aniku, Kataama, Nkedi-Kizza and Ssesanga 1999, 65.
3. Aniku, Kataama, Nkedi-Kizza and Ssesanga 1999, 65.
4. Gladwin 1991 191, Gladwin 1991, 141
5. For more information see, FAO-UNESCO 1988, USDA-Agricultural Handbook 436 1999,
and Radwanski 1960
6. Gladwin 1997
7. Vosti and Readon 1995

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

42 I Nkedi-Kizza, Aniku, Awuma, and Gladwin


Allison, L.E. "Organic Carbon." In Methods of Soil Analysis, ed. C. A. Black, D.D. Evans, L.J.
White, L.E. Ensminger, and Clark F.E. (Am. Soc. Agron. Madison WI, 1965), p. 1367.

Aniku J., D. Kataama, P. Nkedi-Kizza and Ssesanga S. PDCO and soil fertility management:
Uganda results and experience. In R.N. Roy and H. Nabhan. Soil nutrient management in sub-
Saharan Africa in support of the Soil Fertility Initiative. Proceedings of the conference held in
Lusaka, Zambia 6-8 December, 1999. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations, Rome, 2001. P. 65.

Bouyoucos. G. J. Hydrometer method improved for making particle size analyses of soils.
Agronomy Journal 54, (1962):464.

Bremner, J.M.. Total nitrogen. In Methods of Soil Analysis, ed. C. A. Black, D.D. Evans, L.J.
White, L.E. Ensminger, and Clark F.E. (Am. Soc. Agron. Madison WI, 1965), p. 1149.

FAO -UNESCO Soil Map of the World. World Soil Resources report 60. Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations, Rome,1988.

Gladwin, C. H. Fertilizer subsidy removal programs and their potential impacts on women
farmers in Malawi and Cameroon. In Structural adjustment and African Women Farmers, ed.
C. H. Gladwin (University of Florida Press. Gainesville, 1991), p. 191

Gladwin, C.H. Gendered impacts of fertilizer subsidy removal programs in Malawi and
Cameroon. Agricultural Economics. 7, (1992): 141.

Gladwin, C.H., K.L. Buhr, A. Goldman, C. Hiebsch, P.E. Hildebrand, G. Kidder, M. Langham,
D. Lee, P. Nkedi-Kizza and Williams. D. "Gender and soil fertility in Africa." American Society
of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America. Madison WI. Replenishing Soil Fertility in
Africa. SSSA Special Publication No. 51, (1997), p.219.

Harrop J. F. Soils. In Agriculture in Uganda, ed. J. D. Jameson, (Oxford University Press, 1970),
p. 43.

Olsen S.R., C.V. Cole, F.S. Watanable and Dean, L.A.. Estimation of available phosphorus in
soils by extraction with sodium bicarbonate. U.S. Department of Agriculture Circular 939,

Radwanski, S. A. The Soils and Land Use of Buganda. Memoirs of the Research Division. Series
1: Soils No. 4, (1960). Uganda Protectorate, Department of Agriculture.

Soil Survey Staff. Soil Taxonomy: A basic system of soil classification for making and
interpreting soil surveys. USDA, Agricultural Handbook 436. (US Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC, 1999).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility in Uganda I 43

Stephens D. Soil Fertility. In Agriculture in Uganda, ed. J. D. Jameson, (Oxford University Press,
1970), p. 72.

Vosti S and T. Readon. Agricultural growth, natural resource sustainability and poverty
alleviation. In Agricultural growth, natural resource sustainability, and poverty alleviation in
Latin America: The role of hillside regions, ed.. 0. Neidecker -Gonzales and S.J. Scherr
(Proceedings of the conference held 4-8 December, 1995 in Tegucigalpa. Honduras.
International Food Policy Research Institute, 1995.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Nkedi-Kizza,
Peter, Jacob Aniku, and Christina Gladwin. "Gender And Soil Fertility In Uganda: A
Comparison Of Soil Fertility Indicators For Women And Men's Agricultural Plots." African
Studies Quarterly 6, no.l: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v6/v6ila2.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 49

Per Capita Fertilizer Use, East Africa


'9B 'iBI '9 1' t7 19 ,1

ti ": r" S. -
I V ,' 09 1993 199,7'

S9r Ed moi FAOrdfi


Mbale District was selected for this study as a high potential region which is one of the
three most densely populated rural districts in Uganda, the others being Kabale and Kisoro
which neighbor each other in the extreme southwest of the country (Figure 3).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District,

Southeastern Uganda


This paper explores gender-related aspects of agriculture and agricultural change in a
densely populated, high potential area in eastern Uganda, particularly in relation to declining
productivity in the region. Much recent literature has investigated the impacts of specific
agricultural policies and projects on women farmers in sub-Saharan Africa 1. In many cases,
these policies and projects have resulted in unexpectedly negative consequences for women -
and often failed in other objectives as well to a large extent because they did not adequately
consider the critical and complex roles that women play in most African agricultural systems.
Far less often examined in the literature on gender, have been the chronic but pervasive impacts
of persistently low agricultural productivity throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. This
stagnation is one of most striking and widespread features of agriculture in Africa today, and it
stands in sharp contrast to the experience of most developing regions in Asia and Latin
America. The impacts of this stagnation and decline in agricultural productivity are likely to be
particularly severe for African women farmers, whose economic livelihoods are so closely
linked to the production and sale of agricultural products and services.
The paper also examines gender differentiation in agricultural activities and resources in
the survey region and the interaction of gender with other household and demographic
characteristics. Many aspects of gender roles in African agriculture are more complex and
variable than is often assumed, including the common assumption that women specialize in
food crop production while men concentrate on nonfood cash crops. Moreover, important
features of age and household structure overlap with gender in complex ways, and
characteristics that are often interpreted as related to gender also involve other demographic
and household variables. Finally, gender roles have been undergoing considerable change in
response to changes in economic conditions, migration, and disease incidence (particularly
HIV), among other factors, all of which have necessitated adaptation of traditional gender
roles. As discussed below, in the survey region many activities, resources, and outcomes are

Abe Goldman is Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Florida. He has done research on small scale
farmers and their adaptations to population growth and agricultural hazards, intensification, and local knowledge
and resource management by farmers in areas of Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. Kathleen Heldenbrand received her
BA in anthropology at Webster University, St. Louis, MO and her MA in cultural anthropology at the University of
Florida,Gainesville focusing on human displacement and resettlement. She has spent the last ten years working in
East Africa and in the U.S. She is currently adjunct professor at Webster University, St. Louis and assistant director of
The African Refugee Service, located in St. Louis, MO.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

46 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

not differentiated solely by gender, and many of the activities and attributes of women and men
farmers cannot easily be distinguished.
After examining some of the context of Ugandan agriculture, and comparing Uganda's
experience to those of other regions in Africa and elsewhere, this paper reviews research data
from a survey conducted in 1998 to explore the differentiation of agricultural characteristics and
activities on the basis of gender and household structure. Recent trends in production and food
security are then examined, also differentiated by gender and household structure. The
conclusions address the current conditions and prospects of the agricultural systems of the area
and the significance of gender and household structure to these.

Much of Uganda, including the survey region in this study, is endowed with favorable
agricultural conditions. Ample rainfall, divided between two rainy seasons in much of the
country, and relatively fertile soils helped make southern Uganda one of the most productive
areas of eastern Africa through the pre-colonial and colonial periods 2. Uganda is estimated to
have at least twice as much high potential land as Kenya 3. The historic development of large
agrarian populations, often associated with centralized states such as Buganda and others,
testify to the long term productivity of the region. In the 20th century, agricultural output
increased dramatically for most of the decade after independence more rapidly in fact than
most other developing regions in Africa or elsewhere (Figure 1). However, since the mid-
1970s, Uganda has been plagued by more than two decades of severe political and social
turmoil, combined with four decades of rapid population growth since 1960 and over three
decades without agricultural input use, particularly for soil fertility improvement. These have
all contributed to stagnant or declining productivity in agriculture and persistent rural
impoverishment in much of the country.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 80% of Uganda's
1999 population of 22.6 million is agricultural and over 85% is considered rural 4. These
proportions are high even by African standards, and they indicate the continuing dependence
on agricultural production in Uganda. Despite this, virtually no aspect of agricultural
production in Uganda has been able to keep pace with population growth for the last two to
three decades. Per capital agricultural production in Uganda declined steadily through the
1980s and most of the 1990s, and it is currently estimated to be about 75% of the level of per
capital production in the early 1960s (Figure 1). Per capital production of food crops and of
livestock, two of the components of total agricultural production, have similarly declined to
75% to 80% of their 1960s levels. The most dramatic decline, though, has been in nonfood
("cash") crops, which are currently at about 40% of the per capital level of the early 1960s. These
are markedly more severe declines than those estimated for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, for
which per capital agricultural production in 1999-2001 is estimated by the FAO at about 85% of
the 1961-63 level.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 47

Figure 1
Per Capita Agricultural Production, '61163 '99/'01
Indices, Selected Countries & Regions (3-year running averages)


I Indonesia
160 --------------------------^-- *


KSouth Asia

'- Uganda :c-_

1961-63 1966-68 1 971-73 1 976-78 1 981-83 1 986-88 1991-98 16996-98

The Ugandan experience as well as that of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole are in marked
contrast to the record of most developing Asian and Latin American countries. Per capital
agricultural production in Indonesia, for example, is about 60% greater in 1999-2001 than it was
in 1961-63, despite massive population growth there 5. Less dramatic improvements have
occurred in South Asia, where recent per capital production is about 20% higher than in the
early 1960s. Nonetheless, this more modest improvement occurred despite a 130% increase in
population over 30 years (to over 1.3 billion in 2000) and under conditions of far higher
population density than found in sub-Saharan Africa.
A substantial part of the failure of agricultural production to keep pace with population
growth in Uganda and in most of Africa is due to the failure to increase agricultural
productivity. Maize yields in Uganda, for example, are estimated to be at approximately the
same level as they were in the early 1960s approximately 1.1 to 1.3 tons per ha 6. In contrast,
maize yields in most countries of Central and South America, and South and Southeast Asia,
which all started at levels about the same or lower than Uganda's in the 1960s, are now
estimated to be two to three times as high. The same is true for Africa as a whole in comparison
to other developing regions.
The single most important cause for the persistence of low productivity in African
agriculture is probably the extremely low level of fertilizer use there, which contrasts sharply

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

48 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

with all other parts of the developing world. Table 1 shows per capital use of total fertilizer
nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in 1998 (the latest year for which FAO
estimates are available) for sub-Saharan Africa and the other main developing regions of the

Table 1: Per Capita Use of Fertilizer Nutrients, 1998
(kilograms nitrogen, phosphorus, & potassium per capital)

World Sub-Saharan Latin America China South Asia Southeast Asia


23.3 3.4 22.3 27.8 16.0 17.1

Source: Calculated from FAO data 3

Even in view of the low and declining level of fertilizer use in most of Africa, Uganda
stands out in comparison to other African countries, particularly in East Africa. Figure 2 shows
fertilizer use per capital in Uganda in comparison with several other East African countries from
1961 to 1998. It illustrates the recent declines in fertilizer use in most countries as well as the
notable absence of fertilizer use in Uganda for the last quarter century. Few countries in Africa,
or in the world, particularly those with agriculturally-based economies, have experienced such
an extended absence of fertilizer use over the period. As a result, even substantial reservoirs of
soil nutrients such as found in the more fertile areas of Uganda will be severely depleted with
increasingly intensive use. As in most developing countries, fertilizer subsidies were common
in the early 1960s in Uganda. Following the economic disruptions of Amin's regime and
subsequent conflicts, fertilizers were unavailable in Uganda except on the black market. They
are now again available, but their trade is entirely privatized, with no government subsidies 7.
These conditions are further discussed below in relation to the responses of the farmers
interviewed in the research survey.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 49

Per Capita Fertilizer Use, East Africa


. '' 'A ',) 'I3',


Source Bned mn FAO iW


Mbale District was selected for this study as a high potential region which is one of the
three most densely populated rural districts in Uganda, the others being Kabale and Kisoro
which neighbor each other in the extreme southwest of the country (Figure 3).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

- _= ....,=.%

50 I Goldman and Heldenbrand


Figure 3: Uganda population density & location of survey area

Source: Uganda, 1994

At the time of the last national census in 1991, Mbale had a population of about 711,000,
over 91% of which is rural, and a density of about 284 per sq km 8. Projected district population
in mid-1998 was approximately 905,000, which would imply a density of 361 per sq km and an
annual growth rate of about 2.4% 9. The district also had a sex ratio (the number of men per 100
women) in 1991 of 100.2, unusually high for a rural African region where male outmigration
typically leaves many more women than men in rural areas. (By comparison, Kabale and
Kisoro had 1991 densities of 246 and 301 per sq km and sex ratios of 90 and 86, respectively 10.)
The average rural household size in Mbale in 1991 was 4.6.

