Agricultural intensification and gender in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia

The SAIRLA-supported AFRINT IV project has been collecting data on agricultural intensification from 23 farming communities in seven regions in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia since 2008. Policies in all countries have a strong focus on maize intensification and also target women as recipients of subsidised farm inputs. During this time, data on maize shows that only in the Zambian region has there been a sustained increase in yields, but this has been tied to a persistent gender gap. In the other two countries, yields have been stagnant. In the case of Malawi this is explained by poverty, land fragmentation and a gradual depletion of natural resources. In the case of Tanzania, withdrawal of subsidy schemes for maize in combination with new commercial opportunities in rice and tree crops appear to be changing land use patterns.

Despite these differences, women are united by some common characteristics: generally women experience mobility constraints as a result of domestic chores and socially restrictive norms. Moreover, the condition for co-financing to access subsidies disadvantages poorer households – many of which are headed by women. Finally, women’s access to labour is limited, both that of men in particular, but also the drudgery of their own domestic tasks and care burdens imposes restrictions on their time. The seasonality of smallholder agriculture means that the effects of these shortages on intensification are aggravated.

Policies need to redress all of these aspects, for instance through rural electrification and expanding basic healthcare for children, encouraging small scale enterprises among women and gender sensitisation campaigns that involve men as well as women.


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