Gender, Generation and Agricultural Intensification: A Case of Two Cereals in the Sudanian Savanna

Melinda Smale, Alpha Kergna, Véronique Thériault, Amidou Assima, and Naman Keita. 2016. Gender, Generation and Agricultural Intensification: A Case of Two Cereals in the Sudanian Savanna of Mali. Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Paper 26 (English). East Lansing: Michigan State University

In Mali, yields of dryland cereals—with the exception of maize—have stagnated. Low rates of productivity growth are attributed in part to limited use of mineral fertilizer and declining land quality. In the Sudanian Savanna of Mali, as elsewhere in the West African Sahel, dryland cereals are grown on fields managed collectively and individually by extended families that span multiple generations and multiple households, headed by an elder patriarch who is responsible for organizing land and labor to meet staple food needs. We refer to these, as does the government of Mali, by the term Enterprise Agricole Familiale.

As might be expected with any process of social and economic change, evidence suggests that the roles of women and youth within the EAF organization are evolving. We begin an exploration of this topic, and also contribute to the empirical literature on agricultural intensification in the region by exploring intra-household differences in adoption probabilities and fertilizer use rates. We test differences by: 1) plot management type (collective, individual); 2) gender of plot manager given plot management type; and 3) and plot manager status in the family (youth, relationship to head). We compare findings between major cereal crops (maize, sorghum).

We find that fertilizer use and intensity are greater on individually managed sorghum plots. Positive differentials are explained largely by higher use rates on sorghum fields allocated to women, which are small, frequently intercropped with groundnuts, and serve as “food security” reserves. That is, they are used to meet the specific needs of women managers and children, but also contribute to ensuring an adequate food supply for the overall EAF. By contrast, we find that use rates in maize production are lower on individual maize plots managed by men who are not heads of household. This may reflect their status within the EAF. For example, we find that use is lower on plots managed by youth under 25 years of age (specifically, maize plots) and sons (in particular, sorghum plots). Wives of the head, who are more senior in age and status, have higher intensity of fertilizer use on sorghum plots than other managers.

Findings have implications for the design of extension programs to support inclusion of women and younger generations in the intensification of dryland cereals production. While efforts to expand the reach of programs to members of the EAF other than the head may encourage fertilizer use and crop intensification, any such programs would need to respect the decision-making norms and cohesion within these complex production units.

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