The more years of education a woman has, the more likely it is that her household uses sustainable farming practices. By combining certain sustainable farming methods, many poor farmers would increase farm income without depleting their soils. This is the conclusion of new research from the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
'Our results show a clear link between more years of education among women and use of sustainable agricultural methods,' says Hailemariam Teklewold, PhD in Environmental Economics at the University of Gothenburg.
Many African countries are facing decreasingly fertile soils as nature's own ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling and biological control of harmful substances, are becoming increasingly disrupted.
Education of women may be one of the most important driving forces of sustainable agriculture in Africa, according to Teklewold's doctoral thesis.
Teklewold studied a range of different factors in his search for what makes Ethiopian smallholders adopt farming methods that can increase productivity without destroying the environment. Today relatively few farmers in developing countries use sustainable farming practices, despite intense promotion by both governmental and non-governmental organisations.
The most important factors turned out to be social capital, weather- and climate-related risks, and whether farmers feel they can rely on government support in case of crop failure. The educational level of the woman in the household was also important.
'Decision makers should therefore focus on education of women, reinforcement of institutions that provide guidance and support to farmers, strengthening of the social security mechanisms, development of credit markets, and provision of detailed rainfall forecasts and other climate-related information,' says Teklewold.
Previous research has focused on economic effects of individual farming methods, whereas in reality farmers typically use several methods simultaneously. Thus, Teklewold analysed a combination of three sustainable farming methods to see if they may boost productivity and at the same time minimise the use of agrochemicals that harm the environment. The methods were rotating different crops such as maize and legumes, improved seeds, and reduced tillage along with leaving some harvest residue. The first and third methods improve the nutrient content of the soil and increases its ability to retain moisture.
'Farmers practising this combination of methods increase their income per hectare and harvest period by about 2 300 SEK (270 EUR), which is about what a fresh-out-of-college Ethiopian makes in three months. And it reduces the use of nitrogen in fertilisers, or at least keeps it constant.'
'The disadvantage of reduced tillage is that it increases labour for women. The reason is that it increases the need for weed picking, which is typically considered a woman's task. This is a gender equality aspect that decision makers should be aware of. Also, this may in turn lead to less time spent on child rearing and cooking, which are also tasks largely reserved for women,' says Teklewold.
The doctoral thesis was written with support from Sida's environmental economics capacity-building programme.
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