Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa: Introduction

by Christina H. Gladwin


Soil fertility is the number-one natural resource in Africa; yet its depletion on smallholder farms has led to stagnant or decreasing per capita food production all over Africa during the last two decades. Unexamined – except in this special edition – are the gender impacts of the soil fertility crisis in Africa. The papers in this issue, the result of a University of Florida project called “Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa,” assume — if one generalization can be made about the diverse farming systems and multitude of cultural traditions in sub-Saharan Africa – that women farmers usually produce the subsistence food crops, while men produce export and cash crops. African women on small rainfed farms produce up to 70-80% of the domestic food supply in most sub-Saharan African societies and also provide 46% of the agricultural labor. However, women’s food-crop yields are generally low — too low by Green Revolution standards, and much lower than men’s yields. The papers collected here examine different projects in Africa with respect to the different methods used to reach women farmers in order to improve their soils and increase their yields. Such methods include fertilizer vouchers and grants, microcredit, small bags of fertilizer, agroforestry and legume innovations, and increased cash cropping by women. Results demonstrate to African policy makers which methods work, and reach women farmers with different household compositions, so that they can reverse the alarming trend toward declining per capita food production.

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Christina H. Gladwin is a professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics in IFAS, at the University of Florida. She has been the principal investigator of the UF Soils CRSP (collaborative research support project) “Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa” from 1997 to 2002.  She is very grateful for support from: women and men farmers who repeatedly welcomed us into their homes and fields; colleagues like Clif Hiebsch, Max Langham, Pete Hildebrand, and Ken Buhr who brainstormed the objectives of this project; others who authored excellent papers in this special edition and put in endless hours on the project; Charles Sloger who managed the Soils CRSP in USAID and provided many insightful comments about the project’s direction and goals; Lin Cassidy who endlessly reviewed and edited the papers; reviewers who provided timely anonymous reviews; Betty Finn, Lisette Stall, and Charity Blomely of IFAS International Programs who managed the accounting and travel; Parakh Hoon and other editors of the African Studies Quaterly and Dr. Michael Chege, past director of the UF Center for African Studies, who worked tirelessly to get out this special edition of the ASQ, and funds graciously provided from USAID through the Soils Management CRSP and World Vision International. All errors and omissions are her responsibility.