Women Farmers and Commercial Ventures: Increasing Food Security in Developing Countries

By Anita Spring | Go to book overview

8
Women Farmers,
Small Plots, and Changing Markets
in China
Laurel Bossen

There have been many debates over the benefits and risks of commercialization of agriculture for men and women. Because agriculture, like all complex economic systems, develops varied gender divisions of labor, men and women who produce for markets are differently affected as markets grow and change, as transportation systems improve or decline, and as family subsistence crops are displaced by cash crops grown on a large scale.

Ester Boserup (1970) used a broad brush to paint some of the gender patterns that have historically developed and changed under colonial and commercial pressure and sounded the alarm that women were being left out of commercial farming and left behind in subsistence agriculture. Scholars have since produced many studies trying to understand when and how women are squeezed out of commercial production, as well as when and how they become dynamic agents and beneficiaries of commercial farming. In the last twenty-five years, there has been more awareness of the great complexity of local systems of landholding and farming, and it has been learned that women are not necessarily losers. Sometimes commercialization of agriculture brings women new sources of income, autonomy, and control that they lacked in previous systems. 1 Other times women find their opportunities for commercial expansion blocked. In examining these processes, it is important to determine the effects of state policy. This is particularly true in China, where women's strategies as farmers have been greatly shaped throughout the twentieth century by the tension between revolutionary state and market forces.

What are the conditions that Chinese women farmers face today? What are the strategies they bring to changing market opportunities? Traditional gender divisions of labor in farming families were far from obliterated by

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