Researching Challenges and Opportunities for Gender-Inclusive Groundnut Commercialization in Malawi
As Malawi makes a historic transition away from tobacco as its dominant cash crop, companies in the tobacco sector are turning to other crops, such as groundnut, and working at a fast clip to help farmers access good seed, varieties and agronomic practices, while developing regional export markets, grading systems and shelling plants.
This pivot to groundnut—a transformation facilitated in large part by the USAID Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification (AgDiv) Activity with scientific support from the USAID Feed the Future Peanut Innovation Lab—holds great potential for smallholder farmers.
Stakeholders have a mandate to ensure the commercialization effort includes women in Malawi and improves household welfare. Consequently, they are investing in programs and processes that hold the potential to protect and expand women’s roles in the agricultural sector.
Until recently, groundnut was considered a “women’s crop” in Malawi, meaning that, relative to other crops like tobacco and maize, women had a degree of control over groundnut production and, especially, income from marketing. Experience teaches us that when the economic value of women’s work increases, men tend to take over, and this is what we’re hearing from smallholder farmers about groundnut in Malawi.
There is a risk that women will lose control of a precious source of income and power, and that this will have negative consequences for gender equity, agricultural productivity and the broader socioeconomic health of the country.
The USAID Feed the Future Malawi AgDiv Activity has been supporting gender-inclusive groundnut commercialization by working through local private sector companies and women-focused organizations to deliver the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) methodology to households working under tobacco and groundnut contract farming arrangements.
GALS involves several interactive workshops and discussions, typically involving a husband and wife, who go through the process with a group of other couples over the course of a year or more. It’s a participatory, community-led empowerment methodology that helps couples think through their goals, consider the deployment of their resources (including gendered intrahousehold time, labor, and asset allocation), recognize the contributions of individual household members, and develop a shared vision for their family.
While GALS programs have demonstrated success in the past, the unique context in Malawi—this rapid transformation of a woman’s crop into a cash crop— provides an important opportunity for the Peanut Innovation Lab to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs. We're evaluating the impact GALS has on women’s empowerment, household welfare, agricultural productivity, and outcomes of interest to the private sector (such as repayment of input loans, retention, harvest buyback, crop quality, etc.).
Evidence about the impact of GALS will help public and private partners to bring this innovation to scale in Malawi and beyond.
Research Approach — How We Work
- Gender analysis and evidence-based decision-making. Evidence from studies of GALS and GALS-like interventions suggest this approach can have a uniquely significant effect on women’s empowerment and household functioning. Our work will build on this evidence base to produce the most rigorous, comprehensive, mixed-methods analysis of GALS to date.
- Localization. We know localization is critical to success. That's why we're co-creating the project with Malawian academics and the local private sector (see “Partnerships” below) and working through a local women’s rights group to implement the GALS workshops. That’s also why the first stage of our research will involve the development of a qualitative understanding of what gender empowerment and a “happy, healthy household” mean to Malawian smallholder farmers.
- Intersectionality. GALS creates space for participants to consider and take action to combat multiple layers of discrimination and inequality, from financial decision-making to time poverty stemming from the unequal burden of childcare and household production, and to consider how individual characteristics including age, disability, HIV status and geography intersect with gender to produce inequality.
- Engaging men. GALS is designed to produce a shift in the social norms and power relations that underpin and perpetuate gender inequality. GALS is inclusive of men as well as women and encourages men to be allies and gender champions, to reflect on their own experiences of, contributions to, and harm from gender inequity.
- Sustainability. GALS seeks to change fundamental belief systems around gender and therefore we hypothesize—and will assess—that it has sustainable impacts on the households who undergo it. We also hypothesize that GALS results in intergenerational change, because boys and girls living in these households may witness more equitable relationships between their parents and go on to replicate this as they form their own families.
- Partnerships. We recognize that research knowledge and innovations often remain in isolation and fail to penetrate policy and practice. To avoid such a situation, we are working from the outset in partnership with private sector companies, input and service loan providers, the USAID Mission and its implementing partners, academia (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources), the public sector and women’s groups.
Decades of work show us that, to achieve real gains in the status of women, we must address the structural reasons women are subordinated. Empowering women requires more than just technical intervention. It requires transformative socio-behavioral change, the participation of men as well as women, and local ownership and design. The Peanut Innovation Lab is putting this philosophy into action in Malawi.