Title: Gender and soil fertility in Africa
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rc. cq



9 Gender and Soil Fertility

in Africa


Christina H. Gladwin, Ken L. Buhr, Abe Goldman,
Clifton Hiebsch, Peter E. Hildebrand, Gerald Kidder,
Max Langham, Donna Lee, Peter Nkedi-Kizza,
and Deirdre Williams
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida



ABSTRACT

Population pressures, currency devaluations, and fertilizer subsidy removal pro-
grams in many African countries have caused renewed concern about soil degradation and
loss of soil fertility. Advances in food production are further constrained by the invisibili-
tyfactor, i.e., women do most of the food farming in sub-Saharan Africa, but have little
access to the means necessary to significantly increase output and yields. We call this the
invisibility factor because agricultural experts commonly do not acknowledge that most of
Africa's smallholders are women, and women's yields, women's adoption, and women's
use of inputs are rarely reported. Gendered differences in wealth result in women's low-
ered access to cash and credit, needed to acquire both organic and inorganic fertilizers. The
solution to this problem, we believe, lies in better collection of gender-desegregated data
as well as better programs and policies that take into consideration the severe cash con-
straints women farmers face and that target women farmers with crucial inputs of produc-
tion such as fertilizers. Because women lack cash, we recommend as a general objective
achieving low application rates of about 25 kg nutrient ha-l, depending upon soil and cli-
matic conditions. Options proposed to target women farmers with greater fertilizer inputs
include fertilizer vouchers, providing fertilizer in small bags in local markets, microcred-
it, free grants of fertilizer, use of organic materials, biological N2 fixation technologies,
combinations of organic and inorganic fertilizers, and improving women's access to cash-
crop markets. As part of USAID's Soils Management Collaborative Research Support
Program, we propose to test these different methods in several African contexts from 1997
to 2002.


There is a new sense of urgency about achieving food security for sub-Saharan
Africa (hereafter referred to as Africa; Borlaug & Dowswell, 1995). Most African
countries still depend on agriculture for most of their gross national product and
employment (Tomich et al., 1995). Yet Africa currently imports a large propor-
tion of its food grains, e.g., one-third of its rice (Oryza sativa L.) consumption

Copyright C 1997 American Society of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America, 677 S.
Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711, USA. Replenishing Soil Fertility in Africa. SSSA Special Publication
no. 51.






GLADWIN ET AL.
e


and two-thirds of its wheat consumption (Eicher, 1995). Whether it can continue
to do so is questionable. In 1995-1996, world commodity prices of major food
crops skyrocketed. Because world stocks of rice, wheat (Triticum aestivum L.),
maize (Zea mays L.), and other grains fell to their lowest levels in 20 yr, the world
price of maize jumped from US$ 2.43 to more than US$ 5.00 a bushel; wheat
prices also jumped from US$ 3.49 to more than US$ 6.00 in 1995-1996.
Because Africa's population is expected to increase by 100 million during
the next 6 to 7 yr, there is intense pressure to increase food supplies from domes-
tic production (Eicher, 1995). Yet after 10 yr of structural adjustment programs
that sharply devalued currencies and removed fertilizer subsidies, fertilizer prices
are so high that fertilizer use on food crops is now often unaffordable in many
African countries (Bumb et al., 1996).
In most of Africa, advances in food production are further 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. On
average, African women provide 46% of the labor inputs and are responsible for
up to 80% of domestic food production in some societies (Dixon, 1982; Gladwin
& McMillan, 1989). We call this the invisibility factor because agricultural
experts commonly do not acknowledge that most of Africa's smallholders are
women, and women's yields, women's adoption, and women's use of inputs are
rarely reported. They correctly argue that development strategies need to reach
African smallholders to be effective, but they ignore the fact that the constraints
facing women smallholders may be an important part of the problem. Eicher
(1982, 1995), for example, consistently does not mention that 45% of the small-
holders responsible for Zimbabwe's second Green Revolution (1980-1986) are
women; nor does he indicate the percentage of hybrid maize that was adopted by
women or the percentage of fertilizer subsidies that went to women. Similarly,
Smale's (1995) report on Malawi's delayed Green Revolution does not indicate
women's adoption of hybrid maize; yet women's maize varieties, comprising
95% of total maize production in 1987, are usually unfertilized local varieties
consumed at home while men's hybrid varieties are sold as cash crops (Gladwin,
1992).