Mbale has been relatively prosperous in comparison with other areas in Uganda. It has
reasonably favorable agroecological conditions, including volcanic soils in much of the district,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002


i.v -i v t ""*

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 51

and fairly good rainfall (see below). Because it borders Kenya, it has had access to Kenyan input
and output markets, and the western, relatively lower altitude, part of the district is quite well
connected to Kampala and other urban centers of central and southern Uganda. Mbale town,
the district capital, is about 240 km from Kampala along fairly good paved roads.
Mbale district is also a site of the USAID-supported Investment In Developing Export
Agriculture Project (IDEA) to help develop export-oriented agriculture, including major food
crops such as maize and beans, as well as a wide range of food and nonfood income crops.
Numerous domestic and international NGO projects also work in the district, which includes
the western portion of Mount Elgon and the Mount Elgon National Park. Together with its
neighbor to the north, Kapchorwa District, which also borders Mount Elgon but has lower
population density, Mbale is often seen as among the most agriculturally progressive areas in
Uganda 11.
The district is physically divided between lower and higher altitude regions. The former
are only relative lowlands, at altitudes of about 1500 meters, with flat or rolling landscapes. The
highlands, with agricultural regions at 2000 to 2500 meters and higher, include areas of steep
topography and often very fertile volcanic soils. Population density is generally very high in
the high altitude areas, and roads can be extremely poor and often impassable in the rainy
seasons. Mean annual rainfall ranges from about 1000 to 1700mm, divided into two rainy
seasons, with higher altitude areas generally receiving higher amounts 12. The northern lowland
areas are drier than those in the south, and most of the northern region, both lowland and
highland, is less well connected to transport networks and urban centers than southern areas.
Soils in the lowlands are generally not as fertile as in the higher altitude areas, but population
densities are lower, and roads and levels of access to markets and towns are considerably better.
The northern lowlands have also in recent years been subject to cattle raiding by heavily armed
Karamoja pastoral groups from the dry plains north of Mbale. The predominant ethnic group
throughout the district are the Bagisu (or Gisu), who are considered closely related linguistically
to the Luhya of the Kakamega region of Kenya.
Four villages were selected for this survey, two each in the lower and higher altitude
regions and in the northern and southern portions of the district. The sample was stratified so
that ten women and ten men were interviewed in each village, yielding a total sample of 80.
Respondents were selected at random from lists of village households compiled by village
leaders. Seventy one percent of the respondents are married, but the sample included eleven
single women (28% of the women interviewed) and twelve single men (30% of the men).
In order to explore the gender and household aspects of agricultural activities and soil
fertility management, the survey data discussed below is categorized into four groups: married
men and women and single men and women. In some parts of Africa (particularly West
Africa), married men and women have very distinctive responsibilities and activities, including
separate crops, agricultural plots, tasks, and income sources 13. As discussed below, such
distinctions are far less marked in this region than elsewhere. Female-headed households
figure prominently in much literature on gender. The group labeled single women represents
most of the female-headed households in the survey sample. Their special characteristics in this
sample are discussed below. Because of the low rate of male outmigration in the district, there
were very few of what are sometimes termed "de facto female headed households" i.e.,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

52 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

households with a husband living and working elsewhere. Only two of the 29 married women
in the sample said their husbands lived elsewhere for much of the year. Single men also
emerged as a distinctive group, as discussed below.
The surveys dealt with household conditions and activities as well as gender distinctions in
agricultural resources, activities, and incomes, with particular focus on aspects of soil fertility
management and productivity. Current conditions and outcomes were compared with those in
the past (ten years ago) to get a sense of trends. Some additional anecdotal material is also
reported below. (There were few differences in gender-related characteristics among the
villages, and as a result the villages are not dealt with separately in this paper.)


Household Demographic Characteristics

Basic demographic characteristics of the respondents and their households, divided by
gender and marital status, are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Average Age, Household Size, & Age Distribution

Total Sample Women Men

(N=80) (N=40) (N=40)



42 140 I 34

jAverage age
Household size
No. adults

No. children




Mar'd men Single men


5.8 7.1 4.5

3.8 3.3 4.1 2.8

1 (<18)
[Adults/ children
% polygamous (N= 57)

0.7 0.7



The average age for the total sample is 41. While women and men differ only slightly in
mean ages overall, there are sharp distinctions between the subsample of single women and the
other categories. All of the single women are widows. Their average age is 62, and eight of the
11 single women are 60 or older. The single men, in contrast, have an average age of 39.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002




Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 53

Married women are the youngest sub-sample, with an average age of 34; none of the married
women is 60 or over. The average age of married men is virtually identical with the total
sample mean.
An important implication of the age distribution of this sample is that for women, the
effects of age cannot be distinguished from the effects of being a single female head of
household. Life cycle features clearly play a significant role in characterizing the sample of
single women in this case. The category of single women, as a result, should be seen as
representing characteristics combining gender- and age-based characteristics. Although there is
a substantial age difference between the single women and single men, both groups have far
fewer adults in their households than do married households, and thus less available labor.
(They also have considerably less land, as shown in Table 4 below.) An important difference
between single males and females, however, is that the single women care for an average of
almost three children under 18, often grandchildren, while most single men have no children in
their households. This further reduces the amount of land per person in the female headed
households (see below).
The average resident household size (i.e., the number of people resident in the household)
is 6.1 for the sample of 80 respondents, with a total household population of 487. The gender
and age and distribution of resident household members reported by the respondents is
summarized in Table 3.

Table 3: Gender & Age Distribution of Household Residents

Age Male Female Percentage

Over 60 5 18 5%

18-60 98 83 37%

Under 18 143 140 58%

Totals 246 241 100%

The approximate equivalence of male and female residents is consistent with the sex ratio
for Mbale reported in the census data, but this is atypical of many rural areas in Africa where
male outmigration usually leaves a substantially larger number of women in the main working
age groups. The significantly larger number of men than women in the 18-60 age range
(although somewhat offset by the preponderance of women over 60) is particularly striking. It
suggests either that migration by young men is less frequent and/or migration by women is
more frequent than elsewhere, or that there has been considerable return migration, or all of
these. The very high proportion of young people, with almost 60% of the population younger
than 18, is indicative of the high fertility rates of the country and in this region. The fact that the
proportion of young people in the population is higher than it is for the country as a whole,
suggests the influence of outmigration, although this does not seem to have been as gender-
biased as it usually is.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

54 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Traditionally, the Bagisu have involved their children in household chores and agricultural
labor at a very early age (as is true in most African cultures). Beginning at the age of six or
seven, children are expected to perform chores including gathering water and firewood (mainly
done by girls), weeding household plots, and tending livestock (mainly by boys). Household
labor capacity changed substantially with the provision of free primary education in 1997.
Primary education is mandated by law, and up to four children in each household are
permitted free primary education (although additional costs are often collected by school
personnel). Children still do some household labor after school, but households with children
between the ages of 6 and 12 have lost at least some of the labor traditionally provided by these

Landholding Size and Trends
The Bagisu are patrilineal, and land is passed to sons. They are also patrilocal, and women
generally move to their husband's family compound at marriage. (A brideprice is expected
from the husband or his family, which has traditionally been paid in cattle or other livestock,
though other forms of wealth may also now be used.) Survey respondents report that in recent
years, land purchases have become common, and the sale of land is used as a source of quick
cash. Land rental or borrowing for one or more seasons are also common, as reported below.
Household landholdings are extremely small, both in the lower and higher altitude villages
and among all demographic groups, reflecting the high population density of the region. The
average farm size across the total sample is 2.2 acres or about 0.9 hectares. (Acres are generally
used below because farmers speak in terms of acres rather than hectares in estimating land
sizes.) With an average household size of 6.1 persons, this represents a mean per capital
landholding of 0.4 acres (0.15 ha) very little land on which to produce both household food
and income. Nineteen of the farmers (24%) have less than one acre, and 15 (19%) have over
three acres. Only four farmers in the sample (5%) have more than five acres (about 2 ha) per
household, and the largest landholding in the sample is 10 acres (4 ha). Household land is
typically divided into several plots, with an average of 3.7 plots per household. Table 4 lists
reported average landholdings, numbers of plots, land per capital, and the percentage of farmers
who rent or borrow land, disaggregated by gender and marital status.
Overall, women and men respondents reported roughly similar total household
landholdings, with women having slightly less than men. (With the exception of widows who
retain some of their husband's land, women do not own land on their own in the region.) There
are, however, sharp differences in landholdings between married and single households. Single
men or women have less than half the land that married households have. However, when the
amount of land per person is calculated, single men, with their small households, have the
largest amount of land per capital of any subgroup, while married men and women have the
same amount per capital about half as much as single men. Single women have the least land
per capital, reflecting the number of dependent children in their households and their low total
land holdings. This is one of several aspects of poverty among households headed by single
(older) women.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 55

Table 4: Household Land Holding and Usage

Total Women Men Married Single Married Single
Sample women women men men
(N=40) (N=40)
(N=80) (N=29) (N=11) (N=28) (N=12)

Land 2.2 2.1 2.3 2.4 1.2 2.9 1.0

Land per 0.42 0.34 0.50 0.38 0.24 0.38 0.80

3.7 3.3 4.2 3.7 2.3 5.1 2.0
Avg. no. of

% who 46% 43% 50% 45% 36% 50% 50%
rent or

In addition to gender, age and life cycle characteristics are clearly involved in landholding
for this sample. Elderly men and women both tend to have very small landholdings, mainly
due to the passing of land to their children and the limited labor resources they have available.
Three of the single men in the sample are over 50, and two of these have only a quarter acre.
Similarly, two of the 11 single women have only a quarter acre of land, and another five have a
half acre. In all of these cases, farmers are likely to rent land from others when they have
available funds. Almost half of the sample borrow or rent land to plant in addition to the plots
they own. Single women are the least likely to do so, while single or married men are most
likely to rent or borrow land.
Although it might be expected that landholdings have been declining for most households,
only 29% of the respondents indicated that their farm size has decreased over the past 10 years;
40% said their landholding has remained constant, and 31% said it has increased (Table 5).
Male respondents, particularly married men, were much more likely to have increased their
landholding over the period than women. This could be a result of additional land purchase or
inheritance. Half of the single women and single men reported having less land than in the
past, though for differing life cycle reasons. The single women were widowed and in general
much of their previous household land would have reverted to their male children (or co-wives'
children in the case of polygamous households; about 37% of the sample who responded were
from polygamous households). The much younger single men might have less land than in the

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56 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

past as they moved out of their family compounds and established their own single
households. Only one among the single males and females reports having increased cultivated
land over the past 10 years.

Table 5: Land Currently Planted vs Land Planted 10 years ago

Total Women Men Married Single Married Single
Sample women women men men
(N=30) (N=28)
(N=58) (N=20) (N=10) (N=20) (N=8)

Decreased 29% 30% 29% 20% 50% 23% 50%

Increased 31% 20% 42% 30% 0 50% 17%

Same 40% 50% 29% 50% 50% 27% 33%

Gender identification of crops, livestock, and household farming plots is a common feature
of African agricultural systems. Certain crops and livestock are often strongly identified as
predominantly within a male or female domain, although this can vary considerably among
cultures and is likely to change over time. In many African areas, it is common for nonfood
income crops such as coffee, cocoa, and cotton to be principally men's crops. Women
traditionally have primary responsibility for food crops, but gender identification is usually
more complex than this, with the disposition of some food crops, often staple grains or root
crops, controlled by men, while other foods, particularly many legumes, controlled mainly by
women. Livestock also often are linked to male or female household members, with cattle more
often being controlled by men and goats and/or poultry by women. But again, there are many
variations, and considerable change is underway 14.
Various aspects of crop and animal management and their gender dimensions were
examined in this study, differentiated by the four main gender and household categories:
married and single men and women. In general, gender identification is less clearly defined in
Mbale than it often is in other African agricultural systems, and age and/or life cycle
characteristics are often strongly confounded with gender.

Main crops
The four main food crops in the region are starchy bananas (known as "matoke" in much
of Uganda), cassava, maize, and beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), each of which is considered one four
most important food crops by between 65% and 90% of farmers interviewed (Table 6). Sweet
potatoes and cocoyam are also moderately important food crops. Coffee, beans, bananas, and

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Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 57

maize are the most important income crops in most of the region, with various vegetables
(tomatoes, cabbage, and onions) also important for some farmers and in some regions.
There are some gender distinctions in crops, but they do not as seem as sharp as in other
areas of Africa or, possibly, as they were in the past. The main food crops grown by men and
women are approximately similar, as are those considered main men's and women's crops.
Bananas are considered the single most important crop by both men and women, married or
single. Maize and cassava are somewhat more important to men, and beans, sweet potatoes,
and cocoyam are somewhat more important to women. All of these, however, are commonly
grown by both genders.
Among income crops, coffee is generally considered a men's crop, and it predominates
among married men, but over half of single women also grow it, generally because they are
widows who inherited their husbands' coffee plants after his death. Bananas and beans are
important income crops for most households, and although beans are considered more a
woman's crop, they are also grown by single men for income. Tomatoes, onions, and cabbages
are also grown by women as cash crops and are sold in local markets. They are rarely if ever
sold to traders for transport to distant markets. Other than those women who have inherited
coffee, the produce women sell is generally only for local markets. In terms of gender
identification of the main food and income crops, the responses indicate that although there are
some differences, the distinctions are relatively subtle, and they may have become more flexible
than they were in the past.
There are also some crop distinctions between married and single households of both
genders. The main household income crops for married women are beans, coffee, bananas, and
maize, in this order, with tomatoes, onions, and cabbages as additional income crops. Among
single women, the main income crops are bananas, coffee, and beans. Maize, tomatoes and
onions are less commonly grown by single women as income crops. Among married men,
coffee stands out as the most important income crop, followed by beans, maize, and bananas.
Tomatoes, onions, and cabbage, and in a few cases cotton, are also important income crops. For
single men, bananas are approximately as important as coffee as an income crop, followed by
beans, maize, and tomatoes.
Many of the responses as well as anecdotal information provided by the respondents,
however, indicated that although specific crops sold by men and women may not differ
substantially, their marketing patterns often do differ. Women often sell sold their crops only
locally, either in front of their homesteads or at the nearest market or trading center. Partly
because of their heavy domestic workload, they often tend to travel very little. Indeed, one of
the female respondents said that she does not travel anywhere except to her plots and back,
while her husband does all of the marketing. Although this is an extreme case, men generally
travel much more than women, and they are much more likely to sell produce in more distant
markets. In addition, women often report that they have limited control of the money they earn
from crop sales or some of their other activities (see also Table 10 below), as the money is said to
"go into the husband's pocket.

