Academic journal article Journal of Social Development in Africa

Strategies for Improving the Economic Status of Female-Headed Households in Eastern Zimbabwe: The Case for Adopting the IAR4D Framework's Innovation Platforms

Academic journal article Journal of Social Development in Africa

Strategies for Improving the Economic Status of Female-Headed Households in Eastern Zimbabwe: The Case for Adopting the IAR4D Framework's Innovation Platforms

Article excerpt


The study was conducted in seven districts in Maniealand and Mashonaland East Provinces of Zimbabwe. It sought to analyse the situation offemale smallholder farmers with a view to determining innovative strategies that could be employed to improve their socioeconomic status. A sample of 600 smallholder communal farmers, made up of female and male heads of households, was selected for the study. The residís of the study indicated that gender differences led to inequalities which affected the farmers ' participation in agricultural activities; female heads of households (FHH) were more disadvantaged than their male counterparts in issues pertaining to control of agricultural resources, and FHH status proved to be afactor in the nature ofsupport which the women receivedfrom their (former) husbands 'families. The average age and farming experience offemale heads of households was significantly higher than that of male heads, while the size of land under cultivation per household was also found to be significantly lower for females than for males and so was household assets-ownership and the social capital index. The paper calls for the adoption of the IAR4D strategy, an innovation which could help in addressing the plight of female-headed households in rural Zimbabwe.


Gender, agriculture, female-headed households, social capital, smallholder farmers, economic status


In Zimbabwe, poor agricultural productivity is often aggravated by poor soils that are characterized by low nutrient capital, poor physical fertility and poor soil water availability, essentially due to climate change. The high incidence of poverty and the inadequacy of resources culminate in low input subsistence farming that exacerbates soil nutrients, mining and the subsequent degradation of soil and water resources (Mapfumo, 2009). The withdrawal of government-bankrolled input support schemes in the mid-2000 initiated a process of heavy nutrient mining, which has continued ever since (Mapfumo, 2009). Government policies, coupled with nature research and development in place then failed to adequately deal with challenges faced by smallholder farmers in general and women farmers in particular. Agricultural research and development were viewed as two independent entities. There were no mechanisms for one to inform the other. Neither were government policies informed by research.

The Agricultural Research Development (ARD) approaches are widely blamed for significantly contributing to the unsatisfactory performance of agriculture in improving the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers. The Sub-Saharan Challenge programme introduced a new innovation - Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) after the failure of the linear and non-participatory Agricultural Research and Development approaches. The IAR4D concept is designed to foster social interaction and learning by embedding agricultural research within a larger system of innovation whereby knowledge from numerous sources is integrated and effectively put into use. The IAR4D concept uses Innovation Platforms (IPs) to embed agricultural research and/or development organisations in a network to undertake multidisciplinary and participatory research. Such strategies may be useful in enhancing the capacity of vulnerable women to improve productivity and hence their socioeconomic status.

This paper uses the 'institutional perspective' to understand levels of participation particularly of female headed households in the production processes. Nemarundwe (2005) has argued that the most fundamental aspect for the success and sustainability of a proj ect is early and continuous participation of potential beneficiaries especially the marginalised members of society such as women. Muizen-Dick (2005) assert that greater participation by the poorest farmers improves not only their livelihoods, but also their innovative capacity. Therefore unless the socioeconomic and cultural contexts and frameworks within which female-headed households operate and address their situation, are understood, any new innovation are likely to fail to increase agricultural productivity, in the same way as conventional agricultural research and development did particularly among female-headed households. …

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