«The Role of Gender and Kinship Structure in Household Decision-Making for Agriculture and Tree Planting in Malawi Seline S. Meijera,c,*, Gudeta W. ...»
Interestingly, decisions regarding tree planting and tree management seem to differ somewhat from other agricultural activities. The survey results indicate that decisions regarding tree planting and tree management were more often made by the husband alone, as compared to other agricultural activities. In addition, both gender and kinship significantly affect decision-making on tree planting and tree management. Decisions were more often made by the husband alone in male-headed households as well as in patrilineal households, whereas there was more joint decision-making in matrilineal households and female-headed households. The fact that the effects of kinship and gender on decision
making were similar is related to the fact that these two factors are related, as most patrilineal households are male-headed whereas most matrilineal households are headed by a female.
The findings of the survey were reinforced by the outcomes of the focus group discussions, which also found that tree planting and tree management are seen mostly as a task for husbands. However, the focus group discussions revealed that women still participated in the implementation of tree planting and there were some gender-specific roles for women, which is in agreement with previous studies (German et al., 2009; Kiptot and Franzel, 2012).
It is remarkable that women’s decision-making power is limited when it comes to tree planting and management, as women are responsible for firewood collection—one of the main uses of trees—and as women are often at the center of agricultural production.
Female farmers’ participation in agroforestry practices has been demonstrated throughout Africa (Kiptot and Franzel, 2012; Kiptot et al., 2014). Nevertheless, it has also been suggested that women’s participation is low in commercial enterprises often considered the domain of men. And given women’s proportionally high involvement in agroforestry technologies—such as soil fertility management, fodder production, and woodlots—their participation is low in terms of the amount of land they allocate to these technologies and in terms of the numbers of trees planted (Kiptot and Franzel, 2012). Although women are actively involved in agroforestry, their level of participation is constrained by cultural norms and lack of resources (Kiptot et al., 2014).
The results of this study also demonstrated that the decision-making roles within the household have implications for the number of trees planted. Relatively more trees were planted in households where decisions on tree planting were made by the wife, and when decisions on tree management are made jointly by the husband and wife together. This finding has important implications, as it demonstrates the need to better understand how decisions are being made about tree planting and management (a need that should be taken into consideration during the design of agroforestry interventions). There is a broad range of literature focusing on the factors affecting tree planting on farms (Franzel et al., 2001; Pattanayak et al., 2003; Franzel et al., 2004; Mercer, 2004), and various variables (such as farmer or household characteristics) have been found to influence agroforestry adoption and the numbers of trees planted on farms (Meijer et al., 2015). However, the role of household decision-making on agroforestry adoption and the numbers of trees planted on farms has received relatively little attention thus far; our findings suggest it is significant and should not be overlooked.
This study indicates that kinship structure affects the decision-making roles within rural households when it comes to agricultural decisions. In patrilineal households participating in this study, decisions were made more often by the husband alone compared to in matrilineal families, where there was more joint decision-making by the husband and wife together as well as more decision-making by the wife. Consequently, more trees were planted per hectare by matrilineal households compared to patrilineal households. This finding is somewhat surprising, as men in uxorilocal households are often believed to have little incentive to plant trees on the farm as they do not have ownership over land in their wives’ villages (Hansen et al., 2005; German et al., 2009). In a study on the effects of marriage and inheritance patterns on tree planting among households belonging to the Chewa tribe in Central Malawi, Hansen et al. (2005) found that tree planting by men is MEIJER ET AL -70Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp 54-76, 2015 dissuaded by uxorilocal marriage patterns. Our results differ from these findings; however, they seem to be in agreement with their observation that on average, men planted more trees than women (Hansen et al., 2005). If males are the primary decision-makers about tree planting and tree management, more tree planting is to be expected in patrilineal rather than matrilineal societies (Place and Otsuka, 2001). Interestingly, the opposite was observed in this study. It is important to note that other factors (such as geographical influences) might play a role here as well. Differences in population density and forest cover between the north and south are likely to affect the availability of wood resources from surrounding forests and will influence farmers’ need to grow their own trees.
The findings of this study contribute to the existing literature aimed at understanding farmers’ preferences, motivations, and choices in relation to tree planting in Malawi (Dewees, 1995; Place and Otsuka, 2001; Thangata et al., 2002; Walker, 2004; Sirrine et al., 2010), and challenge some conventional assumptions about agricultural gender roles. The complexity of gender dimensions of intra-household decision-making need to be recognized and taken into consideration by policy makers and researchers. The gendered aspects of agricultural-based development remain poorly understood, and gender gaps in income from farming still exist in poor countries such as Malawi (Djurfeldt et al., 2013). Similarly, a recent analysis by Sunderland et al. (2014) using a global dataset, questioned assumptions about gender differentiation of forest product use and challenged some of the commonly-held perceptions on the role of men and women. Although the study found evidence for distinctive gender roles associated with the collection of forest products, it also found that men play a more important and diverse role in the contribution of forest products to rural livelihoods than often reported.
While this study provides useful insights into household decision-making, it does have limitations. First, this study used self-identified headship in the household survey, a concept that has been associated with methodological problems in the past (Posel, 2001). However, as the aim of this study was to understand how the various household members—including the self-identified household head—contribute to agricultural decisions, it seemed an appropriate method to use. Second, the survey only included household heads, and it would be very interesting to get the perspective of both the husband and the wife within the same household on household decision-making, similar to Mbweza et al. (2008). This would provide a deeper understanding of the role of the household head as well as their spouse and would identify issues where there might be disagreements. Finally, time and resource limitations precluded the splitting of tree planting and management activities into subactivities, which could have improved our insights into gender-specific tasks in tree planting.
We recommend that future research on intra-household decision-making includes both the husband and the wife of the same household. This will shed more light on how decisions are made and will reveal potential differences in the perceptions of both partners. In addition, it would be interesting to study the various agricultural activities in more detail, particularly the activities related to tree planting and tree management. Rather than study tree planting and management as general activities, we could break each down into several sub-activities (such as caring for seedlings in the nursery, preparing the planting stations, watering the seedlings, pruning the seedling and tree, harvesting tree products, marketing and selling, etc.). Furthermore, it would also be interesting to look at gender differences in relation to the different tree types (e.g. fodder, fruit, firewood, and fertilizer trees). This could reveal
gender dimensions for the different activities related to tree planting and help us to understand which household members are responsible for the various sub-activities.
Conclusion This study has demonstrated that households employ a mix of decision-making by the husband, the wife, or by the husband and wife together. For most activities, decisions were made either by the husband or by the husband and wife together. Tree planting and management seem to be considered mainly the responsibility of men in our study areas;
however, it was also clear that decision-making by the wife or shared decision-making resulted in a higher density of trees planted. We also found the assumption that the household head is the primary decision-maker is an oversimplification of reality. Our findings have important practical implications. Research, policy development and extension efforts should not merely target the household head but should take into consideration how decision-making around farming and tree planting is gendered, with variations based on kinship structures and other intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Assumptions about headship and gender roles need to be locally checked and validated in order for agricultural policies and development activities to be effective.
Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank Irish Aid for providing financial assistance for the research on which this paper is based. We thank Wezzie Chisenga for his valuable assistance with data collection while in the field, and we are also sincerely grateful to the extension workers and farmers in Malawi who donated their time to this work and contributed their views. We also acknowledge two anonymous reviewers who provided useful comments on our manuscript.
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