CAN AFRICAN AGRICULTURE BE TURNED AROUND
WITHOUT HELPING WOMEN TO FARM?
The invisibility of women farmers has led to a debate about whether a turn-
around in African agriculture can occur without helping women to farm. Most
experts conclude that women farmers are essential for increasing Africa's food
production, at least in the short run, because there are just too many women farm-
ing to ignore them (Dixon, 1982). Dixon's revision of International Labor
Organization (ILO) estimates of women's participation in the labor force indicate
that women represent on average 46% of the agricultural labor force in Africa
when (i) subsistence production is counted as economic activity, (ii) unpaid fam-
ily helpers are routinely included, (iii) all agricultural work is recorded, (iv) the
survey is taken in the peak season, and (v) the definition of agricultural work
includes gardening, raising poultry, and transporting crops to market.






GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


In the long run, however, African women farmers may be displaced from
farming by men-just as black farmers in the southeastern USA were displaced
by white farmers in the 1950s to 1970s (Gladwin & McMillan, 1989; Gladwin
1996). Boserup (1970) suggests that intensification of agricultural production
causes women's participation in farming to decrease relative to men's. Female
farming systems are prevalent in African societies with low population densities
and an ample land-to-person ratio such that families can produce their food with
low labor inputs using shifting cultivation. These systems decline with population
growth and agricultural intensification and are replaced by male farming systems
as the plow is introduced (Boserup, 1970, p. 16-36).
The displacement of women farmers with intensification, however, may be
slowed down or mitigated by other location-specific factors (Gladwin &
McMillan, 1989). These factors include extensive male outmigration from rural
areas to the cities or mines for nonfarm work. In many parts of Kenya, female-
managed households with migrant husbands account for 47% on average
(Thomas-Slayter & Rocheleau, 1995, p. 14). In western Kenya, men often spend
their lives working in the city, returning to the homestead a few times a year and
retiring back to the countryside in their elder years. Other factors include the (i)
resurgence of rinderpest and trypanosomiasis, which are slowing down the emer-
gence of animal traction and thus the plow (FAO, 1983), and (ii) location-specif-
ic soil types (i.e., sandy soils) and terrain (i.e., steep mountain slopes), which may
make hand hoes preferable to plows even under permanent cultivation (Pingali et
al., 1987). The intensification process and thus the displacement of women farm-
ers is not likely to proceed at the same rate or in the same pattern in all African
countries.
Yet women farmers have already been replaced in many parts of rural
Africa, because development planning often still fails to include women, and new
technology often continues to go only to the men farmers, despite all the concern
with women in development (WID; Dey, 1981; Fortmann, 1981; Spring, 1986;
Goheen, 1996). Most externally funded development projects are aimed primari-
ly at men because they are run by men. The majority of extension agents are male,
with a few exceptions housed in a poorly funded WID office (Staudt, 1975). Men
tend to monopolize new capital inputs, whether they are mechanical or biologi-
cal (e.g., plows or fertilizer), as regression results from data on 137 agricultural
societies in the Human Relations Area Files show (Burton & White, 1984). Yet
women farmers are interested in new technologies and want development inter-
ventions (Due et al., 1983). In addition, numerous studies show that women farm-
ers still lack access to (i) the basic agricultural inputs of land, labor, capital or
credit, and organic and mineral fertilizers (hereafter referred to as inorganic fer-
tilizers), (ii) extension advice, and (iii) the market and political arena (Staudt,
1975; Elson, 1989; Due, 1991; Elabor-Idemudia, 1991; Goheen, 1991; Guyer &
Idowu, 1991; Saito et al., 1994).

ARE WOMEN FARMERS AS PRODUCTIVE AS MEN FARMERS?
Why haven't women been included in the past? Why has women's access
to productive inputs been blocked? One rationale given is that men farmers are






GLADWIN ET AL.


