Influence of gender on value chains in Tanzania

Agriculture makes up a pillar of Tanzania’s economy, employing around 80 percent of the country’s citizens. The agricultural sector is also dominated by women, with 84.2 percent of the country’s women employed in farming of some type. With so many Tanzanians dependent on agriculture, food value chains (FVCs) play an important role in the country’s economy and food security. Thus, upgrading food value chains (i.e. making them more profitable while simultaneously addressing food security and the sustainable management of natural resources) is an important development goal.

In order to effectively upgrade food value chains, gender must be incorporated into value chain strategies. However, there has been limited literature linking food value chains and gender; traditionally, value chain interventions focus more on value addition to upstream actors than on how gender influences value chain upgrading. This lack of focus on gender may lead to interventions and upgrading strategies that negatively impact women and youth. A recent study published in Food Security aims to address this gap by looking at how gender influences preferred food and cash crops and upgrading strategies in the sub-humid Kilosa and semi-arid Chamwino Districts in Tanzania.

Because most farmers in rural Tanzania practice mixed cropping, growing more than one crop in the same field, the study took a multi-commodity approach to value chain analysis. Data was collected from 595 respondents using a mixed method research design that incorporated both quantitative data from a household questionnaire and qualitative data from focus groups and key informant interviews. This data helped the researchers explore in detail what determined farmers’ choice of crops and upgrading strategies, as well as determine whether those choices were linked to different gender roles and responsibilities.

Findings show that farmers from both regions had no differences with respect to preferences expressed by men and women for their first-priority cash crops, such as bulrush millet or ground nuts. However, gender differences were noted for preferences for second- and third-priority crops, for both food and cash crops in both semi-arid and sub-humid areas. Women tend to focus on crops that are not capital-intensive but that also tend to have low cash returns, such as maize. Men, on the other hand, tend to focus on cash crops with high returns that require some cash input. The authors posit that this could reflect inequity in access to and control of capital and production tools.

In line with men’s dominance of cash crops, the study also finds that men may take over the production and marketing of what have been considered traditional “women’s” crops in Tanzania, such as maize, when it becomes financially lucrative to do so. This suggests that social norms (i.e. men having more control over marketing and sales decisions) play an important role in determining how men and women interact in food value chains.

Regarding upgrading strategies, which were only conducted for first-priority crops, most of the strategies preferred by men differed from those preferred by women and youth. Women and youth preferred strategies related to crop harvesting, transportation, and primary processing, while men preferred strategies involving farm inputs and crop marketing, (e.g the use of millet threshers, shellers and oxen).

The study also looked at constraints faced by male and female farmers. Overall, both male and female respondents (between 76 and 95 percent) reported that they faced natural resource constraints and production constraints, such as pest infestation, disease, and low rainfall. The study also found that women are more likely than men to face constraints in the processing and storage nodes of food value chains (50 percent of women compared to 26 percent of men). Women also tend to face greater constraints in terms of access to agricultural inputs; in Chamwino District, 18 percent of female farmers reported facing challenges from the high cost and low availability of agricultural inputs, while only 8 percent of men reported the same concerns.

The researchers conclude that value chain upgrading strategies need to take into account the different roles and responsibilities that men and women play in each community. Understanding how men and women participate in agricultural value chains in a local context is important in designing future value chain programs and projects that incorporate a broader stakeholder base and that are truly inclusive and sustainable.

By: Jenn Campus