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«The Role of Gender and Kinship Structure in Household Decision-Making for Agriculture and Tree Planting in Malawi Seline S. Meijera,c,*, Gudeta W. ...»

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Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp 54-76, 2015

The Role of Gender and Kinship Structure in Household

Decision-Making for Agriculture and Tree Planting in Malawi

Seline S. Meijera,c,*, Gudeta W. Sileshib, Godfrey Kundhlandec, Delia Catacutand, and

Maarten Nieuwenhuisa

a UCD Forestry, Agriculture and Food Science Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield,

Dublin 4, Ireland;

b 5600 Lukanga Road, Lusaka, Zambia;

c World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Programme, Chitedze Agricultural Research Station, Lilongwe, Malawi;

d World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Vietnam, Hanoi, Vietnam Abstract This study examines household decision-making on various agricultural activities—including tree planting and management—among farming families in Malawi. A mixed-method approach consisting of a household survey (containing 135 married respondents and 16 focus group discussions) was used to analyze the gender dimensions of decision-making and the role of kinship structure. The study found that most decisions in relation to agricultural activities are made either by the husband or by the husband and wife together. However, decisions regarding tree planting and tree management are more often made by the household head alone, and are considered mainly the domain of men. These results were reinforced by the focus group discussions, which also revealed that women do play a role in the implementation of these activities. In patrilineal households decisions were made more often by the husband alone compared to matrilineal families where there was more joint decision-making by husbands and wives together. Decision-making on tree planting by the wife and joint decision-making on tree management resulted in higher densities of trees planted on farms compared to situations where decisions were made by the husband alone.

Keywords: Agroforestry; Gender; Headship; Household Decision-making; Malawi;

Matrilineal Kinship.

Introduction Much of southern Africa is faced with increasing population densities that result in land degradation and deforestation. Agroforestry, in which trees are incorporated into farming systems, has the potential to lead to diversified farming systems and improve food security while achieving agricultural productivity (Izac and Sanchez, 2001). Agroforestry has the potential to make a substantial contribution to food security; however, women’s participation in Africa is constrained and needs to be increased (Kiptot et al., 2014). It is MEIJER ET AL -54- Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp 54-76, 2015 important to understand how decisions are being made with regards to agricultural activities and sustaining food security. Interventions that take into consideration household level decision-making may well achieve their goals of providing sustained agricultural development, food security, and environmental sustainability. There has been widening recognition of the importance of better understanding how agricultural decisions are being made within households and, in particular, the role women play. Since there is a high degree of variation in time and space in patterns of intra-household decision-making and allocation of resources, there is a need for more context-specific information on how decisions are being made at the household level.

When it comes to tree planting on farms in Malawi, intra-household decision-making has not been well documented. It is often assumed that the head of the household is the chief decision-maker in farming households, and this role is regularly attributed to the male spouse or husband. Increasingly, the assumption that the senior male of the household functions as the household head and primary decision-maker is being questioned; likewise, the need to better understand household decision-making is being recognized (Rosenhouse, 1989; Hedman et al., 1996; Varley, 1996; Posel, 2001; Budlender, 2003; Budlender, 2005;

Deere et al., 2012; Rogan, 2013). An improved understanding of household level decisionmaking in relation to tree planting activities is needed to increase the effectiveness of agroforestry policies and other agricultural development interventions.

Previous studies have shown how difficult it can be to capture gender differences when it comes to agroforestry decisions; these studies also highlight the dangers of gender stereotypes in agroforestry programs and research (Bonnard and Scherr, 1994). Analyses of the gender dimensions of trees in agrarian landscapes have suggested a high level of complexity; such complexity stems from power and tenure aspects related to trees and forests and the social and ecological diversity of landscapes (Rocheleau and Edmunds, 1997).

Assignment of decision authority in households may be influenced by variables including age, gender, education level, and access to and control over resources. In addition, tenure and land titling have been shown to affect agricultural decision-making and have the potential to empower women (Wiig, 2013). When it comes to tree planting, societal norms of inheritance and residence affect decision-making processes within households, especially in relation to agriculture and agroforestry (given that issues related to tenure affect farmers’ motivation to plant trees) (Place and Otsuka, 2001). This is particularly relevant in a context like Malawi’s, where household structure is influenced by both matrilineal and patrilineal kinship rules (Takane, 2008).





This paper investigates household level decision-making for farming households in two rural districts in Malawi. It examines a range of agricultural activities, including tree planting and maintenance. Specifically, the study aims to identify: (i) Which household members are involved in the decision-making on, as well as the implementation of, various agricultural activities; and (ii) the implications of different household decision-making roles for tree planting and management by the farming household. Intra-household decision-making was analyzed using three household decision-making roles: Decision-making dominated by husband, by the wife, or joint decision-making by the husband and wife together. In

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addition, we hypothesize that the household head does not dominate household decisionmaking in agricultural activities such as tree planting and management.