more productive than women farmers. It is true that the raw, unanalyzed data on
yields of female-headed households (FHHs), which comprise 25 to 35% of
African households, compared with those of male- or joint-headed households
show that FHHs have less labor and plant smaller crop acreages, have less access
to credit and plant more subsistence crops, and are therefore not as productive as
men (Due, 1991; Due & Gladwin, 1991). An analysis of productive efficiencies,
however, requires the proper estimation of a production function that controls for
other explanatory variables besides gender, e.g., the studies of agricultural pro-
ductivity done by Robert Evenson and his students (Bindlish & Evenson, 1993;
Alderman et al., 1995; Quisumbing, 1996). When researchers estimate a produc-
tion function that controls for other explanatory variables such as input levels
(e.g., land, labor, capital, extension advice, and education), most studies show
that male and female farmers are equally efficient as farm managers (Moock,
1976; Bindlish & Evenson, 1993; Saito et al., 1994).' When these other explana-
tory variables are held constant while an independent gender variable is allowed
to vary in a multiple regression analysis, researchers usually find that the inde-
pendent gender variable (expressed as a dummy variable or intercept shifter) is
not significant (Quisumbing, 1996). What this means is that "the gender yield dif-
ferential is caused by the difference in the intensity with which measured inputs
of labor, manure, and fertilizer are applied on plots controlled by men and women
rather than by differences in the efficiency with which these inputs are used" by
men and women (Alderman et al., 1995). Alderman et al. (1995) conclude that
household output could be increased by 10 to 20% by reallocating the inputs (e.g.,
moving some fertilizer) from plots controlled by men to plots controlled by
women.
If women were given the same access to yield-increasing inputs as men,
then the smallholder agricultural sector would see significant increases in agri-
cultural productivity. African countries that address these gender disparities in
input use and remove these barriers to women's productivity would increase their
aggregate agricultural productivity.


WOMEN'S ROLES IN THE AFRICAN HOUSEHOLD

Why are women farmers not given the same access to yield-increasing
inputs as men? The answer to this question requires an understanding of the spe-
cial features of the African household. The African household is usually an
extended rather than a nuclear family, with individual production and consump-
tion units embedded within it. These units tend to be semi-autonomous and are

A typical form of Cobb-Douglas production function would be estimated by ordinary least
squares by taking logarithms on both sides:

In Y= ao + an L + a2 In T+ b ln E + c EXT+ d Gender +e,

where Y is output; L is labor input (hired or family); T is a vector of land, capital, and other inputs; E
is educational attainment; EXT is an index of extension services; Gender is the gender of the house-
hold head or farm manager; and e is the error term. The coefficient that indicates gender differences
is d, an intercept shifter (Quisumbing, 1996).






GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


often female-headed households headed by women such as the wife or wives (in
polygamous societies) of the household head, or his daughters-in-law or sisters-
in-law (in societies with substantial male outmigration of adult sons or younger
brothers, who would normally live in the same rural compound with the house-
hold head). The female-headed households may be defacto or dejure. A defacto
female-headed household is one in which the husband is temporarily away, mak-
ing it necessary for the wife to make at least some of the agricultural decisions
and support the family, possibly aided by remittances from the husband. A dejure
female-headed household is one in which the head is divorced, widowed, or a sin-
gle parent and must make all decisions and provide all support for the family. The
resource base of these two types of female-headed households could potentially
be very different, depending on the size and frequency of the remittances. In an
additional 14% of African societies (Vaughan 1986), the units may be headed by
a woman simply because the society is matrilineal, one in which inheritance
passes through the mother, or matrilocal, one in which children belong to and
reside in their mother's, not father's, lineage or family. Autonomy of the unit
comes from two sources. First, the woman in each unit has some responsibilities
independent from the household head to feed or clothe or educate the children in
her unit. Depending on the cultural rules, she may be responsible for certain foods
or all the food during a certain period, e.g., the hunger months. Second, she ful-
fills this responsibility with an income stream she herself generates independent-
ly of the household head or her husband.
These separate income streams are a second unique feature of the African
household and have been well documented in the literature, e.g., Mossi women
who own private fields in Burkina Faso (Gladwin & McMillan, 1989); husbands
and wives who lend each other money at rates slightly less than the prevailing
market rate; the payment of wages inside households; wives who sell water to
husbands in the fields; husbands who sell firewood to wives; and both who sell
animals to each other on festive occasions (Koenig, 1980; Guyer, 1981; Okali &
Sumberg, 1986). In any of these exchanges, the best interests of the household
may not coincide with those of particular members, so that it makes more sense
to model the household as a collective firm-rather than a unitary entity-in
which a wife's budget is delinked from her husband's, to varying degrees depend-
ing on the particular culture, and wives respond to changes in their husbands'
allocation decisions solely according to their own needs (Jones, 1983; Alderman
et al., 1995).
Usually, separate income streams give some autonomy to the women in the
household, but they do not necessarily give power to the women heading up the
unit, and this distinction is a third significant feature of the African household.
Women are relatively powerless compared with the male household head (Moser,
1989; Kabeer, 1994), who may interrupt women's work in their own fields and
demand that they supply labor to the cooperative fields he manages and from
which he receives income (Gladwin & McMillan, 1989). Alternatively, he may
demand that the wife goes to the store to buy fertilizer for him, or he may take
her fertilizer to use on his fields or crops. Asymmetric power relationships with-
in the African household, therefore, influence women's access to yield-increasing
inputs of production as well as the fertility of their soils and the yields of their






GLADWIN ET AL.


food crops. The question of who gets access to productive inputs is a political
question-the result of a power negotiation-and not just an economic question
(Bates, 1983). In a power negotiation, women in asymmetric power relationships
often lose out to men with greater power, status, and prestige.


