Gender-Sensitive LP Models in Soil Fertility Research for Smallholder Farmers: Reaching De Jure Female Headed Households in Zimbabwe

by Maxwell Mudhara, Peter. E. Hildebrand, and Christina. H. Gladwin


Zimbabwe faces a challenge in meeting food requirements of its 12 million people. The population is growing at three percent per annum compared to 1-1.5 percent per annum growth in agricultural production. Therefore, per capita food production is declining. To meet its food requirements, the country needs a four percent per annum growth rate in agricultural production. Residents of smallholder farms comprise seventy percent of Zimbabwe’s population. In 1999, they only contributed 14 percent of the value of sales of principal crops, i.e., maize, groundnuts, sorghum, soybeans, coffee, wheat, cotton, tobacco and sunflower. The contribution of smallholder farmers to marketed crops is skewed, with only a small proportion participating. The majority of the smallholder farmers struggle to meet their subsistence food requirements. High levels of poverty on these farms exacerbate the food problem, as they are unable to purchase food from the retail markets. Therefore, their food security is fragile.

Crop yields in the smallholder crop-livestock based production systems are low. Farmers plant hybrid maize seed that has potential yields of up to 12,000 kg ha-1. Yet, average maize yields of 1,300 kg ha-1, ranging from 350 to 2,200 kg ha-1, are realized. The disparity in potential and actual yields suggests that yields realized by farmers can be raised from current levels. Higher yields would enable farmers to meet their food and cash requirements, thus improving their food security status. More resources are required for achieving higher yields, yet smallholder farmers face multiple resource constraints. Financial capital, farming implements and draft power are limiting. The soils on which smallholder farms are located are inherently of low fertility. Due to over population, smallholder farmers have encroached on to the marginal lands, which have even lower yield potential. Infertile soils and lack resources to improve soil fertility threaten the goal of increasing smallholder farmers’ food production.

Farmers have hitherto not adopted the higher levels of fertilizer application recommended to them, as they are incompatible with the limited resources of the farmers, especially women farmers. Traditional economic analyses for evaluating new technologies commonly only consider the production gains of a particular enterprise, with and without the technology, and ignore the impacts on the rest of the farm. Rohrbach noted that this approach errs in inferring that if a technology is profitable, it will attract capital and labor investments for its adoption. Instead, the technology needs to be more profitable than alternative investment opportunities for the farm as a whole. The assertion in this paper is that there is a need for gender-sensitive methodologies to help research, extension and policy makers determine technologies likely to be adopted by farmers before a technology is propagated. Using such methodologies, the potential impact of various policies on farmers’ livelihood systems can be determined.

This paper develops a Linear Programming (LP) model to determine the influence of gender of head of household on how households are likely to respond to technological options and economic policies. The impacts such technologies have on livelihoods of farm households are considered. Female-headed households (FHHs) have fewer resources, particularly male labor required for specific activities on the farm, compared to male-headed households (MHHs). With fewer resources, FHHs are more likely to adopt technologies that require less of their limiting resources.

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