Mali: Helping women farm

Women in many industrialized countries are all too familiar with the “second shift”—the domestic duties they still perform disproportionately (compared with their husbands) once their formal workday is over.

That phenomenon is also key to understanding women’s work productivity in a developing country like Mali, according to studies led by Jeremy Foltz, a CALS professor of agricultural and applied economics.

More than farm technologies, family structures determine agricultural productivity for Malian women, Foltz found. Understanding both household priorities and labor allocation for Malian women outside of farming was key to Foltz’s research on generating improvements in agricultural productivity.

Foltz received a seed grant from the Global Health Institute at UW–Madison to explore gender, agricultural productivity and sustainability in Mali. One of Foltz’s graduate students, Julie Collins, focused her research in Mali on issues that cause women’s fields to have lower yields than those farmed by men.

Foltz’s and Collins’ research offers a new perspective on women as farmers in Africa. Women’s duties at home and with their children are their first priorities, the researchers found, leaving women with less time for farming.

“These findings have huge implications for how one thinks about women in agriculture in Africa,”says Foltz. “Most of the current thinking is that women are inherently less productive, so we need to get them better technology to help them be better farmers. Our data suggest a different story.”

Women can produce as much as men, Foltz says—and those who do either don’t have many children, or they can call upon more labor in the home.

Time-saving features and solutions, including childcare, could make a big difference, giving women more time to farm. So would basic utilities and appliances. “Certainly things that reduce the amount of time women need to spend on household chores— like running water and gas stoves—would have a positive effect on production,” Foltz says.

Creating any new agricultural technologies designed specifically to help women in Mali must acknowledge labor demands in their homes. “Technologies that solve productivity issues for Malian women are not exclusively agricultural,” says Foltz.

Time-saving solutions in the field could also increase Malian women’s crop yields, Foltz says.

“Women I have talked to in Mali are very excited about the possible use of herbicides because weeding labor is the hardest thing to come by in the production system,” says Foltz. “If you can spend money to get rid of your weeds rather than labor time that you don’t have because you are taking care of your kids, you’re ultimately going to save time and improve your productivity.”

“Highway Robbery” Has Far-Reaching Costs

In the busy port town of Tema, Ghana, the driver of a tanker truck of gasoline northbound for Bamako, Mali, loads a few dozen pineapples onto his rig and sets out for the distant capital city. His six-day drive will take him through 60 checkpoints, where he will pay about $200 in small bribes to police, customs and other officials, offering gifts of pineapples to speed his way through these delays.

In Madaoua, Niger, a southbound trucker bringing onions to the market in Accra, Ghana, will pay $580 in bribes along his 2,000-kilometer route and be delayed nearly six hours, adding $1,165 to his total transport costs.

Such stories are commonplace among thousands of drivers in West Africa for whom bribes are simply the cost of doing business. But taken as a whole, this form of petty corruption does a lot of damage to the region’s economy.

Professor and UW-Extension specialist Jeremy Foltz and professor Dan Bromley, both from the CALS Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, used a unique data set compiled by USAID teams to put some numbers on it.

Analyzing detailed surveys of more than 1,500 long-haul truckers in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana, including data on amounts and collectors of bribes, Bromley and Foltz estimate that corruption costs—focusing on losses from time delays and bribes paid—add 15 to 30 percent to the cost of transporting food
and other products to and from markets in the region.

Foltz became interested in the topic when his own car was stopped by bribe-seeking police during his Fulbright fellowship in Mali a few years ago. “Bribe-taking at highway checkpoints is widespread,” Foltz says. “Because it appears that the profits are shared all the way up the chain of command, it’s immune to quick policy fixes.”

Such corruption hurts the economy in far-reaching ways. At stake, Foltz and Bromley say, are prices paid to farmers growing products for export to distant markets. With increased transport costs eating into profits, farmers gradually abandon certain crops such as cashew trees that grow well on marginal lands and prevent soil erosion.

“The issue here is that net returns suffer, agricultural investments are necessarily delayed, yields fall, and soon attentive management is not worth the trouble,” they wrote in an article for Natural Resources Forum. “Fields and specific crops are left unattended. Tree crops are ignored or ripped out. Economic malaise sets in. Sustainability suffers.”

But the damage doesn’t end there. “Petty corruption of the type we are studying has a more deleterious effect on private investment than larger-scale government corruption,” says Foltz. “African countries have some of the lowest levels of foreign investment in the world and can ill afford to perpetuate a system that hampers growth even more than taxation.”

Foltz and Bromley are now focusing on understanding the structures, incentives and constraints to corruption, with the goal of providing information to policy makers and others seeking to eliminate this important barrier to development.

The outbreak of violent warfare in the region has not made their work any easier—or less needed.

“We’re studying the impact of new anti-corruption policies in Ghana and also how civil conflicts affect corruption,” says Foltz. “For example, in the recent conflict in Ivory Coast, rebel militias funded their operations in part by extorting bribes that were three or four times higher than normal. In Mali, rebels have used kidnapping and drug smuggling to raise money.”