CONSTRAINTS TO WOMEN'S USE
OF INORGANIC FERTILIZER

Microlevel research in the 1980s has documented the constraints to
women's use of inorganic fertilizers. Data collected in Malawi and Cameroon by
Gladwin (1991, 1992) showed that the majority of African women farmers used
no inorganic fertilizer because they had neither the cash nor the credit to acquire
it. In Malawi, the average female-headed household used 34 kg ha-' of fertiliz-
er-significantly less than the 51 kg ha-1 of the male-headed household, and the
median use of fertilizer by women was zero. Data collected from 36 households
in anglophone and francophone Cameroon in 1989 agreed. Women's average fer-
tilizer use was 30 kg ha-' compared with 52 kg ha-' for men, because two-thirds
of the anglophone women farmers used no fertilizer at all.
Are these gender differences because of gender itself or gender differences
in wealth? The data from Malawi suggested that the lower resources controlled
by women might better explain their lower use of fertilizer, because female-head-
ed households owned only 0.8 ha of land compared with 1.33 ha owned by male-
headed households (P = 0.0001; Gladwin, 1992). Regression analysis agreed.
With the quantity of fertilizer used by a sample of 498 male- and female-headed
households in 1986/87 as the dependent variable, results showed that member-
ship in a credit club and use of manure/compost significantly increase the quan-
tity of fertilizer applied per hectare (P = 0.0001 and 0.01); whereas variables of
farm size and lack of cash significantly decrease the quantity of fertilizer applied
per hectare (P = 0.0001). When these variables are included in the equation, the
gender variable is not significant, but wealth variables are significant.
Results of modeling smallholders' fertilizer decisions in West, East, and
southern Africa also show the main reason women do not use inorganic fertilizer
is their lack of cash, capital, or credit to acquire it, not their belief in organic fer-
tilizers or a fear of dependency on inorganic fertilizers. All of these criteria were
included in decision models to use both organic and inorganic fertilizer, or either
or neither of them on maize in Malawi and Cameroon (Gladwin, 1991) and in
Kenya (David, 1993; Williams, 1997). Among 75 farmers used to test the model
in Malawi and Cameroon, 17 (12 of them women) eliminated both organic and
inorganic fertilizers because of lack of cash or credit. Only 5 farmers did not use
inorganic fertilizers because of the risk of their land's becoming dependent on
inorganic fertilizer.2
2 Ethnographic observations also showed that African women realize the need for inorganic fer-
tilizer. In francophone Cameroon, for example, they interplant their own food crops [e.g., maize and
beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)] in the same fields with men's cash crops [e.g., coffee (Coffea arabica
L.)]. They do this to siphon off some of the N fertilizer applied to men's crops to their own crops.
After the crops are interplanted and while weeding their maize, women scrape off some of the N fer-
tilizer still undissolved in the topsoil around the men's coffee, and push it nearer to their maize plants.


224






GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


What is the morale of this story? Just as in the productivity studies cited
above, gender per se has no direct effect on fertilizer use. Although women
household heads apply less fertilizer than men heads, gender does not matter
when one holds constant the access to cash and credit. It is gendered differences
in wealth and women's lower access to cash and credit that explain their lower
fertilizer use. Without as much capital or credit, women apply less fertilizer than
men-and get lower yields and incomes as a result.