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58 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Table 6: Main Food & Income Crops

(a) Main Food Crops

Percentage of farmers listing crop as one of four main household food crops

Total Sample Married Single Married men Single men
women women (N=28) (N=12)
(N=80) (N=11)





Sweet potato




































(b) Main Income Crops

Percentage of farmers listing crop as one of four main household income crops

Total Sample Married Single women Married men Single men
women (N=11) (N=28) (N=12)

























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Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 59

Tomatoes 20% 21% 9% 22% 25%

Cabbage 14% 14% 18% 15% 8%

Onions 14% 17% 0% 22% 0%

Cassava 10% 10% 18% 7% 8%

Cotton 8% 10% 0% 11% 8%


Livestock, particularly cattle and chickens, are a sign of wealth and a means of storing wealth
among the Bagisu. Milk and eggs provide additional protein in peoples' diets, but meat is not a
major element in their meals. When a household includes meat in a meal, the meat is most
often purchased one or two kilograms at a time. The only time a cow is slaughtered for food is
when the family is preparing a large ceremony or feast that will include extended family and
community members. Otherwise, cattle are used almost exclusively for brideprice or gifts to
young men preparing for their circumcision ceremonies.
While the people in this district are relatively poor, most households own at least some
livestock, mainly cattle, goats, and poultry. About 70% of the sample households own cattle,
and slightly more have poultry (Table 7). Slightly under half of the households own goats, and
fewer than 20% own other livestock, mainly pigs or sheep. In general, single men's households
are the least likely to have livestock. Most single females, in contrast, own cattle, poultry,
and/or goats, having inherited them from their deceased husbands. While virtually all married
households own some type of livestock, the women usually in these households do not own the
major livestock themselves. Women own cattle in only about 10% of married households and
they own goats in about 20% of these cases. Even poultry, which are often considered women's
animals, are owned by women in only about one-third of the married households. (Knutsen 15
reports a roughly similar gender pattern of livestock control in southern Tanzania, but a much
greater degree of female ownership and control in parts of northern Tanzania.)
A high proportion of women, both married and single, sell livestock products, notably eggs
and milk. Eggs are somewhat more frequently sold by single women, and milk by married
women. Married men are less likely to sell either of these, and almost no single men sell eggs.
Almost 80% of farmers in the total sample, and over 90% of male respondents, say they do
not have enough feed for their livestock. A small proportion say they buy feed for their
animals, but almost none of the women purchase feed. As discussed below, livestock provide
manure for many of the farm households, even many of the female headed households, The
constraints on feed resources, however, limits the numbers of animals and the amounts of
manure available.

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60 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Table 7: Livestock Ownership, Sales, & Feed

Percentage of farmers

Total Sample




Single women

Married men

Ownership (in household)







Ownership (by women)







Sales of livestock products





Feed supply

Enough feed? 21% 38% 27%

Buy feed? 15% 7% 9%




The survey included questions on whether farmers maintain a fallow period on their fields
and the length of fallow, the use of manure and other soil nutrient additions, the use of
purchased fertilizer, and purchased hybrid maize seed. Leaving land fallow is one of the most

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Single men





























Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 61

important traditional means of soil fertility management, but with very high population density
and very limited household landholdings, it is difficult for farmers to leave land unused on a
regular basis. Farmers also often add animal manure and/or compost from crop and food
byproducts to their fields to replenish soil nutrients. These techniques involve the collection,
concentration, and recycling of nutrients already present in the local land use system, but they
are limited by important material and labor constraints. Manure and compost have low
nutrient concentrations relative to manufactured fertilizers, and large volumes and weights
need to be carried to planted fields. Their use in many labor-based agricultural systems is
limited to fields near the homestead, unless draft animals or other power sources are available
to cart the material to outer fields. More extensive use is constrained by limits on the supply of
organic material itself as well as the labor needed to transport and spread it over extensive

Fallowing Practices
Even with fertile volcanic soils, fallow periods of several years are necessary to restore
fertility after cropping, particularly in the absence of fertilizer use or the limited use of nutrient
recycling techniques (see below). However, as might be expected from the small size of
landholdings, fallow periods for most farmers in this sample are very short or nonexistent.
Almost three quarters of the sample say they do not fallow their fields at all, and only 26% of
the surveyed farmers report they maintain some fallow on their fields, with an average fallow
period of two years (Table 8). These farmers plant their plots for an average of about three
years before leaving them fallow. The length of fallow does not differ significantly between
men and women who maintain a fallow period, but far fewer women than men do so: in the
total sample, only six women (15%) vs. 15 men (38%) say they practice any fallow. Almost half
of married men say they maintain some fallow period, a considerably greater proportion than
any other group, including married women. Only one of the single women and two of the
single men say they maintain a fallow period.
The general lack of fallow, and its brevity in the cases in which it is practiced together with
the low levels of nutrient inputs (below), indicates that soil nutrients are almost inevitably being
depleted in agricultural fields. Nutrients are continually removed through sale of agricultural
products, erosion, and other social and natural processes. Unless lost nutrients are concurrently
replaced, mainly through the use of fertilizers and/or other inputs, it can be expected that soil
fertility in the region has declined and is likely to continue to do so. Indications of severe
nutrient decline are discussed below.

Soil Inputs
One or more "traditional" techniques or inputs to maintain soil fertility animal manure,
compost, household refuse, and/or mulching are used by almost all of the respondents, but,
even with small land holdings, farmers do not believe that these inputs are available in
sufficient quantity to offset fertility decline. Labor constraints also often limit their use, since all
of these require high labor inputs. The most labor- and land-constrained households, which
include most of the elderly single women, generally make least use of these inputs, since they

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62 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

generally have the lowest availability of both labor and materials. As a result, they would be
expected to have the lowest yields and most severe yield declines.
Commercial fertilizers represent net imports of nutrients into agricultural systems -
whereas the other techniques mostly represent a rearrangement and concentration of nutrients
already present). Their high nutrient concentrations also largely overcome the labor
requirements of traditional inputs, which have low nutrient concentration and thus high mass
and volume. However, they usually require cash for purchase, and relatively few farmers in the
region have previous experience with them, so few know much about their use or potential
impacts on output. At the time of the survey, there were also relatively few shops or vendors
selling fertilizers, though they were available in some rural locations.
(1) Manure use: About two thirds of the respondents use at least some animal manure,
usually on plots close to the homestead and/or the animal stall. The most common use of
manure is on bananas, although respondents say it is also used on coffee and maize. None of
the respondents purchases manure; all of the usage is from animals owned or controlled by the
Somewhat surprisingly, the highest proportion of manure use is among married women,
which may reflect intensive small plot cultivation. As noted above, ownership of cattle and
most other livestock is roughly equivalent among married men and women (over 70% of
married respondents own cattle). However, only 36% of single women use manure,
considerably lower than any other group and lower than the proportion who own cattle or
other livestock (Table 6 above). This suggests that labor constraints, even more than livestock
availability, limit use of manure among these elderly single women.
Only a small minority, about 20%, of respondents say they have enough manure for their
needs. The relatively small number of animals per household, due largely to limited grazing
and other feed sources, is probably the main factor constraining the supply of manure.
An additional recent problem has appeared in some areas. Lower altitude villages in the
north of the district have been repeatedly attacked by pastoralist Karamojong raiders from the
north in the last several years, losing many of their cattle and other livestock. In addition to the
insecurity and loss of wealth resulting from these raids, they have removed farmers' source of
animal manure. News reports indicate that cattle raids in this area have continued through
2000 and 2001 16. Such loss of livestock to raiding is likely to accelerate soil fertility decline
unless fertilizers or other soil fertility enhancements become more accessible
(2) Use of compost & household refuse, mulching, & agroforestry: Almost all farmers --
94% -- report some use of compost or refuse on their fields, though mostly in plots close to the
homestead. Bananas are the crop on which compost is most often used. The more labor
intensive practice of mulching is reported by only 51% of respondents. Thirty percent of the
respondents report some planting of trees specifically to improve soil quality. This has been
promoted by some local NGOs, though less than one third of farmers report any tree planting
for soil fertility improvement.
Use of all of these practices is roughly equivalent between male and female and single and
married respondents. The one exception is that single elderly women report substantially lower
use of agroforestry than other groups. This is probably due to the small sizes of their
landholdings, which limits land available for tree planting (Table 4 above).

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Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 63

Due to the high degree of land use pressure throughout the region, none of these
techniques for recycling or concentrating nutrients has great potential to significantly retard or
reverse the general decline in soil nutrient supply and crop yields. To do so, all would require
the utilization of considerable amounts of noncropped land -- for livestock forage, generating
large amounts of biomass, and/or planting of nitrogen fixing trees. Such land reserves are
simply no longer available in most of this area. Moreover, considerable labor would be
required to disperse the manure or biomass to the crop fields, and farmers consistently say they
have little or no labor available for this purpose. Finally, the sale of agricultural products
outside the region implies an irretrievable export of nutrients. Thus, although these techniques
may increase the efficiency of utilization of the existing nutrient supply, they can at best retard
some of the decline in nutrient supply and cannot represent a long term solution, nor can they
reverse the substantial declines in yield and output reported by farmers throughout Mbale, as
discussed below.

Table 8: Fallow Periods, Soil Inputs and Hybrid Maize Use

Percentage of farmers
Total Sample Married Single Married men Single men
women women (N=28) (N=12)
(N=80) (N=11)

% who fallow 26% 17% 9% 46% 17%

Avg fallow
length (years) 2 2 2 2 1

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64 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Manure use 66% 83% 36% 64% 58%

Enough 19% 25% 25% 6% 29%

Compost use 94% 100% 91% 86% 100%

Mulch use 51% 48% 46% 57% 50%

"Agroforestry" 30% 35% 9% 32% 33%

Fertilizer use 18% 24% 0% 25% 0%
(this or last

Never used 75% 72% 100% 64% 83%

Hybrid maize 69% 76% 64% 75% 42%

Kg hybrid seed 5.2 4.4 2.8 6.0 6.8

(3) Fertilizer use: As noted earlier, there has been little or no use of fertilizers in most of
Uganda for the past 30 years, in contrast to much of Kenya and, to a lesser degree, Tanzania 17.
A small number of farmers in Mbale have recently begun to use fertilizers to address declines in
soil fertility, but it seems that this incipient trend has been arrested or reversed by sharply rising
Fewer than 20% of farmers in the sample reported use of commercial fertilizers within the
last two seasons, all of them in married households, with no difference between married men
and women. None of the single women or single men were currently using fertilizers.
Moreover, seventy five percent of the respondents have never used fertilizers. None of the
single women, and only two of the single men had ever used them. Among those who
regularly or occasionally use fertilizers, the average amount purchased was 11.5 kg.
Most farmers say they are aware of the benefits of fertilizers, having at least seen some of
the demonstration plots that the Ministry of Agriculture and the IDEA Project have scattered
through the district, mostly for maize. Some farmers who have not used fertilizers are also
reluctant to begin because they have heard that once one starts using fertilizers, one cannot stop

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Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 65

using them. (This belief is common in many areas where there is little or no use of fertilizers.
Agricultural officials believe it reflects the inability to maintain higher yields without fertilizer
use [personal communications].) However, the main constraint to use of fertilizers cited by
farmers is cost. The current average price reported by respondents is about UShs 633 per kg
(approximately US $0.60 at the exchange rate at the time of the survey). Although not very high
in absolute terms, this price represents about a 65% increase over the cost five years earlier, and
a 28% increase from the cost two years earlier. This price is comparable to the usual casual
labor wage rate of about UShs 600 per day (about 5-6 hours of labor). The average usage of
about 11.5 kg would cost about UShs 7300. In addition to the total expense, the lack of a
mechanism to purchase fertilizers or most other inputs on credit is certainly a major constraint
on fertilizer use.
With about 25% or less nitrogen content in the compound fertilizers, the average purchased
amount of 11.5 kg would represent about 2.9 kg of nitrogen (the most common limiting
nutrient). If this were distributed evenly over the approximately one hectare average
landholding per household, it would represent an extremely small nitrogen addition to counter
the large losses that occur regularly through crop sales and removal, soil erosion, and other
The significance of these very low levels of fertilizer and other soil nutrient use (low even
in comparison to other similar areas in East Africa) is suggested by a recent study of soil
nutrient balances in three densely populated high potential districts in Kenya (Kisii, Kakamega,
and Embu) 18. The study estimated average net nitrogen losses for these three cases to be 71 kg
per ha per year, despite farmers' use of fertilizers and manure and other organic inputs in all of
these areas. The largest sources of loss of nitrogen and other nutrients were erosion, leaching,
and harvested crops. Inputs averaged 21 kg per ha from fertilizers and 31 kg per ha from
manure and other organic sources, both probably considerably higher than comparable input
use in Mbale District. Similar processes of nutrient loss prevail in Mbale, and it is likely that net
losses of nitrogen and other nutrients are more substantial in Mbale than in any of the Kenyan
(4) Hybrid maize use: Hybrid maize varieties, developed and adapted to local conditions
by Ugandan and Kenyan agricultural research stations, can potentially increase yields,
particularly in combination with fertilizer use. Some hybrid varieties also mature more rapidly
than local varieties, which may reduce drought and/or pest losses. However, new hybrid seed
must be purchased each year by farmers, unlike traditional varieties or other open-pollinated
improved varieties for which farmers can plant saved seed from the previous season. Hybrid
maize use has been widespread in many areas of Kenya, including areas bordering Mbale for a
long period, but hybrid maize adoption is more recent and less prevalent in Uganda.
In contrast to use of fertilizers, hybrid maize varieties are now widely grown throughout
the Mbale region. Almost 70% of the total sample, and over 80% of those who grow maize,
plant some hybrid seed (Table 8). Both men and women, including elderly single women, buy
hybrid maize seed, though a smaller proportion of single men than any other group plant
hybrid seeds. There are more substantial differences in the amounts of hybrid seeds purchased,
however, with women overall purchasing about one-third less seed than men. Elderly single
women buy the lowest amounts -- less than half what men generally purchase. Most farmers

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66 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

say they buy fresh seed each year and most report that hybrid maize gives them higher yields,
even though only a small number use fertilizer with the seed. The demonstration plots and
other efforts to distribute hybrid maize seed in Mbale by the Ministry of Agriculture and the
IDEA Project have clearly had a substantial effect on its adoption.

