Examining the Contributions of Women on Family Welfare in N’lohe
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Background of the study
Women are the backbone of the growth and development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43% of the world’s agricultural labour force, which rises to 70% in some countries. In Africa, 80% of agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly women. Many developing countries are faced with the challenge of achieving a balance between population size, structures and distribution in relation to natural resource potentials on which food production and food security largely depend.
In most cases, unless substantial reductions in fertility levels take place as a response to, inter alia, the shrinking availability of land and deteriorating environmental conditions for food production, the realization of sustainable agriculture and rural growth and development will be increasingly difficult to realize.
This paper will illustrate arguments on women influence on family welfare by, first, focusing on the need for gender-responsive policies and programmes conducive to the goals of sustainable agriculture and rural development since our study is being carried out in a rural area, and second, by articulating a conceptual framework for such policies and programmes.
While pointing to the determinants of family welfare and large family size (especially the social and economic value of children to women) in rural societies with prevailing smallholders’ agricultural production, the impact of specific development interventions on women’s status, as well as possible fertility-related consequences, are highlighted. As an example from a concrete socio-economic and geographical context, the socio-demographic effects of some agricultural and rural development policies and interventions in Cameroon are also presented.
Women represent a significant proportion of the agricultural labour force in most of the South East Asian countries; for example, 35 per cent in the Philippines and Malaysia, 54 per cent in Indonesia, and over 60 per cent in Thailand. In addition to their contribution to the formal agricultural labour, women are actively involved in subsistence farming, retail trading, and the marketing and distribution of agricultural and non-farm products (FAO, 1991).
Women farmers are increasingly affected by a male (and, recently also by young female) outmigration from the rural areas, by environmental degradation, by an overall decline in technical and vocational education, and by the growth of agro-industries and large- scale high-tech farms.
Above all, however, women farmers are affected by mainstream agriculture and rural development policies and plans that are based on mistaken assumptions as to who “the” farmers are – assumptions that result in programmes directing technical training and resources to men only.
The historical mainstays of many of the world’s viable agroecological systems have been women. The relationship between women and the family welfare revolves around their concerns for providing family food security, fuel, water, and health care among others.
Whether the reference is made to Sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean, where women produce 60-80 per cent of the supply of basic foodstuffs, or to the Indian subcontinent where between 70 and 80 per cent of food crops grown are produced by women, or to Asia where they perform over 50 per cent of the labour involved in intensive rice cultivation, or to Indonesia or Central and South America, where their home gardens represent some of the most complex agro-silvopastoral systems known, women, hold a vast amount of responsibility for, and knowledge of, sustainable agricultural systems (FAO, 1992a).
Women in agricultural settings (Rural women’s) productive contributions tend to be undermined and ever more difficult to carry out in the context of population pressure – manifested through high natural increase, high agricultural densities, high dependency ratios, low labour productivity, etc. – on limited, marginal, and increasingly degraded agricultural land and another natural resource base. In particular, levels of time and human energy inputs required in women’s farm- and home-based productive and reproductive chores are rising.
Furthermore, women are normally worst hit by generally low and sometimes worsening health and nutrition conditions, persistent overall poverty, as well as by growing labour shortages due to male out-migration in search of wage employment. In various parts of the developing world, women are increasingly becoming the sole decision-makers for the household.
For example, it is estimated that in many African countries at least a third of rural households are maintained by women. All these are but some of the major aspects of socio-economic features that have been contributing to the growing burden of rural women’s responsibilities in maintaining their families in virtually all parts of the developing world (South Commission, 1990).
Though important natural resource users and managers, producers of food and other products, and indeed major contributors to the family wellbeing, women have been normally “invisible” to development policy-makers, programme planners and researchers. Consequently, women tend to remain without adequate social and institutional support from the family and local community level, to that of the state.
Faced with the gender- asymmetries that disfavour them in social, economic, technological and legal conditions for the sustenance of family food supply and overall family welfare, many rural women in the developing world consider a large family to be essential in enabling them to cope with the situation of continuous and often increasing social and economic insecurity (Joekes et al., 1994).