CONSTRAINTS TO WOMEN'S USE OF ORGANIC FERTILIZERS

Women also face many constraints limiting their use of organic fertilizers.
For example, women's lack of land constrains their use of N2-fixing beans as a
sole crop (Kumwenda et al., 1996) or their interplanting of N2-fixing tree crops
with maize. Women's lack of animals and pasture land limits their access to
manure; and their lack of cash constrains them from buying it. While more than
one-half (44 of 75) of the women farmers surveyed in Malawi and Cameroon
believed organic fertilizer was needed on maize in addition to inorganic fertiliz-
ers, almost one-half (20) of the 44 women did not use it because they lacked ani-
mals and cash to provide the manure or compost (Gladwin, 1991).
Hedgerow intercropping (HI), an agroforestry technique designed mainly
to increase nutrient supply to annual crops, was tested in on-farm trials in Kenya
by the International Centre for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF), the Kenya
Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), and the Kenya Agricultural Research
Institute (KARI) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The research objectives
included the selection of promising agroforestry tree species for HI, quantifica-
tion of tree biomass production potential, and testing HI for its appropriateness to
farmers. Leucaena [Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit] and calliandra
(Calliandra calothyrsus Meissner) tend to produce the highest biomass for use
either as mulch or as fodder for livestock and thus have often been the recom-
mended species for farmers. However, adoption of HI has been low (Swinkels &
Franzel, 1997). Why? Williams (1997) used ethnographic interviews and deci-
sion-tree modeling from a sample of 40 women farmers around Maseno in west-
ern Kenya to elicit their reasons for adoption or nonadoption of HI technologies.
She came to many of the same conclusions reached earlier by researchers of HI
in western Kenya (David, 1992; Swinkels & Ndufa, 1993; Bekele, 1996;
Shepherd et al., 1997; Swinkels & Franzel, 1997). As her decision-tree model in
Fig. 9-1 shows, about one-third of the women had no knowledge of HI technol-
ogy (Criterion 1). Other constraints included women's lack of access to seedlings
(Criteria 2 and 3), lack of knowledge of how and where to plant them (Criterion
4), and the belief that planting trees would actually lower soil fertility (Criterion
6). More common, however, were shortage of land and labor (Criteria 8 and 10),
especially in situations where agricultural intensity and population density were
high.3 Many female heads of households and women with small children felt that
the large amount of labor required to coppice the trees would prevent them from
3 It is precisely under conditions of intensive land use that extended fallow periods are not possi-
ble and the decline of soil fertility becomes an urgent agricultural problem.







226 GLADWIN ET AL.

using this technology. Where hedges were not frequently pruned, some farmers
noted shading out of companion crops, which would result in reduced crop yields.
Some farmers who had tried HI said that the trees were taking up "more room
than the crops themselves" and were shading them out, or both; hence they decid-
ed to uproot the trees. In addition, many women reported problems with pests


{Employ HI with calliandra or leucaena; don't)
40 cases




Yes
2 group, ICRAF, CARE, or another NGO?>
Yes I \No


No
Don't use
12 cases


4 hedgerows among your crops?> seedlings from elsewhere?>
Yes I No No
5 trees for fuelwood or fodder?>
Yes 1 3 cases (1 error) 2 cases
Use Hunless: No Don't use H unless:
Use HI unless: | No Don't use HI unless:


6 could destroy your soil?> to plant hedgerows?>
Yes/ Yes No
I NIDon't- e NO I -
Don't use | Don't use
2 cases a land to plant hedgerows?> improve your soil fertility?>
Yes No Yes No
10 -. Don't use *
or can you afford hired 5 cases
Iahnr ne tl ct hbak rh th tree (1 error)


when needed?> No 4 c
Yes Don't use 4 cases
1 your crops before you can cut them back or
could they take up more room than the crops?>
Yes 1 No
Don't use 12 attack these trees to
2 cases _._ ,_ ,. .


termites
o much


our mthem lto wuru gyruwing r
Yes I No
Don't use I Use HI
2 cases 8 cases
(2 errors)
Fig. 9-1. Decision tree for the adoption or non-adoption of hedgerow intercropping (HI) by 40 women
farmers from around Maseno in western Kenya (Williams, 1997).






GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


such as termites eating the seedlings, while a few experienced attack of leucaena
by the psyllid pest (Heteropsylla cubana Crawford) and lacked the cash to buy
pesticide. This resulted in a substantial decrease in biomass production, which
caused women farmers to want to uproot the trees. The cumulative result of all
these constraints was that the decision model predicts only 8 of 40 women would
use HI technologies in this densely populated setting. These results complement
those of Shepherd et al. (1997), who found little evidence that hedgerow inter-
cropping improved yields under farmers' conditions.



