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Findings, conclusions, and recommendations

Findings, conclusions, and recommendations


This study was instigated by the International for Agricultural Development (IFAD). IFAD staff, particularly those concerned with gender issues in agriculture, were of the opinion that progress was being achieved in Africa in the area of post-harvest technology for women, especially with equipment such as cereal mills, but little if anything had been done in respect of tools and implements used by women for agricultural production, up to and including harvest. And when attempts had been made to introduce new tools for cultivating or other operations, they had often been rejected by rural people. Yet, with more than 70 percent of food production work now being done by women in Africa, and with household food security hanging in the balance in so many countries, increasing productivity and reducing women's work load could be central to improving family welfare.

As a first step, however, a study was required to establish the social, cultural, economic, and technical context for attempts to improve the production tools used on the land by African women. The Government of Japan agreed to finance the cost of an international consultant for a period of three months to conduct such a study.

IFAD contacted FAO's Agricultural Engineering Branch (AGSE) to ascertain its possible interest in cooperating in the study. In fact, the proposed study coincided perfectly with AGSE's increasing concern in recent years with gender aspects of agricultural engineering, and also with its emphasis on all aspects of farm power, whether human, animal or motorized AGSE therefore agreed to support the study in all ways possible. Specifically, it financed the salaries, subsistence, and travel of eight local researchers in two countries of West Africa; it arranged for the FAO/SIDA-supported programme of Farm Level Research Methods in Eastern and Southern Africa (FARMESA) to assume similar costs in three countries of that part of the continent; it assigned its Associate Professional Officer (APO) from FAO's Regional Office for Africa to work in the field with the international consultant in two West African countries; and it assigned its Headquarters-based APO to work with him in three countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, and also to follow up with him in the processing of the research results and in the writing of the reports.

The team responsible for the study and this report was made up of Colin Fraser of Agrisystems (Overseas) Ltd. (communication and participatory research specialist and in overall charge of the study), Gert van der Meijden (agricultural engineer and APO based in Accra), and Josef Kienzle (agricultural engineer and APO based in Rome). For the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, the team was joined on a voluntary basis by Sonia Restrepo-Estrada, also a communication/participatory research specialist who assisted with the training sessions, with the field work, and with the subsequent analysis. Eight field researchers worked in each country. Their names are in the Appendix at the end of each country report. The field work took place between August and November 1997.

It must be stressed that this study used a qualitative research approach Its aim was not to gather statistical or numerical information, and d where groups of rural people were asked provide such information - for example the number of days women spend in the field doing various operations - it was mainly to ascertain their perceptions of their work and thereby identify which operations, seen from their point of view, should perhaps take priority for possible improvements.


The team that conducted the study wishes to acknowledge the excellent preparatory work and support of the Study Co-ordinators in each country, whose names appear in the Appendix to each country report. The research teams in all of the countries were outstanding for their interest in the study, for their ability to learn the participatory research methods used, and for their commitment to seeing the field work properly done. Their contribution was outstanding.

Thanks are also due to people in FAO Country Offices, IFAD projects, and FARMESA for their interest and support. Special gratitude must go to Mona Fikry, the IFAD staff member who launched the idea of the study, for her open-mindedness when she said during the early planning phase, 'I am quite prepared for the results of the study to be negative, that nothing can be done, but we need to know what the situation is.' There was similar open mindedness from Lawrence Clarke, the Chief of AGSE in FAO, who supported the team wholeheartedly through the whole study but always gave it full independence to work as it thought best.

Scope of the study and the methods used

The study was conducted in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These countries were selected as providing a fair cross-section of Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as being the site of IFAD and FAO-assisted projects that could provide support in the field.

The consultant advised that, given the factors of culture and tradition that surround tools used by rural people, research based on normal interviews would probably not provide the frank and full information needed; for people with low levels of formal education usually feel too conditioned by an interviewer to reveal what is truly in their hearts and minds. They tend, therefore, to reply on the basis of what they think the interviewer wants to hear. So the consultant proposed a participatory research technique based on Focus Group Discussions with rural women and men separately.

Focus Group Discussions bring together 8-12 people of similar, educational, economic and social level who share the same lifestyle and problems. They may also be segregated by sex when it is likely, as for this study, that different positions exist between men and women and that men might dominate the women during discussions. A facilitator and an observer are present, and the aim is to create an informal and intimate atmosphere in which the group members talk among themselves about themes put forward by the facilitator. He or she uses a basic question guide but must also use follow-up questions that provoke the group into deeper analysis of the issues they are discussing. The method has much in common with group therapy. For it to function well as a process, and to record faithfully the group's ideas and opinions, calls for special techniques from the facilitator and observer.

For this study, Focus Group Discussions would be backed up by key informant interviews with people in governmental, non-governmental, and private sectors concerned with agricultural production, related gender issues, and farm mechanization.

In each country, the consultant, supported by one of the APOs, trained eight local researchers in Focus Group Discussion techniques. There were always at least four women among the eight researchers, and usually more. They were almost all field staff from various institutions ant they all had detailed knowledge of their country's agricultural production systems and women's role in them. The training lasted 2-3 days in a workshop situation followed by 2-3 days of supervision and reinforcement training in the field.

To demonstrate the participatory research technique, the workshop began with the consultant facilitating a group discussion among the trainees who, in effect, constituted a focus group. The APO was the observer who, after the discussion, conducted a restitution to the group of the information that had emerged, obtaining the group's point by point confirmation that what he had noted was correct, and writing the information on flip charts.

The trainees then conducted Focus Group Discussions among themselves, and after each there was an analysis of the way the facilitator and observer had performed. Thus, the training was a learning-by-doing, highly practical experience.