Farmers were asked to estimate their most recent (1997) production levels for their main
crops (usually bananas, maize, beans, and coffee) and to estimate output for those crops 10
years ago (or when they began farming if that was more recent). Such estimates, particularly
for the past, are difficult to make accurately, of course, but they may at least give an indication
of production trends in an area. An additional limitation to the data discussed below is that
although total sample sizes for responses are reasonable (over 40, except for coffee), several of
the subsamples are too small to be statistically significant. The results may nevertheless suggest
current conditions and directions for future research.
Table 9 summarizes responses on current output and comparisons of present and past
output levels for the four main crops. Current production is converted to per capital output
based on the number of resident household members, with children under 18 calculated as
equivalent to 0.75 an adult. The figures for 10-year change represent the mean percent
difference between current and past output levels for each group. Overall, the responses
suggest that farmers are producing considerably less of their main food crops than are required
to meet the basic nutritional needs of their households. In addition, there are strikingly large
and prevalent declines in output of the region's main crops.
The per capital output estimates for the three main food crops in Table 9 strongly suggest
that farmers are not producing enough basic food for their household nutritional needs -
although these figures are, of course, very rough estimates, those for banana production (in
bunches) particularly vague. Farmers clearly must purchase additional food to meet their
needs, as they in fact report doing almost universally (Table 10, below). (Animal products,
particularly eggs and milk, also contribute to household nutrition, though output and
availability of these was not investigated.)
Among the gender/household categories, single women report the lowest levels of staple
food output per capital, with the lowest per capital production of maize and bananas, though
their bean production may help provide some additional protein. The main reason for this is
probably the severely limited land available to these households, which are typically composed
of an elderly woman and several children. Interestingly, however, single women report a
relatively high level of coffee output, about twice that reported by the married men. Sample
sizes for all of the coffee production estimates are very low, however, and the confidence level
for most of these responses is correspondingly low. Estimated per capital production of food
staples by married men and women are roughly similar, although contrary to expectations,
married men estimate a higher output of beans than do married women. It is possible that this
represents inaccurate information by married men of bean production that is done
predominantly by women. It may also indicate a growing importance of beans as an income
earning crop for men as well as women, as suggested by the high estimated bean output by
single men as well as by the high proportion of respondents of both genders who list beans as

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Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 67

major income crops (Table 7). Overall, there are so few production estimates by single men that
these are not statistically meaningful. The estimates suggest, however, that their per capital
production of staples, particularly maize, is considerably higher than that of the other three
groups. The small household size (in most cases just one person), and relatively high amount of
land per capital of single males certainly is a major factor in their ability to produce more than
the other groups.
The sharp decline in output reported by most respondents for their main food and income
crops is one of the most striking findings of the survey. Over 80% of farmers who made output
comparisons reported declines for each of their main crops: bananas, maize, beans, and coffee.
The extent of reported declines in output was also dramatic. Farmers reported mean
production declines of 44% for bananas, 39% for maize, 48% for beans, and 46% for coffee in
comparing current output with output on their farms 10 years ago (Table 9). Since only about
30% of respondents said their farm sizes had declined over the period (see above), the major
part of these output declines apparently resulted from lower yields per land area. Anecdotally,
farmers also report that individual plants tend to be smaller and produce less edible output
than in the past. Even those who are planting hybrid and other improved varieties and those
using various forms of organic inputs (manure, compost, etc.) report disappointing harvests.
The sharp declines in yields would presumably be due to the conditions discussed in the
previous section short fallow periods, and insufficient or no use of fertilizer or organic
recycling and additions. In addition, disease and pest damage were reported to have increased
for many crops, especially bananas, beans, and cassava, which contributed to the lower yields.
The incidence and severity of several diseases may also be linked to low soil fertility.
There are several notable differences in reported production trends among the gender-
household groups, though as noted above, the small size of some of the subsamples limits the
statistical significance of the results. Single women in particular stand out as reporting the
largest percent declines in production for three of the four crops. The decline of maize and bean
production by single women was particularly severe and substantially greater than for any
other group. The reported decline in banana production was comparable to the declines
reported by married men. Many of the single women in the sample might have lost their
husbands and/or given some of their land to sons over the previous ten year period, which
helps account for the sharp output declines they report. Since almost all are still caring for
children under 18, however, their household needs have not declined to the same degree as
their productive capacity. Married men reported notably larger percentage declines in maize,
banana, and coffee production than did married women, and roughly comparable declines in
bean production. Indeed, married women reported lower declines in all four crops than did
single women or married men. Single men stood out as the only group to report production
increases, which were especially high for beans and coffee production (though as noted, sample
sizes are very small for this group). The sharp contrast between single men and the other
groups is probably largely a result of their youth; having recently begun farming on their own,
they are likely to be producing more than in the past.
Despite the inherent uncertainties of these production estimates, if the farmers' estimates
are even roughly accurate, they indicate that the agricultural system of this region is
undergoing a profound production crisis, one whose reversal is not in sight.

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68 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Table 9: Per Capita Production (1997) & Ten Year Production Trends ('87-'97), Main Crops

Total Sample Married Single Married men Single men
women women (N=28) (N=12)
(N=80) (N=11)

Bananas (bunches)

Per capital output* 8.2 8.5 6.2 9.2 9.2

(N=41) (N=18) (N=10) (N=10) (N=3)

-44% -32% -54% -58% +80%
10 yr change**

Maize (kg)

Per capital output* 67.5 61.3 28.6 56.8 174.5

(N=59) (N=20) (N=10) (N=22) (N=7)

10 yr change** -39% -25% -77% -49% +82%

Beans (kg)

Per capital output* 19.5 12.9 18.1 19.2 21.7

(N=42) (N=16) (N=10) (N=13) (N=3)

10 yr change** -48% -42% -73% -53% +338%

Coffee (kg)

Per capital output* 26.2 33.8 25.5 11.7 100.0

(N=24) (N=8) (N=6) (N=9) (N=1)

10 yr change** -46% -27% -71% -67% +300%

* Mean 1997 per capital household; children under 18 calculated as 0.75 adult household

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Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 69

** Mean per cent difference between estimated 1987 and 1997 production of crop

The production trends discussed above suggest that most farmers in the region are
probably less food secure than in the past, except in cases where other income sources allow
them to purchase sufficient food. In order to obtain a rough gauge of food security in the
region, respondents were asked about food sufficiency from their own production, recent
experiences of hunger, and food purchases and related income sources, the responses for which
are summarized in Table 10. Given the reported declines in the region's output reviewed
above, it is not surprising that almost all farmers now purchase food in addition to what they
produce themselves, and that, for the large majority of respondents, their own production does
not last until the next harvest.
Approximately half of the respondents report having experienced a period of serious
hunger in their household at least once over the past 10 years. Only the younger single men
among the demographic categories report a substantially lower incidence of such cases, which
may be related to their ages as well as the small size of their households. A larger proportion of
married men than other groups report hunger incidents. Fewer than half of the single women
reported such incidents, contrary to what might be expected given the low production levels
they report. This may be because they receive additional food from their adult children living
nearby, especially in stressful situations.
Fewer than a third of the respondents report that the food they produce is sufficient to last
until the next harvest. Single men appear to be best off in this respect as well, while single
women are the worst off, with fewer than 20% having enough food to last until the following
harvest. Their limited land and labor resources in relation to their household needs are
probably the main causes of their widespread shortfalls in production. Only a quarter of the
married men and women, who together comprise over 7% of the respondents, report that their
food output lasts until harvest.
It is not surprising under these conditions that almost all respondents report that they buy
food to supplement their own output. By itself, this can be an indication either of prosperity or
low production, but given the current conditions in the area, it is most likely to indicate stress.
The relatively low proportion of single women reporting food purchases is probably an
indication of cash shortages rather than food security. Over 90% of each of the other groups,
including single men, who seemingly have the most favorable ratio of output to needs, buy
food. It should be noted that virtually all households also sell agricultural produce to obtain
cash for basic needs and children's education, even when they don't produce enough food to
last until the next harvest. Similar behavior appears in most of the studies in this collection.
Maize is the most commonly purchased food, with almost 87% of respondents reporting
maize purchases, followed by rice (50% of respondents) and cassava (40% of respondents).
(Rice is not grown in most of the survey areas, but it is planted in areas to the west of the survey
region in Mbale and neighboring districts and is available in many local markets.)

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70 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Table 10: Aspects of Food Security

Total Sample


Hunger in last 10 51%

Food lasts until 32%

Buy food? 93%

Sources of funds for food purchase

Work for wages 36%

Sale of cash crops 50%

Borrow money 7%

Salaried 16%

Other business
(incl. beer brewing)



















Married men









Sources of funds: The two main sources of income for food purchases are working for
wages, generally on other people's farms, and the sale of crops. These are somewhat gender
differentiated, with wage labor significantly more important for women, both married and
single, and the sale of cash crops somewhat more important for men. About 45% of both single
and married women report wage labor as an important income source, but this overshadows
other income sources for single women, while many married women also sell crops for income.
Only about 25% of the married men and fewer of the single men report wage labor as an
important income source. They seem to rely to a far greater extent on the sale of crops for
income. The usual casual labor wage rate in the region was reported to be about UShs 600 per
day (though some food is also often included, and work is usually for about four to five hours).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Single men








Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 71

This was roughly equivalent at the time of the survey to about US $0.60, which is low even by
East African standards.
The sale of cash crops is important to both men and women, but it plays a particularly
important role for men. Over half of married men and 80% of single men report earning income
from crop sales. Single women are the least reliant on crop sales, probably because they have
the least surplus production. (The sale of livestock, which is not listed in the table, is important
for only about 8% of the sample.) Borrowing money is not a large income source overall, but it
is especially important for the single women in the survey, a further indication of their relative
impoverishment. Salaried employment and other business ventures were reported by a
minority of respondents and were concentrated among married men. This is an indication of at
least some of the greater diversity of income sources available to men that are generally
available to women.
All of the data summarized in this and the previous sections suggest an endemically low
level of agricultural productivity and welfare in the region, despite its seemingly favorable
agro-ecological potential. Some of the implications of this, particularly with regard to gender,
are discussed below.

The survey results suggest that gender does play an important role in the agricultural
resources, activities, and outcomes of farmers in Mbale, but many of its effects overlap and are
linked with other important demographic characteristics. In particular, households headed by
single males or females differ to a significant extent both from each other and from married
households. Many of the distinctions are linked to age and dependents. Among married
households, both men and women are usually heavily involved in agricultural production,
which comprises their single most important economic activity. Although there are gender
distinctions in some activities and in control of household resources, there are relatively few
major differences among married men and women with respect to the variables examined in
this study. The Mbale area itself is somewhat atypical in the high proportion of men who have
remained here rather than migrating elsewhere. Both the official census data on sex ratios in
Mbale District, and the gender distribution of household members cited by the respondents
indicate the presence of an unusually high number of adult working age males in the region,
even in these rural villages included in the survey (Table 3).
Married men are somewhat older than married women, but the households of married
men and women are similar in size and in numbers of adults and children. Both have
equivalent amounts of land on a per capital basis an extremely low total of about 0.4 acres (0.1
ha) per person.
In contrast single women in the sample are older than any other group, and almost all are
widows who care for two or more children. They comprise virtually all female headed
households in the sample, as a result of which the effects of age and widowhood are interlinked
with the effects of gender for this category. Because of the high number of working age men
who have remained in the region, there are almost no households in the sample with absent
male household heads who have moved to distant urban areas. The female headed households
have the lowest amount of land per household member about 35% less than married men or

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

72 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

women and none has more land than they had 10 years ago. In contrast, single males are
generally younger unmarried men with no dependents. They have little land and fewer
livestock than other households, but because of their small household size, they often have
more land and produce higher output than others on a per capital basis.
There are few major distinctions in the types of crops grown by women and men in
married or single households. Even coffee, the main nonfood income crop, is grown by similar
proportions of households of different kinds, including those headed by single women. Men
are more mobile, however, and have a wider range of marketing outlets, and they generally
have control of most income generated by the household. Livestock ownership is common
among all types of households, including female headed households. In married households,
however, men generally have actual ownership of major livestock, particularly cattle and goats.
Among the household types, those headed by single males are least likely to have livestock.
Many aspects of soil management and input use related to soil fertility are also roughly
similar among men and women in married households, but single female headed households
are disadvantaged in a number of respects. Fewer single women than others fallow their fields,
or use manure or agroforestry techniques, and none use fertilizers. They do use compost and
mulch, and plant hybrid maize at proportions comparable to married households, but they
plant less hybrid seed than married households.
Single women also report the lowest per capital output of the two main staples, bananas
and maize, as well as the most severe declines in output over the past decade for all four main
crops. Male and female respondents in married households also report low output levels and
sharp declines in output for each of these crops. Single males, are the only group to report gains
in output over the last decade, and they have the highest per capital output of some crops,
notably maize.
Finally, most indicators suggest that single women are less food secure than other groups
and have fewer income sources for food purchases. Household food production is usually not
sufficient to last until the next harvest for married households, but it is even less likely to be
sufficient for single female headed households. Single males stand out from the others,
however, in that 75% report producing enough food to last themselves until the next harvest.
The absence of dependents is probably the key factor in this. In general, women's sources of
income for food purchases are tied mainly to doing agricultural work for wages, while men are
more likely to earn such income from crop sales. Single women in particular are heavily reliant
on wage labor and to some extent on borrowing money for food purchases. Their food security,
and that of their dependents, as a result, is especially closely tied to the state of the agricultural
economy, in terms both of their own production as well as their employment.

