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AgroForestry Innovations in Africa: Can They Improve Soil Fertility on Women Farmers’ Fields?

by Christina H. Gladwin, Jennifer S. Peterson, and Robert Uttaro


Most observers agree that the verdict is still out for agroforestry innovations known as improved fallows, which may take a decade for farmers to test properly.  First farmers plant several small plots of different tree species, cut them after two years and plant a cash or food crop, and then wait to see the results of that harvest.  Because the improved fallow cycle takes four or five years, farmers’ adoption or adaptation of this technology takes a lot longer than adoption of an improved seed or a new fertilizer. Until the experiment fails, African farmers – like most researchers – are willing to experiment, probably due to the lack of other options available as soil fertility amendments in Africa today.  This is especially true for women farmers, even more so for female headed households whose lack of adult family labor presents them with severe cash and credit constraints.  This paper describes their adoption decision processes when presented with new agroforestry technologies such as improved fallows in western Kenya, southern Malawi, and eastern Zambia.

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Christina H. Gladwin is a professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida.

Jennifer Sheffee Peterson holds a Masters in Agronomy and Agricultural Education from the University of Florida and is presently a consultant for Africare in Niamey, Niger.

Robert Uttaro is a Ph. D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Florida and is finishing his dissertation on the politics of fertilizer in Malawi.

They are very grateful for the help and hospitality of farmers interviewed in southern Malawi and eastern Zambia as well as advisors in ICRAF and World Vision. They alone are responsible for errors and omissions in this text.