Literature review A brief review of the literature explores the concept of household headship (and some of its limitations), models of household decision-making, and the matrilineal and patrilineal kinship structures that exist in different parts of the country.

Household Headship The concept of household head is widely used in the literature on household decisionmaking. There is a long history of identifying a household head in development studies;

however, its definition is ambiguous and contested. As Hedman et al. (1996) state: “The term head of household is used to cover a number of different concepts referring to the chief economic provider, the chief decision maker, the person designated by other members as the head, etc. The focus changes depending on the specific circumstances of the country.

Generally, the definition of head of household reflects the stereotype of the man in the household as the person in authority and the bread winner. And even where the definition is adequate, criteria used by interviewers are often vague and leave room for subjective interpretation. As a result, women are only counted as heads of household when there is no adult male in the household” (Hedman et al., 1996).

The use of the term “household head” has been subject to increasing criticism, as it is often not well defined and justified for the context in which it is used (Rosenhouse, 1989; Varley, 1996; Posel, 2001; Budlender, 2003). According to Rosenhouse (1989), the most serious problem with the term is that it assumes that, “a hierarchical relationship exists between household members and that the head is the most important member; that the head is a regular presence in the home; has overriding authority in important household decision matters; and, provides a consistent and central economic support”. This notion is reinforced by Varley (1996), who states that, “the concept of the head of household—a single decision maker representing members’ shared interests—is regarded as particularly inadequate and inappropriate, especially when this role is automatically ascribed to the senior male”. A further operational problem for household surveys is that headship is often not defined by objective criteria but is self-identified by respondents (Posel, 2001; Budlender, 2005). As respondents are usually not asked to explain their understanding of the term headship, the meaning is unclear and one might wonder if the head is the key decision-maker in the household or simply the oldest person in the household (Posel, 2001). Moreover, the understanding of headship might vary across different cultures, contexts, or even among members of the same household (Posel, 2001; Budlender, 2003).

When looking at the role of gender within households, many studies have focused on the sex of the household head in the analysis. There is a wide range of literature looking at gender and poverty, mostly conceptualizing the gender aspect as an issue of headship (Buvinić and Gupta, 1997; Budlender, 2005; Chant, 2006; Finley, 2007; Chant, 2008; Deere et al., 2012). However, reducing the gender dimension to an issue of headship is problematic, as it gives only a partial view of gender relationships within households and overlooks the MEIJER ET AL -56Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp 54-76, 2015 position of women in male-headed households (Budlender, 2005; Deere et al., 2012).

Buvinić and Gupta (1997) examine the relationship between female headship and poverty in over 60 studies in less developed countries and conclude that most studies found femaleheaded households poorer than male-headed households. They identify the limitations of focusing on the gender of the household head, and note that the term “household head” is ambiguous, loaded with meanings of a patriarchal system of governance, and difficult to compare among different countries and cultures (Buvinić and Gupta, 1997). Furthermore, female-headed households constitute a diverse category and many studies fail to differentiate between different types of female-headed households (Chant, 2006; Finley, 2007).

In addition to the self-defined headship by household members, alternative definitions of headship have been proposed in the development literature (Fuwa, 2000; Rogan, 2013).

One alternative definition is based on economic classifications and defines the household head as the household member with the largest contribution to income. Furthermore, there is a demographic classification, which appoints headship to the oldest member in the household. In addition, there are hybrid designations which use a combination of economic and demographic considerations in defining the household head. Rogan (2013) compares these alternative definitions of female headship in post-Apartheid South Africa and finds an association between self-reported female headship and a female being identified as the main contributor to income. Self-defined headship might be problematic in poverty studies aiming to understand the gender dimensions of poverty and economic inequality, as it could underestimate the growing risk of income poverty in female-headed households (Rogan, 2013). Although it has been suggested that alternative definitions of headship might be more appropriate in poverty studies—especially those with a gender focus—there is less of a need to look at economic and demographic factors in defining headship when trying to understand household decision-making. Therefore, this study uses the conventional method of self-defined headship to identify household heads in the survey and to explore how selfdefined headship affects decision-making over several agricultural activities, including tree planting and tree management.

Household Decision-Making Models There is a large body of literature on household behavior and the development of models to predict this behavior and its outcomes. Doss (1996) recognizes five types of models of household decision-making: Common preferences model, unified household model, collective model, cooperative bargaining model, and non-cooperative bargaining models.

Early studies assumed that households behaved as if they were single individuals, which is the idea behind the common preferences model and the unified household model. The collective model is based on the idea that households reach a Pareto efficient outcome, which means that no individual can be made better off without making someone else worse off. The cooperative bargaining model assumes that household decisions are made through a cooperative game in which bargaining power is a function of the outside options of the two bargaining individuals. Cooperative bargaining models are a subset of collective models (Doss, 2013). Non-cooperative models assume that households do not pool their income and allow for individuals to make consumption and production decisions based on their labor and access to resources. Doss (1996) provides a detailed review of the different

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models of intra-household decision-making and examines the assumptions, predictions, and empirical implications of these different models.



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