HOW CONSTRAINTS OF WOMEN CAN BE OVERCOME

How can this lack of fertilizer use by women be turned around? To include
women in the process of technology transfer, project planners should collect gen-
der-desegregated data on yields and use of inputs, plant a proportionate percent-
age of farmers' test plots on women's fields with women's food crops, and adopt
policies specifically to target women farmers with crucial inputs of production
such as fertilizer, all the while taking into consideration the severe cash con-
straints women farmers face. These crucial constraints of lack of cash and credit
determine the quantity and type of inorganic fertilizer women apply as much as
do the specific crops women plant.
Because women lack cash, we recommend as a general objective low appli-
cation rates of about 25 kg nutrient ha-' or 50 kg fertilizer ha-' (Kumwenda et al.,
1996; Larson & Frisvold, 1996; Benson, 1997). Where beans or other legumes
are the women's primary crop, low rates of P (11 kg P ha-' or less) may be
required. In most African cropping systems where maize, other cereals, or tuber
crops are women's major crops and are interplanted with various other crops,
small amounts of high-analysis N fertilizer (e.g., 25 kg N ha-') can increase food
production, because N is almost always the main limiting nutrient; however, low
rates of soluble P fertilizer can effectively increase production of cereals on P-
deficient soils. Jama et al. (1997), for example, found that 10 kg P ha-' as triple
superphosphate (TSP) increased maize yield and was financially attractive on P-
deficient acid soils in western Kenya.
How can women farmers be specifically targeted? The development litera-
ture describes eight general options, discussed below.

Solutions Involving Use of Inorganic Fertilizer

Fertilizer Voucher Option
As a temporary measure, provide vouchers directly to cash-poor women
farmers producing food crops to make it possible for them to obtain small
amounts offertilizer A voucher system would allow an African government bur-
dened with fiscal deficits to do something about food security by targeting the
subsidy directly at women farmers who produce most of the food, and it would
encourage healthy competition among private distributors in the fertilizer indus-






GLADWIN ET AL.


try. With a voucher system, women farmers in women's clubs would receive
vouchers to take to private fertilizer distributors, from whom they would buy fer-
tilizer at a discount (similar to the way the poor in the USA buy food with food
stamps or pay for housing with housing vouchers). The government would then
remunerate distributors for the vouchers. The government's physical presence in
the fertilizer distribution system would be minimized, and its total subsidy bill
would be less than it was 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, and 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 to supervise women's application of fertilizer, to reduce leakages-
defined as the use of vouchers for other than women's crops. 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 10 yr removing
fertilizer subsidies. Their policy now is to move toward full market cost of fertil-
izers (Donovan, 1996; K. Saito, 1996, personal communication). In fact, most
food policy analysts recommend that input subsidies, and particularly fertilizer
subsidies be eliminated entirely, because they are a common technique used to
increase the profitability of intensive agriculture while keeping food prices artifi-
cially low. Timmer et al. (1983, p. 288) argue that "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 con-
clude that "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" (Timmer et al.,
1983, p. 288).
This line of reasoning makes sense when applied to Asia and Latin America
now; but it did not make sense during their Green Revolution era in the 1960s and
1970s, when fertilizer use contributed 50 to 75% of the increase in yields in food
crops (Byerlee & Heisey, 1992), and adoption of fertilizer-responsive modem
varieties depended on fertilizer subsidies (Harris, 1984; Van der Eng, 1994;
Eicher, 1995; Goldman & Smith, 1995). Neither does it apply to current condi-
tions in sub-Saharan Africa, where average fertilizer use-not nutrient use-is a
mere 7 to 11 kg hal1, and women food producers commonly use no fertilizer
(Lele et al., 1989). Larson and Frisvold (1996) conclude that average fertilizer
application rates in Africa need to increase from 10 to 50 kg ha- within 10 yr (an
18% annual growth rate) to prevent mining of soil nutrients. Near-term environ-
mental concerns in African agriculture stem more from the persistent decline of






GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


soil fertility rather than from overuse of fertilizers, since this leaves continuous
expansion of cultivation to relatively unused areas as the only option for increas-
ing total output. Policy interventions are thus needed to encourage women food
producers to increase their yields of traditional as well as modem varieties, and
fertilizer subsidies in the form of vouchers are the most direct policy tool plan-
ners have at their disposal (Gladwin, 1991, 1992). From the viewpoint of the
women farmers, such vouchers are preferable to an expansion of credit opportu-
nities, because women face many constraints to credit use that men don't face:
they are either too poor, too old, or lack control over a cash crop with which they
can repay a fertilizer loan (Gladwin, 1992, 1996). The risk of borrowing is par-
ticularly high for them because they may have to sell some of their subsistence
crop in the hunger months when their children are hungry 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 can decrease this risk for resource-poor women farm-
ers, and so can play an important role in increasing their food production
(Gladwin, 1997). For this reason, Eicher (1995) blames the donor community for
failing to present a balanced view (e.g., in World Bank, 1994) of the substantial
role subsidies played (and still play) in Asia's Green Revolution: "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, how-
ever, some donors are neglecting to inform African policy makers about the role
of subsidies in Asian agriculture."4
Pinstrup-Andersen (1992) 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 fertiliz-
er market. Among these factors are (i) the small volume of fertilizer that most
African countries import, which weakens their bargaining position in negotiating
for lower prices; (ii) high transportation costs within most African countries; (iii)
high storage costs, which increase the expense of fertilizer distribution; (iv)
unpredictable government policies and unstable institutions, which scare off pri-
vate entrepreneurs from investing in input distribution systems; (v) the relative
ease of government's acquiring fertilizer in the past as foreign aid; and (vi) the
tendency of governments to maintain large fertilizer stocks, which may be
released anytime and at any price. Pinstrup-Andersen (1992) concludes that gov-
ernments should privatize fertilizer distribution in a way that assures competition,
or else the private sector fertilizer distribution system may be no more efficient
than the public sector system it replaces. If monopoly profits accrue, it will be
more expensive. He also believes that fertilizer prices can be brought down only
if, in the long run, governments invest in the infrastructure to reduce transporta-
tion and marketing costs; but until they do, "there is a place for fertilizer subsi-
dies" to compensate for the factors resulting in very high fertilizer prices
(Pinstrup-Andersen, 1992).
4 Eicher (1995) notes that farm subsidies are still widespread in Asia; e.g., Indonesia's implicit
subsidy is still 35% on fertilizer and 75% on irrigation.






GLADWIN ET AL.


Small Bag Option
Improve the availability of small amounts offertilizer in local markets and
shops by repackaging 50-kg bags offertilizers into smaller bags. Traditionally,
fertilizer has been sold in 50-kg bags. Since most fertilizer for family food pro-
duction must be carried both to the home as well as to the food plots, the weight
of the bag is an important issue, as well as the amount of cash or credit needed
for the purchase. The transportation cost of fertilizer from the market to the home
and the field also is a factor in its use. Having fertilizer available in smaller bags
(complete with pictorial instructions) would make it more affordable for women
and easier to carry. This strategy is compatible with the views of many econo-
mists who believe that accessibility of fertilizer is the main constraint to its
increased use (Lele et al., 1989). If fertilizer were widely sold in local markets
like cement, and available in weights that could be headloaded home and to the
fields, 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 use. For these reasons, the sale of fertilizers in 5-, 10-, and 20-kg bags
at local markets should encourage women farmers to use more fertilizer.

Microcredit Option
Expand the fertilizer credit market for women farmers through community
banks operating on the Grameen Bank model. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh
targets very small loans to groups of virtually landless women producers (Von
Pischke, 1991, p. 233; Khandker et al., 1995). With two million borrowers and a
recovery rate of >90%, it is clearly a compelling model. By 1994, it served one-
half of all villages in Bangladesh, lent about US$ 385 million, and mobilized
another US$ 306 million as savings and deposits (Khandker et al., 1995, p. xi).
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 one-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 empow-
ered 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 one-half in 1985 to 91% in 1994; while female mem-
bership grew from 65.5% of the total in 1985 to >94% in 1994 (Khandker et al.,
1995, p. 25-26). Strict observance of the norms forces group members to be
accountable to each other. The second two women receive their loans only if the
first two of the five women in the group repay regularly, and the group leader is
customarily the last to receive credit. This creates pressure among group mem-
bers to enforce the contracts and helps screen out bad borrowers. Savings mobi-
lization is thereby encouraged. In 1994 women's savings amounted to 74% of
total savings mobilized (Khandker et al., 1995, p. 31).
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 20% since
1991 (Khandker et al., 1995, p. 66), and its subsidy dependency index (SDI) has
decreased over time from 180% in the 1980s to 36% in 1994 (Yaron, 1992, 1996).






GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


The second is that women are often better credit risks than men, since loan recov-
ery rates for general loans have been higher for women (97% in 1992) than for
men (89%) (Khandker et al., 1995, p. 18). 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), which mobilize savings before loaning to
farmers, 20% of whom are now women (Galiba, 1996).

Free Bag Option
Introduce, for a short time only, a system of grants of small bags offertil-
izer targeted at the poorest women farmers who may not know the value offertil-
izer or are not self-sufficient in food production. Their numbers may be substan-
tial; Kumwenda et al. (1996) estimate they comprise 40% of the smallholder pop-
ulation in Malawi. After a temporary period, this program would be phased out
and replaced by local merchants selling small bags of fertilizer at the market
price.