In comparison with many other areas of sub-Saharan Africa, an unusually high proportion
of adult men remain in Mbale and are involved in agricultural activities there. Perhaps in part
because of this, many of the traditional gender distinctions found elsewhere, such as gender
identification of crops, livestock, and various activities, are less apparent here. Men still have
greater control of household resources, however, and a greater range of economic activities than
women. Women's economic livelihoods and their income sources are especially closely linked

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 73

to agricultural production, both through wage labor, their most common income source, and
sale of crops and livestock products. They are particularly vulnerable, as a result, to low and
declining agricultural productivity, whether it occurs as an acute short term crisis, or as a more
chronic process of decay. Single women with dependents are the most vulnerable group among
those surveyed, although they are often assisted in crisis situations if they have adult children
living nearby. The whole regional economy is of course dependent on agriculture and is
affected by low productivity. But men have a somewhat greater range of economic activities,
and so may be slightly less vulnerable. Most women have almost no other alternatives.
Intensive, almost continual land use is essential in much of Mbale, as in other areas of very
high population density. Soil fertility is likely under these conditions to become the key
limiting factor to increasing production or even to maintaining output at previous levels. Soil
nutrients must be replaced to maintain productivity over time; they must be increased to raise
productivity. Farmers in this survey indicate that output and yield levels are currently
extremely low, and they have in most cases declined substantially over the last decade.
Traditional organic techniques of soil fertility management are widely practiced, but they have
apparently not been able to arrest the decline of productivity and output. Little surplus is
available for sale as a result, and crop sales, which are the most common source of funds for
most farmers, can generate relatively little income, either for food purchase or for agricultural
or other investment.
Low productivity also guarantees low wages, and these have severe negative impacts on
women farmers in general and single elderly women in particular, who rely so heavily on wage
income and who remain impoverished as a result. At the low level of wages in Mbale, wage
labor is incapable of providing more than a supplement to bare subsistence, and it is difficult or
impossible for farmers to purchase inputs of any kind to increase productivity, especially
fertilizers, or to devote labor to improving output on their own land.
Crop sales usually have a greater potential than wage labor for capital generation and
incentive for reinvestment in order to increase productivity. Crop sales are an important
income source for women as well as men, but single elderly women are the least able to take
advantage of them. In addition, crop sales imply an inevitable export of the nutrients embodied
in the product. Given the small size of agricultural holdings in Mbale, as well as the short or
nonexistent fallow periods, the limited sources of local biomass or biomass import, and the
common absence of fertilizer use, crop sales also accelerate the decline of soil productivity.
It will not be possible to increase agricultural productivity without substantial increases in
soil nutrient supply. The most effective way of accomplishing this is through the import of
nutrients in the form of fertilizers, which has been an essential and ubiquitous component of
strategies for increasing productivity in all world agricultural regions in the 20th century,
especially areas of high population density, as illustrated in Table 1 and Figure 2. Uganda has
in this respect dramatically lagged behind even other countries of eastern and southern Africa.
The market cost of fertilizers and its rapid recent increase is the main obstacle to fertilizer
use reported by farmers. Even farmers who had begun to experiment with fertilizer use were
reducing or giving up on it in the face of rising costs. This is not surprising given that the
current cost of a kilogram of compound fertilizer is roughly equivalent to a day's wage
earnings. Wages are not likely to increase in the absence of increases in productivity, but

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

74 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

productivity cannot increase in the absence of significant increases in soil nutrient supply.
Fertilizers are the only effective way to substantially and rapidly increase soil nutrients and
productivity, especially in this and other high density regions. This argues strongly that
reliance on market prices will not result in rapid or significant increases in fertilizer use in this
kind of region. To accomplish this end and achieve any significant improvement in agricultural
welfare in this area, it will probably be necessary to subsidize the cost of fertilizers, or at the
very least, the cost of borrowing cash for fertilizer and other input purchase. Otherwise,
stagnation in production and welfare are likely to continue, and the impacts on women farmers
who rely so heavily on agricultural wage labor and crop sales, will continue to be especially

This study is based on research done for the Gender and Soil Fertility project, supported by
the Soils CRSP, in July through November 1998 by Abe Goldman and Kathleen Heldenbrand of
the University of Florida. Valuable assistance was provided by the USAID IDEA Project in
Uganda, particularly Mark Wood in Kampala and Mathilda Makabay, coordinator for the IDEA
project in Mbale. Additional advice and assistance was provided by the East African office of
CIAT (the International Center for Tropical Agriculture), particularly Drs. Charles Wortmann,
Soniia David, and Roger Kirkby. Research assistants in Mbale who contributed greatly to the
project through their knowledge and efforts were Kate Nafuna, James Makoba, Angela Ayo,
Alex Jigga, and Josea Malissa, who work with the Ministry of Agriculture and/or local NGOs in
the district.


1. Carney, 1992; Francis, 1997; Gladwin, 1992; Meeker and Meekers, 1997; Sorensen, 1996;
Schroeder, 1999.
2. The best rainfall and soil conditions in Uganda are mostly found in the southern half of
the country, which have historically corresponded with the areas of greatest agricultural
output and of highest population densities in colonial and immediate precolonial eras.
These included the areas around Lake Victoria, the southwest of the country (currently
comprising Kabale and Kisoro Districts), and the area around Mt. Elgon in the east of the
country, currently comprising Mbale District (Uganda, 1967; Van Zwanenberg and King,
3. Van Zwanenberg and King, 1975.
4. FAO, 2001.
5. FAO, 2001.
6. FAO, 2001.
7. Makabay, 1998; Laker-Ojok, 1995.
8. Uganda, Republic of, 1996.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District, Southeastern Uganda I 75

9. Uganda, Republic of, 1996.
10. Uganda, Republic of, 1996.
11. Kirkby, 1998.

12. Uganda, Republic of, 1967.

13. Fisher, et al., 2000; Guyer, 1991; Martin, 1984.

14. Knutsen, 1999.

15. Knutsen, 1999.

16. Odeke, 2001.
17. FAO, 2001.

18. Van den Bosch, et al., 1998.


Carney, Judith. 1992. "Peasant women and economic transformation in The Gambia."
Development and Change 23: 67-90.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Website (www.fao.org).
FAOSTAT (statistics), 2001.

Fisher, Monica; Rebecca Warner, and William Masters. 2000. "Gender and agricultural change:
crop-livestock integration in Senegal." Society and Natural Resources 13: 203-222.

Francis, Elizabeth. 1997. "Gender and rural livelihoods in Kenya." Journal of Development
Studies 35 (2): 72-95.

Gladwin, Christina. 1992. "Gendered impacts of fertilizer subsidy removal programs in
Malawi and Cameroon." Agricultural Economics 7: 141-153.

Guyer, Jane, with Olukemi Idowu. 1991. "Women's agricultural work in a multimodal rural
economy: Ibarapa District, Oyo State, Nigeria." In Structural Adjustment and African Women
Farmers, ed. by Christina Gladwin. Gainesville: University of Florida Press. pp. 257-279.

Kirkby, Roger. 1998. Personal communication. (CIAT station head, Kawanda, Uganda.)

Knutsen, Glade. 1999. Small-Scale Dairying in Two Intensive, High Altitude Farming Systems
in Tanzania: Labor and Gender Roles. PhD dissertation, Department of Geography, University
of Florida

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76 I Goldman and Heldenbrand

Laker-Ojok, Rita. 1995. "Managing input supplies for small farmers in Uganda: a problem of
institutional change." In Uganda: Landmarks in Rebuilding a Nation, ed. by P. Langseth, J.
Katorobo, E. Brett, and J. Munene. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.

Makabay, Mathilda. 1998. Personal communication. (Ministry of Agriculture, Mbale District.)

Martin, Susan. 1984. "Gender and innovation: farming, cooking and palm processing in the
Ngwa region, south-eastern Nigeria, 1900-1930." Journal of African History 25: 411-427.

Meeker, Jeffrey & Dominique Meekers. 1997. "The precarious socioeconomic position of women
in rural Africa: the case of the Kaguru of Tanzania." African Studies Review 40 (1): 35-58.

Odeke, Abraham. 2001. "Meeting Uganda's warriors." BBC news, Oct. 23, 2001. (BBC website.)
Schroeder, Richard. 1999. Shady Practices: Agroforestry and gender politics in the Gambia.
Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Sorensen, Pernille. 1996. "Commercialization of food crops in Busoga, Uganda, and the
renegotiation of gender." Gender and Society 10 (5): 608-628.

Uganda, Republic of. 1996. Statistical Abstract, 1996. Entebbe: Statistics Department, Ministry
of Finance and Economic Planning.

Uganda, Republic of. 1994. The 1991 Population and Housing Census. National Summary
Statistics Department, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. Entebbe, Uganda

Uganda, Republic of. 1967. Atlas of Uganda. Second edition. Department of Lands and
Surveys, Uganda.

Van den Bosch, H.; J.N. Gitari; V.N Ogaro; S. Maobe; and J. Vlaming. 1998. "Monitoring
nutrient flows and economic performance in African farming systems, III: Monitoring nutrient
flows and balances in three districts in Kenya." Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment 71:

Van Zwanenberg, R. and Anne King. 1975. An Economic History of Kenya and Uganda, 1800-
1970. London: Macmillan.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:Goldman, Abe
and Kathleen Heldenbrand. "Gender and Soil Fertility Management in Mbale District,
Southeastern Uganda." African Studies Quarterly 6, no. 1&2: [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices: Gender, Small Bags of Fertilizer, and

Household Food Security Decisions in Malawi


Abstract: This paper examines two decisions farmers in southern Malawi make every
planting season: whether or not to acquire increasingly expensive chemical fertilizers and
whether or not to buy and plant equally expensive hybrid maize seed. Both choices are
interrelated. Maize is the staple food crop in Malawi and the key to food security; and
traditionally, 95 percent of the total land area cultivated in maize has been planted to
local open-pollinated varieties instead of the newer semi-flint hybrids. Local maize is
very popular with smallholder subsistence farmers as is hybrid maize, that when
fertilized, intensifies production improving food security at both household and national
levels. In the current economic environment, however, planting hybrid maize has two
drawbacks. The first is the high price of seed and the second is its high requirements of
fertilizer. With fertilizer unaffordable to many farmers, especially to women farmers of
poorer female-headed households, planting hybrid maize is impractical. This paper
disaggregates Malawi's farmers into subgroups of men, married women, and female
headed households, describes the decision processes they make, and examines whether
small bags of fertilizer will make any difference to the dilemma they now face.

It is the middle of September 1998 in Mayaka trading center in the southern region of
Malawi. Just on the edge of town, there is an ADMARC, Malawi's agricultural marketing
parastatal established in the early post independence years as is the key player of the Malawi
government's relationship with the peasants 1. As at so many other ADMARC centers at this
time of year, people start queuing here early in the morning, waiting to buy whatever amount
of maize they could afford to feed their families.
A woman in that line comes to ADMARC twice a week to buy maize for her family if she
has any money. There is absolutely no money for other necessities, such as soap, sugar, etc.
She is no longer married as her husband died a few years ago. She is the main provider for her
family. Her village is approximately six kilometers away and she walks the distance. She
cannot afford to spend what little money she has on transport. The queue is long now, and so is
the wait. The hungry season is upon her and will remain so until the first green maize is
harvested sometime in late February or early March. In the coming year, if the rains are good
and are on time, she and her family will be eating their own maize grown in her small garden.
However, she now plants local maize and this means the hungry season will linger for a greater
stretch because local maize takes longer to mature. Nevertheless, she is prayerful of a good

Robert P. Uttaro is a graduate student at the University of Florida finishing up a PhD in political science. He spent
16 months in Malawi between 1996 and 1998.
University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

