Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality?

TCD Geography’s Jane Maher recently had her excellent research published in a book titled Conservation Agriculture in Subsistence Farming: Case Studies from South Asia and Beyond. Jane contributed a chapter on ‘Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality? Evidence from Malawi’. This chapter sought to examine whether Conservation Agriculture (CA) could play a role in the empowerment of women through agriculture. This was assessed within the analytical framework of the impact CA has on women’s time and labour, agricultural production and household food security, decision-making in the home and social capital.

Book cover
There is a persistent gender gap in agriculture, where women often face constraints in access to productive resources and extension services. Women are a vital component of agriculture, making up two-thirds of the agricultural workforce. CA is promoted as a time saving and labour reducing form of agriculture, increasing productivity, profit and food security. With its three core principles: no tillage, covering soil and crop rotation, it is described as a method for adaptation to the threats of food insecurity and climate change. Limited research has been carried out on the impact of CA on women. However the limited evidence suggests that CA can reduce the burden of work for women.


To measure if CA is a beneficial farming system for women in Malawi semi-structured interviews, focus groups and disaggregated harvest data were used to address the research questions. In total 80 CA female farmers and 33 control farmers were interviewed, and 18 focus groups were carried out. The main findings were female CA farmers reported a reduction in labour with work being light and more spread out, and with more time to carry out other activities including income generating activities. There was a significant increase in yields for maize and groundnuts; however female CA farmers continued to have lower yields than their male counterparts. Food availability improved by one month for CA practicing households. CA has a significant impact women’s on decision-making at household level in the areas of agriculture, crop use and household expenditure. Finally, CA had a noted positive effect on women’s social capital; female CA farmers were more involved in community groups and committees.


The results indicate that there are clear positive impacts for women who practice CA. The evidence suggests it has helped to create a sense of time and control for women. It is concluded that CA, as a farming system, can contribute to diminishing the gender gap in agriculture in Malawi. However, culturally there are challenges and issues that have to be overcome.


This research was carried out by Jane Maher for her MSc Dissertation in 2012 and has recently been published and can be read in full at:
Maher, J., Wagstaff, P., O’Brien, J. (2015) Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality? Evidence from Malawi, In: Chan, C., Fantle-Lepczyk, J. (eds.) Conservation Agriculture in Subsistence Farming Case Studies from South Asia and Beyond, Oxfordshire, UK: CABI.

Also see the book at Google Books.


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