Solutions Involving Organic Inputs
and Biological Nitrogen Fixation
Given women's constrained supply of cash, together with the removal of
price subsidies on fertilizers and their rising costs, the majority of African women
farmers may be compelled to rely only on organic sources of nutrients--espe-
cially legumes that fix atmospheric N2--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 (Palm, 1995; Kumwenda et al., 1996). The use of inorganic fertil-
izer might be supplemented or enhanced with use of organic sources of nutrients
(Palm et al., 1997, this publication). The following are possible options for get-
ting organic nutrients to women farmers.

Organic Source Option
Make organic materials offarm origin more accessible. In addition to serv-
ing as sources of nutrients, organic materials can influence nutrient availability
by (i) acting as an energy source for soil microbial activity, (ii) serving as pre-
cursors to soil organic matter, (iii) influencing the release pattern of plant-avail-
able nutrients, and (iv) reducing P sorption of soil (Palm et al., 1997, this publi-
cation). 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 as intercropped with cereals (Giller et al., 1997, this publication).
Information can be disseminated through extension workshops and field days for
women and gender training of trainers for extension agents. Microcredit pro-
grams can be used to improve access to organic inputs for women farmers.

Biological Nitrogen Fixation Option
Make biological N2 fixation technologies more accessible. Such N2-fixing
crops as velvetbean [Mucunapruriens var. utilis], pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.)






GLADWIN ET AL.


Millsp.], sunnhemp (Crotalariajuncea L.), lablab bean (Lablab purpureus), and
crotalaria Crotalaria ochroleuca G. Don and agroforestry technologies with N2-
fixing trees could be promoted by making seeds, small loans, and extension edu-
cation more accessible, and by devoting women farmers' test plots to intercrop-
ping or rotation of legumes with cereals. Giller et al. (1994) conclude that N2 fix-
ation from legumes can sustain tropical agriculture at moderate levels of output.
The applicability of legume seed inoculation with rhizobia bacteria to con-
ditions faced by African women farmers needs to be further tested. Although pre-
vious studies show legume inoculation is simple, inexpensive, and highly suc-
cessful in increasing crop yield (Meisner & Gross, 1980), the African experience
is that this invaluable technology is largely unavailable to women farmers who
need it most (Hubbell, 1995). In Uganda, Dr. Mary Silver of Mekerere University
has been using NifTal inocula strains on soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] as a
test crop. She is testing them with both women and men farmers to see if non-
adoption is due to lack of knowledge about biological N2 fixation or rhizobium
inoculants, lack of access to rhizobia when needed, lack of knowledge on how to
use them, lack of seed, poor soils, agronomic characteristics of the crop, incon-
sistency of extension advice, or to other infrastructural constraints such as the
ineffectiveness of coating material such as gum arabic, syrup, and molasses,
which attract hordes of ants that eat the seeds (C. Wortmann, G. Elkan, 1996, per-
sonal communication).

Organic-Inorganic Option
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 smallholders. The com-
bination of available organic materials with the judicious use of inorganic fertil-
izers may be a very appropriate option for women smallholders (Palm et al.,
1997, this publication).

Cash Crop Option
Introduce a cash crop into women's subsistence farming systems.
Sustainable food production is an important goal of development, and only when
women farmers have cash will they have a sustainable way either to buy cash
inputs or to repay loans for organic or inorganic fertilizers. In Malawi, 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 tobac-
co (Brown et al., 1996; Stephen Carr, 1996, personal communication).


CONCLUSIONS

Given these diverse ways to target women farmers, which one should a
rural development project use? As part of USAID's Soils Management CRSP
(Collaborative Research Support Program), we at the University of Florida pro-
pose to test these different methods in several African contexts during the 5 yr







GENDER AND SOIL FERTILITY


from 1997 to 2002, using three evaluation criteria. First, do women farmers, once
exposed to one or more of these methods to increase fertilizer inputs, continue to
use them? The women themselves are the only real experts on what method
works for them and whether their yields have increased as a result. Second, how
much leakage from women's to men's use is there with each method? Because
women lack power and money within the African household relative to men, they
may be pressured to apply their fertilizer to men's export crops, not their own
food crops. Third, how sustainable over time is each method relative to the other
options? Given that sustainable food production and food security are our prima-
ry goals, it is necessary to see if and how the food producers themselves, most of
whom in Africa are women, manage the fertility of their soils in the long run.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors are collaborators in the University of Florida's Soils CRSP
(Collaborative Research Support Program) funded by USAID. We are grateful to
Steven Breth for editorial suggestions and Anne Thomson, Sylvia Coleman, and
Charles Sloger for theoretical suggestions, two anonymous reviewers, and Steve
Franzel and Roland Buresh for editorial comments.



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