78 I Uttaro

harvest when she will gather in enough maize to keep her family fed until the end of October
when the maize will run out and the hungry season returns. That is when she will begin her
twice-weekly walk to ADMARC to buy maize if she has money.
In that September of 1998, if she wanted to buy a 50kg bag of maize, she would have paid
Malawi Kwacha (MK) 350. In September 2001, she would most likely not be buying at
ADMARC due to ADMARC's low maize stocks. 2 Having to turn to the private market, the
price would range between MK 15 17/ kg. If she continued to buy into December 2001, the
price would be MK22 to MK25 / kg or MK1175 for a 50kg bag, three times as much as the price
three years ago.
Maize is not the only commodity that has risen in price. Over the last half dozen years, the
inflation rate has ravaged what meager savings she could scrape together. 1995 was the worst
when food prices went up 133% while overall inflation was 98% (FEWS). By 2001, according to
the National Statistical Office of Malawi, the inflation rate stood at 25% but this certainly was
not the case with maize. No one would dare use this number to try to tell her that things were
getting better. She knows better. She knows food is unaffordable as is the fertilizer she needs
for her crops. She knows that the price for CAN went from MK 265 for a 50kg bag in 1998 to
MK662 in 2000; that 23:21:0 + 4s went from MK347 to MK837 in the same period. If inflation is
coming down it isn't on what matters most to her. And she knows that in this same time period
her kwacha buys far less than it used to while the wages she earns doing casual labor what is
called "ganyu" has remained stagnant.
Her food security situation is not exceptional. Many smallholder and subsistence farmers,
men and women, are no longer able to produce enough food for their families. They are
subsistence farmers who cannot afford the inputs necessary for an abundant harvest. It is a sad
reality for far too many families in Malawi today. Even under the most favorable climatic
conditions, they cannot afford to purchase fertilizer ever since the subsidy was removed under
structural adjustment reforms, which started in 1986 and were not really effective until 1994. 3
Without fertilizer, the soil doesn't produce enough maize. Without fertilizer, they plant less
hybrid maize, an expensive but less risky alternative to local maize. And with less maize, the
number of households affected by an ever-deepening crisis of food insecurity is steadily
increasing. 4 Njala the Chichewa word for hunger is heard in villages throughout Malawi.
Malawi's soils are losing their ability to produce. Food self-sufficiency is a distant and
fading goal. Declining soil fertility is constraining food production and has been for a number
of years now. 5 This fact was clear to everyone not only the farmers themselves back in 1996,
but also agronomists and soil scientists, technocrats and politicians. Poor yields and hungry
children provide disturbing yet ample evidence of a problem growing only worse every day.
As the price of fertilizer exceeds farmers' reach, hunger spread throughout the country and the
hunger season lengthens. As the depletion and degradation of Malawi's soils continues people
who depend on these soils for subsistence are finding that their options to deal with the crisis
are severely limited.
This paper examines two of those options, the use of inorganic fertilizer and the planting of
hybrid maize. Both options are interrelated. Maize is the staple food crop in Malawi with two
general categories: local and hybrid. Local maize is very popular and many smallholder
subsistence farmers plant it. Hybrid maize was developed to intensify production and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 79

therefore improve food self-sufficiency. Compared to local maize, hybrid has two distinct
advantages. First, it produces significantly higher yields. Second, it matures much faster than
local maize and minimizes the risk of crop loss if the rains should happen to end sooner than
In the current economic environment, however, planting hybrid maize has two significant
drawbacks. The first is the price of the seed. Whereas local maize seed can be obtained from
the previous years crop, hybrid seed needs to be purchased in order to maintain the advantage
of higher yields. The other drawback is the requirement of fertilizer. Hybrid is now an
expensive investment. 6 With fertilizer now out of the reach of most smallholder farmers,
planting hybrid maize is much riskier. Unfertilized hybrid maize yields generally are not that
significantly better than local maize to justify the price of the seeds, although research has
shown that in certain climatic and soil conditions it can be. Nevertheless, farmers have seen a
steep increase in the prices of both hybrid seed and fertilizer causing many to reconsider the
risk of planting hybrid. Using money for unfertilized hybrid seed might be better spent on
something else.
Weather has to stand out as the greatest risk all farmers face for the obvious reason that it is
outside human agency. Decisions concerning hybrid maize and fertilizer are riskier for poor
households in part because the weather can devastate the household's thin economies. If the
rains are heavy and the hybrid crop is washed away or the fertilizer leeches through, a
significant loss is incurred. Even though rain patterns vary considerably throughout the
country, in the past two years floods and drought have devastated much of the country. Many
farmers fortunate enough not to have suffered from the flood in 2001 may not have been so
lucky in escaping the ravages of the current drought. It seems likely that these experiences will
affect future decisions concerning planting hybrid maize. 7
Although food production is an important aspect of household food security or insecurity,
it is not the only one and focusing only on increasing production would not necessarily convert
a household from being food-insecure to being food-secure. Other factors certainly influence a
household's food security including land size, family size, poverty and outside or off-farm
income generating activities, to name just a few. 8 Thus, a household with only 0.35 hectares
(ha) of land, limited income, high poverty and seven mouths to feed most likely will never be
able to produce enough food to be food secure.
Nonetheless, a trend of increasing production is a key factor contributing to achieving both
household and national food security particularly for the poorest countries. 9 For Sub-Saharan
Africa, and particularly Malawi, it will not be an easy task. In order to meet nutritional
requirements by 2008, grain yields will have to increase by a rate 60% higher than achieved
during 1980 -1997. 10
Increasing production would help close the food gap -shorten the hungry season and
have a positive impact on an impoverished family, simply because the less frequently food is
purchased during the hungry season, when prices are typically high, means that more cash can
be spent on other necessities. 11 Thus, decisions made by subsistence farmers- particularly
women farmers who usually produce the subsistence crops in Malawi- that affect production
and yields are vitally important in addressing household food security and poverty.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

80 I Uttaro

The concept as well as the locus of food security has evolved since the early 1970s. Up until
the mid 1980s, analyses of food security were concerned with increasing national food stocks
and stabilizing the supply of basic staples. 12 Since the mid -1980s and much due to the
writings of Amartya Sen, however, the focus shifted to one of identifying the particular
households that were food insecure and increasing their access to reliable food supplies.
National food security is now recognized as a necessary but not a sufficient condition for
household food security. 13 Household food security is a better construct as it reveals a
multidimensional perception of all the factors contributes to food security beyond the supply-
side factor of aggregate food production. Household income and poverty on the demand-side
of the equation are now considered key in determining whether a household is food secure or
insecure. 14 Viewing food security in this way show poor households caught in a vice: they are
limited in their ability to purchase food outright while at the same time unable to increase
production due to inadequate resources for sufficient inputs (i.e. seed, fertilizer) at the proper
As the concept of food security evolved, various themes and sub-themes appeared in the
literature. 15 By the late 1980s and early 1990s, nutrition became an important measurable
variable in defining household food security and determining whether households were food
security. 16 Households are now considered food secure when they are "able to obtain
adequate levels of food, either through home production, purchases or exchanges, to maintain a
healthy and active life throughout the year". 17 Household purchases of food now become as
important as household production of its own food. In addition, household self-sufficiency in
food does not guarantee adequate nutritional levels within the household. 18 Intra-household
distribution of food may be skewed such that there are individuals within the family who are
If adequate nutritional levels are to be achieved and sustained, then reducing poverty and
increasing incomes become parallel streams of concern. Sen suggests that more emphasis
should be placed on reducing poverty than introducing technologies to increase food
production with food insecure households, because they will never be food self-sufficient.
Farmers with little land 0.3 hectares or less are chronically food insecure when they depend
on their own food production. 19 These smallholders either have to find off farm work, be
involved in income generating activities, or grow crops for sale. It is this latter point that
growing hybrid maize addresses, although clearly not the only reason to grow it. Yet even
hoping to sell hybrid to raise cash is problematic for food insecure smallholders as they tend to
sell part of their hybrid maize crop right after harvest, partly because it does not store well and
partly due to a great need for cash in the household at the end of the hungry season. 20
Achieving goals of healthy nutrition and food security are intimately linked with issues of
poverty alleviation and human resources development. In turn, these issues cannot be
adequately engaged without a thorough understanding of gender relations and the role women
have in the household. It is therefore necessary to investigate who makes the decisions
regarding production, income generation, and crop selection within the household.


African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 81

There is no denying that the role of women in agriculture in Africa is extensive 21. The
importance of women in this vital sector was first introduced in Boserup's seminal work
Women's Role in Economic Development in 1970. Since then, a burgeoning field of research has
built on her pioneering work deepening our understanding of the vital position women occupy
in food production and their primary position in the household decision process. Even so, it is a
sad commentary that women's concerns continue to garner less attention in the food security
literature than their obvious prominence would seem to argue for 22.
This research explores the role of gender and gender relations as they affect food security.
How these relations are constructed and maintained reveal much in determining resource
distribution within the household. Particularly salient in the study of household food security
in Sub-Saharan Africa is how gender factors into a multitude of decisions including what to
produce and how to produce it, land allocation, how money should be spent in the acquisition
or production of food and what are the opportunities and choices in the decision process. In
addition, analysis through gender allows for greater attention to be paid to the constraints that
limit women's productivity and the effect on women's workload. 23
Agriculture is the mainstay of Malawi's economy with over 80% of the population either
directly or indirectly dependent on it for their livelihood and welfare. According to statistics
from the Ministry of Agriculture, women are the dominant agricultural labor force. In 1993,
92.5% of female labor was involved in agriculture compared to 69.3% of men. 24 Over 30% of
Malawi's GDP is produced by agriculture with two thirds coming from the smallholder
sector. Since the mid-1990s the smallholder sub-sector is made up of nearly 1.8 million farms
dominated by women with estimates of 30-40% of the families' being female headed.
Disturbingly, half of the female-headed smallholder households do not reach the 40th percentile
of income, as compared to a third of smallholder male heads of households. 25
Landholding size has a pronounced effect on the success of smallholder agriculture, as
does labor availability and money for inputs like seed and fertilizer. Therefore, it also has an
equally pronounced effect on household food security. In 1991/92, 41 percent of smallholders
had farms of less than half a hectare. 26 As population pressures increase, landholding size is
expected to shrink from 0.46 ha per person in 1987 to 0.31 ha by 2001. 27 The logical conclusion
is as clear as it is distressing: already impoverished farmers with the smallest landholdings, half
of whom are female headed households (FHHs), will bear the brunt of this downward spiral. 28
In Malawi, women play a predominant role in producing, storing, processing and
preparing food for the family. They concentrate on growing food for their family's
consumption compared to men who are often more involved in growing cash crops. As a
result, cash income is much less for women as they tend to be involved much more in informal
income generating activities. The small amounts of cash these activities provide are very often
used to buy additional food to make up for shortfalls. 29
It is clear that gender and household food security are essentially and fundamentally
linked in Malawi as they are in most of Africa. 30 And just as in Malawi, the need to find ways
to increase food production is essential as increasing populations and declining soil fertility are
creating intolerable conditions for millions. However, advances in food production are
constrained by the "invisibility factor," i.e., women do most of the food farming but have little
access to the means necessary to significantly increase output and yields. 31 Although African

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

82 I Uttaro

women supply 46% of the agricultural labor and in some societies produce up to 80% of the
domestic food "women's yields, women's adoption, and women's uses of inputs are rarely
reported." 32 Agricultural experts seldom recognize that most of Africa's smallholders are
women. 33 While rightly contending that the effectiveness of development strategies hinges
on reaching African smallholders, they make the costly error of ignoring the fact that the
constraints facing women smallholders may be an important part of the problem. The
disconnect is as appalling as it is frustrating. The key role that women play in procuring
adequate supplies of food for their families on a sustainable basis shows that food security is a
prime concern for them.

The overall purpose of this research was to ascertain what criteria and constraints effected
farmer's decisions about using organic and/ or inorganic fertilizer in an environment shaped by
structural adjustment policies. In 1998, it could not have come at a more appropriate time.
Fertilizer verification field trials had just been completed throughout Malawi with the goal of
recommending fertilizer application rates based on soil type. 34 However, the economics of the
situation could not be ignored and in the final analysis, based on the ratio of fertilizer prices to
maize prices, the "most profitable recommendation for farmers in most areas of Malawi was to
apply no fertilizer to their hybrid maize." 35 The recommendation was not put forth without
serious consideration for what that would mean for resource poor farmers. For the near future,
the prognosis was "grim".
This research was conducted in the Zomba district of southern Malawi during the months
of May and June of 1997 as part of the Gender and Soil Fertility Project though the University of
Florida's Soils Management CRSP. Zomba's topography varies from mountainous and hilly
regions, located between Machinga and Zomba district in the southern area, to broad, flat plains
in the upper Shire River and east to Lake Chilwa. The diverse topographical characteristics
cause a wide range of climate diversity. As a result, temperature difference and rainfall
distribution may vary considerably between neighboring sub-districts, in effect, creating
different climates for farmers separated by just a few kilometers. These variations and
differences are important to keep in mind: Zomba's variations in climate, soil and topography
make it difficult to speak of Zomba in a singular, unified way. For example, Mtubwi in the
northern area of Zomba and in the upper Shire valley is at a much lower elevation than Malosa
that borders on the south of Mtubwi district. Yet Mtubwi in the rain shadow of the mountains is
much drier than its immediate neighbor to the south.
The sample covered 8 sub-districts. A total of sixty farmers were interviewed broken down
into three sub-groups based on gender and marital status and comprised 16 men in male
headed households (MHHs), 23 married female farmers (MF), and 21 female-headed
households (FHHs). Within each sub-district, I interviewed 6 farmers, 2 farmers from each sub-
group, if possible.
A comment on the categories of MHH, MF, and FHH is necessary. These were deliberately
chosen in order to see if marital status had any affect on decisions concerning fertilizer and
hybrid maize. I could have broken farmers down into just male and female but that would
have "muddied the waters" particularly in regards to women's decisions in female-headed

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 83

households. It is well recognized that the constraints FHHs face are much different than in
MHH and they should be separated if the problem of household food security is to be properly
addressed. Throughout the literature it is suggested that women in MHHs are more likely to
concede to the husband for crucial decisions. Separation of married women (MF) from FHHs
was done with the expectation that the married women's decisions, strongly influenced by their
husbands, would closely resemble the decisions of male farmers 36

As the purpose of this research was to identify criteria and constraints facing farmers in
Zomba in regard to use of inorganic fertilizer and planting hybrid or local maize, it seemed
appropriate that decision tree modeling be used. The advantage of using decision tree models
is that they are testable, cognitive models useful in describing specific criteria and constraints. 37
Decision trees are maps guiding the observer along the way as informants / experts go about
choosing between a set of alternatives located at the top of the tree (denoted by { }). 38 The tree
is composed of separate decision criteria (denoted by < >) that are arranged in a logical path
that leads to a specific outcome (denoted by [ ]), e.g., [Use chemical fertilizer; don't]. Once
constructed, the decision tree model can be tested for accuracy in prediction of the choices made
by another sample of decision makers from the same group. 39 Should the prediction accuracy
of the model be 85% or better, then it is judged to be an adequate model of individual decision
processes of members of that group. 40
The researcher may then identify the main factors limiting adoption or use of one of the
alternatives, e.g., chemical fertilizer. These limiting factors are the criteria on the path leading to
negative outcomes, e.g., [Don't use chemical fertilizer]. In this way, decision trees highlight
criteria policy makers might use to encourage adoption of some intervention, e.g., fertilizer, by
the target population. When results of testing a decision tree model are disaggregated by
gender, as they are in this paper, then policy makers can clearly identify the main factors
limiting adoption and use of the intervention by women as well as men. When results are
disaggregated by marital status and gender, as they are here, then policy makers can see if there
are more factors limiting adoption by FHHs than men and women in MHHs, or if some factors
are more limiting to FHHs than to MHHs.

