Fertilizer Subsidy Removal Programs and Their Potential Impacts on Women Farmers in Malawi and Cameroon
Christina H. Gladwin
Since the early 1980s, development experts and donor agencies have agreed on the importance of structural adjustment reforms aimed at "getting (macro) prices right." Adoption of these reforms was made a precondition for new grants in many sub-Saharan African countries. In both Malawi and Cameroon, one such required reform was government's gradually decreasing fertilizer subsidies available to the small farm sector. The aim of this paper is to review fertilizer subsidy removal programs in both countries for their potential impact on women farmers who bear most of the responsibility for food crop production. Because women produce, store, and market the food in both countries, these programs will adversely affect aggregate food production and food security if they adversely affect women producers.
It is first necessary to briefly review both sides of the debate about the pros and cons of fertilizer subsidies. On one side of the debate are those who argue for structural adjustments as a way to invigorate stagnating agricultural and industrial sectors ( Bates, 1981; Timmer, Falcon, and Pearson 1983; Due, 1986). They argue that distorted "macro" prices (artificially low food prices, high wage rates, low interest rates, overvalued exchange rates) send critical signals which may negatively affect the efficient allocation of resources and cause stagnation in the long run. As a corollary, they have argued against governments' using fertilizer subsidies to increase the profitability of intensive agriculture while keeping food prices artificially low ( Timmer, Falcon, and Pearson 1983: 288). Only when total fertilizer use is low and the ratio of incremental grain yield to
Christina Gladwin is Associate Professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department, Affiliate of the Anthropology Department, and member of the Center for African Studies. She has a Ph.D. from Food Research Institute, Stanford University, and has done extensive fieldwork in Ghana, Mexico, and Guatemala, as well as short periods of fieldwork in Malawi and Cameroon. She is the author of Ethnographic Decision Tree Modeling and co-editor of Food and Farm: Current Debates and Policies.