Structural Adjustment and African Women Farmers

By Christina H. Gladwin; Center for African Studies University of Florida | Go to book overview

is politically unwise to dismantle a parastatal marketing board employing an elite group of educated voters, in order to substitute a more economically efficient system of periodic markets employing, again, rural women. 4

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Clearly, a more complete structural adjustment, involving higher producer prices, a reduced number of civil servants, and the dismantling of parastatals, would be better than focusing only on removing fertilizer subsidies. It might open the way for a greater diversity of productive strategies and employment opportunities rather than enforcing a large-scale, capital-intensive agriculture that works against women's interests. But given the political realities of structural adjustment, on the one hand, and the economic rationality of women farmers who are responsible for food production in both Malawi and Cameroon, on the other hand, one solution is to target fertilizer subsidies at smallholders, especially women farmers, for food production. If fertilizer subsidies are removed completely, the African food crisis of the 1970s will pale in comparison to that of the 1990s. Leaving fertilizer subsidies at present levels--and even increasing them--is obviously the optimal food- security strategy in countries where lack of capital is the main limiting factor to fertilizer use; yet governments may lose needed structural adjustment grants with this strategy. A compromise would be to target fertilizer subsidies at smallholders' food production, as Malawi has done. Because women produce the food in most African cultures, one way to do this is via women's credit clubs like the MIDENO clubs in Cameroon and those of the Women's Program in Malawi. Will there be too much leakage of this subsidy to men's cash crops? The answer comes from one husband in Kom who allows his wife to fertilize her maize while he neglects to fertilize his coffee: "I don't like to be hungry."


NOTES
1.
In other respects, the sample is fairly representative of Malawi smallholders: 26 farmers were credit club members, and 14 were not; 22 farmers got credit for fertilizer in 1986/87, while 18 did not. Seventeen farmers were women household heads, three were couples interviewed together, and 20 were male household heads. ( Dixon [ 1982] estimates that 50 percent of agricultural labor is performed by women in Malawi.) Of the 40 farmers interviewed, 33 were household heads. Questions about the sexual division of labor and income within the family revealed that groundnuts is a women's cash crop while tobacco, cotton, and hybrid maize are men's cash crops, and local maize and beans are grown for the whole family's consumption.
2.
The Cameroonian sample was chosen to be representative of smallholders

-214-

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