In the 1995/96 season, 80% of all informants used some chemical fertilizer on their maize.
One year later, 1996/97, that number declined to 65% of all informants. The largest decline
occurred within FHHs with a drop from 74% to 52% of all informants using some chemical
fertilizer. Male informants (Male) and Married Female (MF) informants dropped 12% and 13%
respectively. Over the same two seasons, there was a decline of 27% in the amount of fertilizer
applied. The reasons most cited were the high price of fertilizer and the farmer's lack of cash.
Not surprisingly, FHHs showed the greatest decrease in the amount used (34%). Married
female informants reduced the amount used by 22% and male informants decreased the
amount used by 26%.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

84 I Uttaro

As can be seen in Figure 1, for 89% of the informants, not having enough cash to obtain all
the chemical fertilizer they needed was the main limiting factor (criterion 2). This is far from
surprising in light of the rise in the price of fertilizer and the devastating effects devaluation of
the Malawi Kwacha has had on most rural households. A very high percentage of male and
married female farmers (87% and 86% respectively) did not have the cash to buy all the
fertilizer they needed; while 100% of FHHs lacked the money to buy all the fertilizer they
needed. Clearly, these figures suggest FHHs are "the poorest of the poor."
The importance of credit in the decision to use chemical fertilizer is evident from criterion 3
that separates the farmers who belong to farmers' clubs and get credit for fertilizer from those
who don't; the former are sent to the outcome [Use fertilizer]. They are few, however. Criterion
6 confirms farmers' beliefs that chemical fertilizer is essential for good yields, while criterion 7
"cuts" farmers into those who are able to purchase or get credit for some fertilizer versus those
who are not. In this case, it is the combination of marital status and gender that limits use of
fertilizer: only 20% of FHHs were able to apply some fertilizer, compared to 50% of married
women (MF) and 60% of male farmers (Male). Of those who could not apply some fertilizer,
very few received free fertilizer from any source.
Of 13 FHHs who could not obtain some fertilizer, two (12%) received some fertilizer for
free. One received it from her father because "she is a widow" and another received it from her
mother. Of 7 married women, only one received free fertilizer, however, no male farmer
received any fertilizer for free. Thus this decision tree suggests that three factors lack of cash,
not belonging to an active club and not having a source for free fertilizer were the major
reasons for keeping 55% of FHHs and 33% of married women and male farmers from using

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 85

Figure I

Decision to use Cherrical Fertilizer
{Use chemical fertilizer; don't use}

n =56 Male-15
MF 21
FHH -20


yes Male-13
MF -19
2 FHH-15
yes no
Mle- 2 MF -16 I -
MF 3 FHH-15

4< Other expenses at thattime?>
Male-9 yes Male-2 no
MF -14 MF -2
FHH-12 FHH-3 U

MF -2

3 fertilizer on credit?>
yes Male-3
SMF -2 Male
He Fertilizer

se Fertilizer


Don't use


5 Male -3 MF -14
yes Male-9 no MF -2 FHH-18

S -F HH-12 FHH- 2 6
7 4 yes MF -14 no
yes Male-5 no FHH-18
MF -9 Male-5 H-18
S FHH-5 MF -7 8

Use fertilizer Mr I organization give you
'unless.. yes MF -1
.F H H-2
Male-7 L 9
MF -13 no ale-4 ys -
FHH-7 / 7 --

MIF -13
FHH- 6

MF -2


some fertilizerthis year?>
Male-5 no
MF 6

11 < Continued use of CF causes yields to go down?>

Male-3 no
MF -5

dMale-1 yes
MF -6

12 y
-,..h yes

Male-2 no
MF -1

idlie- I
MF -4
14 there is no otherchoice?>

MF -6

Use Chemical

Male- 7
MF -11
FHH- 7

10 use of fertilizer?>

no Male-3
MF -6

yes Male-2
| MF -6

no _Don't Use

SChemical Fertilizer
Don't Use
13 as to not invite hunger?> no Chemical Fertilizer
yes Male-2 MF -2 -
MF -4 Male 5
FHH-3 MF 118
FHH- 11


I--I II I 4,


86 I Uttaro

Other criteria on the tree deserve attention. Some farmers have doubts about the continued
use of fertilizer; some believe it causes pest attacks and weed growth (criterion 9). Others
believe they must continue to use fertilizer, once they start, because the land gets dependent on
chemical fertilizer (criterion 12). If they don't continue to use it, their yields might go down
(criterion 11). Some farmers thus develop strategies or practices to reduce their fertilizer use
(e.g., complementary use of manures, legumes, crop rotations) (criterion 10); farmers without
such a practice feel they must continue its use so as not to "invite hunger" (criterion 13). Even
though 21 of 28 (75%) farmers feel chemical fertilizer has its drawbacks, and just over half of
this group know of a practice that could reduce the use of chemical fertilizer, 82% believe
chemical fertilizer forestalls hunger. The 48% of farmers who do not have a practice to reduce
their fertilizer use believe they have no other choice but to use chemical fertilizer (criterion 14).
This belief should not be underestimated as it has important implications for researchers
trying to develop substitutes for chemical fertilizer. Organic alternatives to chemical fertilizer
are available in the form of intercropping with grain legumes, adopting agroforestry
innovations, and using animal manures. But few farmers are doing any of these as a replacement
for inorganic fertilizer. This research shows that farmers desire chemical fertilizer because they
see it as the best defense against a poor harvest. It also shows that few, if any, have access to
enough animal manure to make a difference. Finally, the research shows that farmers are
intercropping with grain legumes. What needs to be asked is whether they are improving the
soil fertility with the grain legumes to such a degree that they do not need as much or even any
chemical fertilizer. Intuitively, it would seem that the extensive intercropping of grain legumes
over the years would have increased soil fertility to such a level that two things would be
occurring simultaneously: an increase in maize yields along with a decrease in the need for
chemical fertilizer. Because that is not happening, we need to investigate the reasons why.
As shown in the paper by Gladwin, Peterson, and Uttaro in this special issue, most Zomba
farmers either lack knowledge of trees and shrubs that might improve their soil; or being aware
of their imputed benefits, fully understand the management of them. Large amounts of time,
effort and money have been invested in discovering ways to improve Malawi's soil fertility
with green manures and other new soil improvement technologies. Over time this research
should disseminate out to farmers throughout Malawi and it is hoped that Malawi's rate of
declining soil fertility will slow down and even be reversed.
There are reasons to be concerned that even if the research is disseminated throughout the
country, it may not have as great an effect as initially hoped. One of several factors is farmer
practice and management of green manures that, in spite of research efforts, will mean a future
where the majority of farmers in Malawi continue to experience declining soil fertility and
increasing food insecurity. It is vital to understand what green manure is planted, why it is
planted, and how it is managed and used in the garden. This is key and directly ties into
whether chemical fertilizer remains a necessary input or not for adequate yields. If the green
manure is used according to the protocols of the research, the need for chemical fertilizer
should be greatly diminished, if not completely eliminated. Conversely, any deviation from the
protocols that lessen its effect should correspond to a need for some chemical fertilizer.
Every farmer interviewed was intercropping the maize garden with crops such as
pumpkin, pigeon pea, cowpea, and groundnuts. Grain legumes are the most prominent with

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 87

pigeon pea ubiquitous throughout the Zomba RDP and all 60 farmers in my survey had it in
their garden. A smaller yet substantial number (28 or 47%) planted mucuna. Although both
mucuna and pigeon pea offer great potential as a green manure, the farmers are not treating
them as such. The important question from a soil fertility perspective is how the farmer views a
grain legume because that is going to determine how it is managed and ultimately whether it
addresses soil fertility.
Research has shown mucuna and pigeon pea it to be beneficial intercrops and a significant
number of surveyed farmers believe each is beneficial for their soil (Table 1 and Table 2 below).
41 However, according to agronomic research and personal interviews with agronomists,
addition of enough nitrogen to significantly benefit the plants requires plant biomass to be
turned under and incorporated into the soil before the pods and seeds form and mature a
practice not a single informant in the survey engages in. Timing, in this regard, is essential. After
seed formation and the growing period, the plant virtually stops nitrogen fixation and
transportation, concentrating nitrogen in the seeds while significantly reducing the amount of
nitrogen in the leaves. 42
Farmers in Zomba are intercropping primarily for food -not for soil improvement; a
reasonable, rational and understandable purpose. Small land holdings combined with lower
yields due to declining fertility places food as the first priority. In this sample of farmers, 95%
rank pigeon pea as a food crop first (Table 1 below). The second priority is to sell the pea.
Trailing far behind was the goal to improve the soil and of the 3% who ranked soil
improvement as a first priority, not one turned the leaves under before seed formation. They
even said that they like to eat and sell pigeon pea.
This should come as no surprise because pigeon pea is almost never used as a green
manure crop (i.e. turned over before maturity). Other characteristics of pigeon pea, such as its
slow initial growth and temporal complementarity with maize, make it an ideal intercrop to
grow for seed. Additionally, the plant resembles more of a small tree than a short plant that
would be easier to incorporate. One should therefore not expect any survey informants to turn
pigeon pea under while green.
That being said, by treating pigeon pea as a food/cash crop, farmers are removing most of
the nitrogen in the seedpod. Any senescing leaves that are brown contain much less nitrogen.
Unless the farmer returns to the field and incorporates the dry leaves into the soil they remain
on the soil surface throughout the dry season. 43

Table 1: Farmers Ranking of Reasons for Planting Pigeon Pea

n = 60 Believe PP Plant Prioritize Plant to Prioritize Plant to Prioritize Plant to
Improves Eat Sell Improve Soil
% in () Soil Pigeon
1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd

Male 15 16 14 2 0 1 9 0 1 4 9

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

(100) (87) (13)

(6) (56)

(6) (25) (56)

23 23 0 0 0 17 2 0 5 13

(100) (100)

(74) (13)

(22) (56)

21 20 1 0 0 15 4 1 5 12

(100) (95) (5)

(71) (19) (5) (24) (57)


60 57 3 0 1 41 6 2 9 34

(100) (95) (5)

(2) (68) (10) (3) 15) (57)

Mucuna, on the other hand, is a legume species better suited for green manuring and therefore,
how the farmers view it will be more revealing. Mucuna is not as popular as pigeon pea and
those who did not grow it cited its tendency to "take up too much room" and that it "creeps" as
the main reasons for not planting it. These farmers feel mucuna is not an easy plant to manage
and threatens any maize in the immediate vicinity. Even so, 77% of all farmers believe mucuna
improves the soil (Table 2).
Slightly less than half of those interviewed (47%) planted mucuna, feeling that the benefits
of mucuna outweighed the negatives. But soil fertility is not the primary reason why they plant
it. It is not even the second reason. Like pigeon pea, 82% of the farmers who planted mucuna
planted it as a food crop first. To sell was ranked second by 18% and only one farmer gave soil
improvement first priority. Interestingly, when asked if he liked to eat or sell the beans, he said

Table 2: Farmers Ranking of Reasons for Planting Mucuna

n= 60


% in () Improves

Plant Prioritize Plant to Prioritize Plant to Prioritize Plant to
Eat Sell Improve Soil

(% of those who

(% of those who

(% of those who

1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd

8 1 0 0 4 3 1 3 4

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

88 I Uttaro







Diminishing Choices I 89

n=16 (81) (56) (89) (11) (44) (33) (11) (33) (44)

Married 20 10 10 0 0 0 8 1 0 2 8
(87) (43) (100) (80) (10) (20) (80)

Female 13 9 5 4 0 5 4 1 0 1 7
Household (62) (43) (55) (44) (55) (44) (11) (11) (77)


All 46 28 23 5 0 5 16 5 1 6 19

n=60 (77) (47) (82) (18) (18) (57) (18) (4) (21) (68)

The same practices emerge with mucuna as with pigeon pea. When asked if they
incorporate the leaves into the soil while still green and before the seed pod forms, not one
farmer answered yes. Mucuna is grown for seed and as such, it is treated as primarily a food
crop. Farmers are removing the seeds form the fields leaving the dry leaves on the soil surface.
Research has shown that leaf residue adds nutrients as well as biomass to the soil. The
question is whether it is enough to compensate for the nutrients taken up by the following
maize crop. Does the leaf residue create a net gain of nitrogen in the soil? Or is the outcome
less optimal by simply restoring nutrients that would occur without legume intercropping?
Again, this depends on what the farmer does. How the residue is managed determines its soil
fertility benefit. For example, incorporating the dry leaves of pigeon pea by themselves will
lead to a small net increase in soil nitrogen (1-2% N) in the short term. However, should
farmers turn the leaves into the new ridges with the maize stover, then the stover binds the
nitrogen, resulting in no nitrogen benefit for the following maize crop 44. Unfortunately, this is
a very common practice in Malawi.
An even more serious threat is the widespread practice of burning to clear fields during the
dry season. In this case any nitrogen remaining in the dry leaves is lost in the fire. From a soil
fertility standpoint, this practice is devastating. Since land is scarce in southern Malawi,
gardens tend to border each other. When burning takes place the fire usually spreads to other
farmer's gardens thus denying them of any benefits from the leaf residue.
It is risky to assume that intercropping maize with a grain legume will eventually lead to a
greater soil fertility reducing the need for fertilizer. Under sowing dry leaves with the stover
and/or clearing the land with fire are two very common practices that seriously jeopardizes the
benefits obtained from growing pigeon pea as a food crop. Even the assumption that dry leaves
add biomass to the soil is highly questionable in fields cleared with fire.
If farmers choose to plant a green manure as a food source, it will be managed in a way
that truncates its imputed potentiality. Moreover, what farmers do after harvesting the seed