Some women who participated in the research thought that their continuing dependency on men for access to land hampered their agricultural efforts. Cameroon’s pattern of land tenure is culturally determined: rights to use land are assigned by the tribal chief or village authority, and the male family member makes the decisions on land-use. To lack clear title to land is to be dependent on those who control it, even if women’s rights to use the land are recognised (Young 1993). Half a century ago, it was observed that in Cameroon, ‘men own the land, women own the crops’ (Goheen 1996). Most women involved in farming produce food both to provide for their families and for sale: rural and urban food supplies are dependent on the food they grow. In addition, land can serve as collateral to enable women to get credit and develop their agricultural and other activities. Constraints on women’s food production are therefore likely to have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of a great part of the population, a risk which should not be ignored (Visvanathan et al. 1997).
For rural dwellers in N’Lohe, agriculture is the backbone of livelihoods. Men used to engage in cash crop production, and women were chiefly concerned with food-crop production, but women reported that the economic crisis has changed the way they work with men.
In N’Lohe, as in other rural communities in the country, structural adjustment measures aim to encourage the production of cash crops for export, to generate more foreign exchange and render the country better able to service its external debt payment. Cash crops grown for sale in and around N’Lohe include bananas, palm oil, coffee and cocoa. These corps are mostly because of the warm climate.
The women I interviewed felt that their workloads had increased tremendously in recent years. In rural areas, most women farm with basic tools, and have no access to agricultural inputs. In addition to cultivating crops, women tend to animals.
Many are now involved in income-generating activities outside the home, including selling food crops in local markets or, if they are close enough to urban areas or if the transport is available, in urban markets. However, because urban dwellers’ incomes have declined, they can only get low prices for their foodstuffs in urban markets.
Some women reported that their contribution to the household is now more visible. While men were formerly seen as family breadwinners, both sexes now share this role. This is reflected in greater control of income: more than 60 per cent of the women interviewed said that they now manage household income, usually because they are better managers and carers for the family.
Research in other contexts argues that women are motivated principally by the needs of their children in their households, whereas men are motivated to invest time and money outside the household, in male-dominated networks and business partnerships (Rowlands 1995). However, women in my research complained that men squander the resources at their disposal on alcohol consumption, women, and social activities.
Women’s subordinate socio-economic and legal status is often reinforced through “gender-neutral” (but, in fact, most usually male-biased) agricultural and rural development strategies, especially those geared by structural adjustment policies. For example, policy measures emphasizing the production of export crops contribute to an increase in competition for arable land and in land values.
Where the allocation of land held under usufruct rights is controlled by senior males in a lineage, adjustment-induced shifts into more profitable crops often result in men taking over land previously cultivated by women for domestic consumption. In other cases, women only have access to much smaller and more distant plots, whose soil tends to become less fertile through overuse and erosion.
Women’s access to land becomes even more difficult as population growth puts pressure on such scarce and deteriorating natural resources. Again, children (male in particular) often represent women’s most reliable key to land rights, and thus to their economic security and social recognition (South Commission, 1990; FAO, 1991b; Spring and Wilde, 1991; Palmer, 1991; Jacobson 1992; Agarwal, 1992).
Women in N’lohe Cameroon have very limited opportunities for income generation. The majority of women in N’lohe Cameroon are engaged in subsistence agriculture (often as part of a combined livelihoods strategy), meaning they farm specifically for household use and do not generate income from their crops. Women do the vast majority of agricultural work in the N’lohe Cameroon, yet men are the ones who reap the economic benefits.
Small-scale rural farming is a challenging occupation for men and women alike; however, women face more constraints on income generation through agriculture than men. Without a source of income generation, women are often unable to meet cash needs for themselves and their families, including medical expenses, household items, and school fees.
Additionally, small-scale agriculture may not even provide enough food to ensure household food security, let alone income. This analysis is designed to critically evaluate some of the most pressing challenges women in N’lohe Cameroon face in contributing to family welfare and creating sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families through small-scale agricultural production.
The main research question here is what is the influence of women on family welfare in N’lohe?
We have as specific research questions:
- Are women in rural N’lohe engaged in small-scale agriculture at a level that allows sustainable family welfare?
- If women are not creating sustainable family welfare through agricultural production, what are the most salient factors influencing this lack of success?
The main research objective here is to examine the contributions of women on family welfare in N’lohe.
We have as specific research objectives as:
- To evaluate women in N’lohe engagement in small-scale agriculture at a level that allows sustainable family welfare.
- To carry out an in-depth analysis to show which factors have the most influence on women’s agricultural production.
- To propose recommendations based on our finding.