Understanding the Gendered Fields of the Gambia for Food Security Programming
Kushnir, Meredith, Women & Environments International Magazine
"You, Mother Cassava,
You deserve recognition.
You are no cash crop,
But you deserve recognition.
You don't fetch;
the All Mighty foreign exchange.
But you feed
All your children"
- Nigerian poet Flora Nwapa. 1986
This poem by Flora Nwapa sets the tone for exploring the intersections between gender, sustainable agriculture and food security in The Gambia, West Africa. Since 2008, Resource Efficient Agricultural Production, (REAPCanada) and its local partners have been implementing an Agroecological Village (AEV) approach to sustainable rural agricultural development in The Gambia.
The AEV is a participatory approach that addresses social development, gender inequality, poverty, food insecurity, and the environment in West African communities. Throughout the time that REAPCanada and its partners have been working in rural Gambia, they have learned that understanding local gender relations is a prerequisite for improving food security, and that food security and gender equality are intimately linked.
In most rural communities in The Gambia, a highly polarized division of labour exists, although the extent and characteristics of the division differ by ethnicity. This division is visible in many activities, including agriculture and the associated cultural and social affairs. It is common, though not universal, for men to be responsible for growing groundnut and grain crops, such as millet and maize, for income. In contrast, women's main role is to grow millet, rice and other foods for family consumption as well as for the related activities of food processing and preparation (Carney and Watts, 1990).
In addition to farming and gardening, many women spend a significant amount of their time in providing food - cooking, processing foods, fetching water in buckets, gathering fuel wood for fuel and stoking fires. Their role in providing food works in conjunction with men's 'bread-winning' role to maintain household food security. As many African feminists remind us, it is important to understand African gender relations between men and women both in terms of cooperation and complementarity as well as through the lens of struggle and oppression.
Women's struggles take place not only at the national and international level where processes like racism and economic exploitation that disadvantage women also disadvantage men (Johnson-Odim, 1991; Oyewumi, 2002; Arndt, 2002), but also within the family structure at the 'household level'. While both women and men play important roles in Gambian households, there are fundamental differences in the nature of their work, the way it is valued, the allocation of financial and social power, and the access to, and control over, resources. AU of these tend to disadvantage women.
Access to resources is strongly gendered in rural Gambia. Men tend to have precedence over available household inputs while women tend to have little access to, or control over, money or agricultural inputs. Women, then, tend to engage more with sustainable, low-impact 'hoe' agriculture not because, as some ecofeminists suggest, there is a natural connection between women and their environments, but rather, because they face structural barriers in accessing 'modern inputs' and practicing 'modern' agriculture (Schroeder, 2011;Bryceson, 1995).
In the Mandinka language, industrial and monocrop agriculture is referred to as toubab jamando, or white man's 'modern' agriculture, whereas the indigenous form of low-input agriculture is called moofing jamando, or black man's 'organic' agriculture. This binary language, although historically illustrating a racial division in agriculture, also exposes a gender division since men predominantly practice toubab agriculture while women practice moofing.
Importantly, while women may be better versed in sustainable agriculture, a project such as the AEV, which is geared towards sustainable 'organic' agriculture, does not necessarily translate into benefits for women since power dynamics and local practices influence their distribution. …