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

90 I Uttaro

will further effect soil fertility and that in turn dictates whether chemical fertilizer is needed and
how much. These practices directly influence the length of a household's hunger season.
Planting legumes for food addresses an immediate concern. Planting a legume as a green
manure to improve soil fertility for the next year's harvest addresses a more distant concern.
Prolonging hunger now is not an option.
In light of these challenges, the need for chemical fertilizer remains high in Malawi. Of the
60 informants, 57 believe chemical fertilizer as indispensable for improved yields, whether they
are currently using it or not. Without it, they feel they are "inviting" hunger. Of all 60
informants, 54 (84%) believed they must use chemical fertilizer in order avoid hunger,
regardless of any problems they identify with it. 45

Clearly, chemical fertilizer is highly desired by farmers in Zomba. However, only a few
farmers are able to purchase the amount of chemical fertilizer they think is necessary for
optimal yields. The steep rise in the price of chemical fertilizer is attributed to the removal of
fertilizer subsidies and even more so, the devaluation of the kwacha over the last five years.
More and more farmers are finding that the cost of a 50 kg bag of chemical fertilizer is simply
out of their reach. Asked if even a little fertilizer was better than no fertilizer at all, it was not
surprising that every informant answered yes. The next best scenario then would be obtaining
less than adequate amounts of fertilizer.
One innovation that was being introduced at the time in some parts of Malawi is
repackaging fertilizer in smaller quantities than 50 kg bags. For example, in Dowa, in the
central region of Malawi, VEZA/HODEZA offers fertilizer in smaller than 50 kg bags. Small
bags of fertilizer, it was hoped, would provide some fertilizer to poor farmers whose
purchasing power had been drastically eroded. Farmers who do not have the cash for a 50 kg
bag might purchase a smaller quantity of fertilizer a quantity they could afford. 46
Moreover, it is anticipated that the use of small bags of fertilizer by FHHs would be one
way to improve food production on their very small landholdings. Cash was the main
constraint stated by all farmers who do not apply any fertilizer or manure on their maize
(n = 18). But when asked if they had the cash for at least a small bag of fertilizer, although
eight farmers said yes (44%) the result is less encouraging for FHH. At issue is whether or not
poorer FHHs would be able to afford even a small bag of fertilizer. Table 3 shows that seven
out of 10 FHHs not using fertilizer or manure now say they would also not be able to afford a
small bag of fertilizer. (These results are replicated by D'Arcy in Dowa, central Malawi. 47)

Table 3: Number of Farmers Not Using Any Fertilizer or Manure Likely to Buy Small Bags

Have Cash For Small Bag of Fertilizer? Yes No

Male (n=4) 2 2

Married Female (n=4) 3 1

FHH (n=10) 3 7

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 91

All (n=18) 8 10

The second concern hoped to address matters of weight and transport, particularly
important for FHHs. Transporting fertilizer is a factor in its use and smaller bags would be
easier to carry, not only from the store or club, but also to the field. 48 It was argued that lighter
weights would not only be an incentive to buy the smaller bags of fertilizer but for some
farmers whose health is deteriorating and in Malawi, there are many farmers in poor health it
may be one of the more important ones. However, the problem of FHHs not having available
cash for small bags lessens the saliency of the benefit of smaller weight for them.
Other issues surface in the model of the decision to use small bags of fertilizer, seen in
figure 2, which lists reasons why almost all (59 of 60) informants choose not to use small bags of
fertilizer. Only one informant is able to continue to stage-2 criteria, for brevity not presented
here. 49 Criteria in figure 2 say that farmers will switch to smaller bags of fertilizer if they need
more than a 50 kg bag for their crops and cannot afford to buy another one (criteria 1,3), or they
need less than 50 kg and cannot afford to buy even one 50-kg bag (criteria 2), or (and this is true
for the majority) they are not able to share or split a 50 kg bag with someone (criterion 5).
Surprisingly, a large percentage of farmers (70%) responded positively when asked if they
can share the cost of a 50 kg bag of fertilizer with family, friends, or neighbors. Indeed, if this is
the case, then the ability to share a 50 kg bag is a significant factor limiting the demand and use
of smaller bags, which are more expensive per kilogram of fertilizer received. However, the
way the criterion was phrased might have been misleading. To ask "Are you able to share the
cost?" is not the same as asking "Do you share the cost of a bag?" The phrasing of the question
is unclear such that responses are ambiguous.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

jUse Small Ba gs Don t Use)

1 -eDo you need more than a 50 kg bag of fertilizer
to produce the yields you are accustomed to ,'


MF -21


3 CDo you have the cash or credit for a 50kg bag?>

2 a 50kg bag?>

4 -'Ae you able to get a 50kg bag of fertilizer far f ie&

no Male-11



MF -11

6-Beliewe a itte fertilizer is shelter Ihar, riornei
Ves no




7 50kg3 ?> yes
Mae 2
MF 6

ess tnan
MF -1
FHH -2

8 yes
/ FHH-1

Use Srmall Bags of Fertilizer


r area?>

no 1Dont Use
Male 2
Mae2 Male 12
MF -6 MF 20
FHH-1 FHH- 18


92 I Uttaro


MF 23
FHH- 21

MF -3

I F -18

/ FHH-1

' *


SDorn Use

Male -4
MF- 3
F HH -2


Diminishing Choices I 93

Unfortunately, there simply are not enough data here to support the conclusion that
farmers are sharing the cost of 50-kg bags of fertilizer with family and neighbors. Out of 60
informants, only five (8%) specifically mentioned that they either received fertilizer from a
family member or gave some to a family member. Only one informant said she was sharing the
cost of a bag with a neighbor. Other data seems to speak against current sharing. Within the
last three years, fourteen farmers (23%) were using fertilizer and stopped due to its high cost.
Not one of these informants is now receiving fertilizer from a family member, friend or
neighbor; yet 11 of the 14 said they could share the cost of a bag with someone.
The option of farmers' obtaining fertilizer repackaged in a small bag does not look
promising. There are two obstacles one serious inhibiting the use of small bags. First, the
less serious obstacle is availability. During the 1996/97 growing season finding small bags of
fertilizer in Zomba was difficult. In fact, they were almost non-existent. There was, however, a
noticeable increase in availability of small bags in the 1997/98 season in major market centers
such as Mayaka, Jali, and urban centers of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Zomba. Managers in a few
other market centers informed me that they expected to have smaller bags of fertilizer arriving
before planting season. In smaller trading centers and other rural centers small bags remained
unavailable. Nevertheless, fertilizer in small bags was appearing in places where they were
absent the year before.
A greater obstacle to obtaining fertilizer in small bags is the higher price per kg of the
smaller bags. In 1998, in those markets where small bags of fertilizer were available, they were
not selling. Researching this phenomena, additional explanations offered by farmers were
discovered including the persistent lack of money, cost of small bags, transport costs incurred
traveling to a market center to buy a small bag and that smaller bags had a the higher cost per
kg. If there was no economic justification for using fertilizer on maize at the price of a 50 kg
bag, it was an even more compelling reason not to use it in a 5 10 or 25 kg bag. 50 These last
two reasons introduced additional constraints in the decision to use small bags of fertilizer that
were unfortunately not included in the decision tree and unforeseen by policy planners when
repackaging fertilizer in small bags was being developed.
In sum, it seems unlikely that small bags of fertilizer will contribute to any lessening of
food shortages at the household level, at least not until small bags become more available and
the price per kg becomes more reasonable. In the interim, more research needs to be done on
increasing access to small quantities of fertilizer. 51 Even if small bags of fertilizer become
available, this research suggests that household incomes need to increase for a significant
proportion of these farmers to afford even the small bags.
It also appears unlikely that sharing a 50 kg bag is a solution, at least at the moment. This
option may be constrained by lack of trust between neighbors and friends who would be
expected to share 50-kg bags, as social capital, ravaged during the later half of the Banda years,
has further declined in the post-structural adjustment era.

One of the most important decisions farmers have to make is whether to plant hybrid
maize versus local maize, or both. Hybrid maize is well received by farmers because it
addresses both food security and cash needs of the household economy. It addresses food

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

94 I Uttaro

security in two highly significant ways: higher yields and early maturation. Considerably
higher yields come with a cost, as expensive inorganic fertilizer has to be applied. In some
situations, due to soil and climatic conditions, hybrid yields may not be any larger than local
maize particularly if unfertilized. Around Nsanje, for example, in the lower Shire Valley,
fertilizer is not used. In a nationwide survey carried out in 1997/98, a random sample of fifty
farmers in twelve villages in the lower Shire showed that not one respondent used inorganic
fertilizer. The reason consistently stated is the soil's natural fertility due to the almost annually
flooding when the Shire River overflows its banks leaving behind nutrient rich silt. It is the
river's parting gift, compensation for causing harm and ruin to so many homes.
The soils in Zomba are not revitalized as in the Lower Shire. The soils of the farmers
surveyed require amendments to boost yields adequately. As the discussion above regarding
the decision to use inorganic fertilizer shows, the farmers in this survey feel that inorganic
fertilizer is vital to averting the hungry season. 52 The relationship between fertilizer use and
hybrid yields is also convincing. Asked to choose between animal manure and chemical
fertilizer, fertilizer was overwhelmingly preferred for higher yields (Table 4).

Table 4: Farmers choice between animal manure and chemical fertilizer for best hybrid yields

What do you think will cause your hybrid maize to have the best yields: animal manure,
chemical fertilizer or both?

Respondents Animal Manure Chemical Fertilizer Both


Male 1 14 1

n=16 6% 88% 6%

Married Female 1 22 0

n=23 4% 96%

Female Headed Household 1 18 2

n=21 5% 85% 10%

Early maturity is the other attribute that makes hybrid maize preferable over local maize.
Malawi's rainfall has been erratic during the last decade and climatic change has affected the
timing and duration of the rainy season. Rainy seasons ending prematurely causes local maize
to dry up in the fields before ears have formed spelling doom to a family relying on it.
Smallholder farmers cannot risk the household food supply on local maize just because they
prefer its taste, or pounds better or even stores better. The vast majority of farmers view the
earlier maturing hybrid as an important defense against hunger. They may see hybrid maize,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

Diminishing Choices I 95

with all its constraints, as one of the best strategies to employ in order to greatly minimize the
risk associated with local maize. Even in the fertile lower Shire, hybrid is overwhelmingly
desired for this reason.
The decision tree shows a complex web of factors that lead farmers to choose one of two
outcomes, [Plant hybrid maize] or [Plant local maize] (figure 3). Access and availability of
inorganic fertilizer is one of several pivotal factors influencing that choice. The others that carry
much weight with farmers are access to seed and fear of crop loss with local maize.
The criteria and constraints identified by respondents came from four varieties of hybrid
maize, which they had experience with: MH 17 andl8 and NSCM 41and 51. Of the 29
farmers who planted hybrid in 1996/97, only 7 planted NSCM 41, the rest planted either MH-
17 or MH-18. At the time of this research, there were other varieties of semi-flints being
introduced that addressed some of the constraints identified by farmers but only one farmer a
male who was educated through Form 2 and had a junior certificate mentioned one of the new
semi flints (Chitute) in the survey. Even so, he planted MH-18 and NSCM-41. It is possible the
new semi flints were known but not available in the stores. It is also possible that knowledge of
these new varieties was very limited at the time. As these new varieties become known, some
of the constraints they were developed to address such as storage difficulties will disappear.
Other constraints, such as price of seed, are less likely to change.
At the top of the tree in figure 3 are criteria asking whether hybrid maize tastes better than
local (criterion 1), pounds better (criterion 2) and/or yields better (criterion 3). Eighteen percent
of all informants believe hybrid maize tastes better than local maize and of those 91% prefer
local because it pounds better. Although 86% believe hybrid has higher yields and 74% believe
it is easier to sell than local maize (criterion 5), hybrid does not store well (criterion 4) -t he
greatest constraint to planting hybrid maize at this point of the decision tree. Of those who
believed hybrid has better yields, 93% stated that it does not store as well as local. (One
informant lost her entire hybrid harvest to weevils the year before.) All other things being
equal, the storage constraint alone would account for a large number of farmers not planting
Nevertheless, farmers who plant hybrid maize do so for two good reasons. The first is to
sell it for income. Seventy four percent believe hybrid is easier to sell than local. Hybrid's
earlier maturity and greater yields provide the family with a welcome opportunity to gain
access to cash. The second reason is to shorten the hungry season. Both are compellingly sound
reasons to grow hybrid maize.
There is a problem that surrounds the income decision and it is as much a result of the
disadvantaged situation farmers are in as it is with hybrid's storage problem. Because farmers
believe that hybrid does not store well and due to their usually cash strapped circumstances,
they tend to supply the market at the same time, depressing prices in the process. The little
cash they receive cannot, under current price ratio, pay for production cost of fertilized hybrid
and is far less than what they will be paying for maize during the hunger season. This is an
ongoing scenario repeated every year representing another diminishing choice to poor
households in need of an immediate influx of cash. 53

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 6, Issues 1 & 2 I Spring 2002

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