All of the discussion themes used during the workshop training sessions were deliberately related to women and agriculture so that the information that emerged provided the consultant and the APO with a broad picture of the national situation in this respect. It also focused the trainee's attention on the topic, and in this way the scene was effectively set for the study.

For the 2-3 days of training work in rural communities, the researchers worked under the discreet supervision of the consultant and the APO, with a post mortem after each Focus Group Discussion to help the facilitator and the observer refine their command of the technique. The researchers then worked for another week in the field, without the consultant and APO so as to eliminate any possible distortion caused by the presence of foreigners.

The question guides for the Focus Group Discussions, which were drawn up by the consultant before going to Africa, were discussed with each of the research teams, modified slightly to facilitate translation into the local languages or to suit local conditions, and if necessary modified again after the first practical use in the field Thus, the question guides did evolve to some extent, mainly in the first two or three countries, but the changes were of a detailed nature and the overall thrust of the research was unchanged from country to country.

A total of 155 Focus Group Discussions were conducted in the five countries, and of these, 119 were with women, and 36 were with men. A total of about 1,530 people were involved Local languages were used for all of the Focus Group Discussions with rural people. Key informant interviews were conducted by the consultant, the APOs, and the Study Co-ordinators. These interviews totalled 52 in number and they included: government staff concerned with agricultural development, gender matters, and mechanization; representatives of banking and credit services; university and research staff; representatives of NGOs; blacksmiths; and importers and industrial manufacturers of tools and implements.

The study was generally conducted in areas of relatively poor agriculture, where there had been a high level of male exodus to find work in urban areas, and where women, therefore, were assuming an ever-increasing role in farm work. The agricultural economy in these areas was mainly at subsistence level, with consequent limitations in the availability of resources for investment in improved production technology.

Principal findings

Differences between countries of the study and some general observations

There were significant differences in the levels and types of tools and implements being used in the five countries. Although there were strong similarities among the axes, harvesting sickles, and slashers found everywhere, some countries had tools that others did not have at all. For example, there were no rakes or multiple-tined forks for composting in Burkina Faso, and no wheelbarrows were seen in Senegal. But Burkina Faso was the only country with a simple home-made row marker - like a large rake with three spikes set at the desired row width - that could be pulled across the field by hand before planting. Row planting by hand in countries of Eastern and Southern Africa is achieved with the much more cumbersome technique of stretching a marking wire or cord across the plot. And in Uganda, women had adopted a flexible steel strip, normally used to strap roof timbers together, as a tool for weeding millet.

The lowest end of the production technology scale - with the exception of the very practical row marker - was found in the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso. Most of the nation's people live there, but the conditions are so difficult that few farmers can rise above the level of the hand hoe as their prime production tool. The few animal draft implements that were found in the Central Plateau were all blacksmith-built and were generally fitted with a duckfoot tine for inter-row cultivating. None of the implements manufactured industrially in Burkina Faso were found in the area of the study, probably because they cost about twice as much as those built by blacksmiths, and today no credit is available to buy them. Indeed, the credit organizations that used to provide 5-year loans for anneal traction packages no longer do so. They state that such credit is economically not viable in the Central Plateau.

In Senegal, as a result of a major Government and donor effort to promote and support animal traction from the mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s, there are many animal draft implements still in use today. But the credit schemes that enabled this important expansion of animal traction collapsed in 1980, so most of the implements are old and show signs of repeated repair by blacksmiths. Even so, and as an example of the degree to which animal traction has taken over, hand planting of crops has virtually disappeared in the area of Central Senegal where the study was conducted. Old and battered single-row planters, usually drawn by a horse, still serve their purpose well, and women demonstrated to the research team, with some glee, how they used to plant with hand hoes in the past. At the time of this study. there were plans afoot to re-launch agricultural credit schemes which with up to five years for repayment, would allow the purchase of industrially-produced animal draft implements again. In the intervening years, from 1980 to 1997, virtually the only new implements sold were built by blacksmiths.

In Uganda, animal traction is confined to the Northern and Eastern parts of the country. The reasons for this relate to history, culture, and the presence of tsetse fly elsewhere, though tsetse is now well on the way to eradication. So in Central Uganda, where conditions for agriculture are very favourable, hoe farming is still the norm, though people are very interested in knowing more about anneal traction. The country has a recently reconditioned and fully equipped factory in Soroti which is producing animal draft implements.

In Zambia, the hand hoe also predominates. The spread of animal traction has been impeded by several factors: one is that the Government's high import duties on raw materials makes it virtually impossible for any implement manufacturer to survive. In fact those that were in existence have collapsed in the last few years, so implements now have to be imported from Zimbabwe. And making things even more difficult for Zambian manufacturers is that the Government of Zimbabwe subsidizes the cost of steel for its manufacturers, and also subsidises exports as well. A second factor is that Corridor disease, a tickborne ailment, has decimated the cattle population, including draft oxen, in recent years. And finally, Zambia has no significant donkey population, so to use them for draft power means importing them from Zimbabwe or Botswana

'In the past, we used ox-drawn implements, but not any more. The implements have been worn out and most of our animals have died from tickborne disease. The hand hoe is the key to our farming now.' Women during group discussion in Zambia.

Among the countries of the study, Zimbabwe has the highest level of farm production technology. Animal traction, using mainly oxen but also donkeys in some areas, is very widespread One reason for this is certainly the presence in Bulawayo of an impressive manufacturing facility for animal draft implements, which has been in existence in one form or another since 1929. In addition, the general level of the agricultural economy is superior to that of the other countries and this obviously facilitates investment in tools and implements.

There is an interesting difference in the cultivation practices between the two Sahelian countries of West Africa and the non-Sahelian countries. Where animal traction exists in Burkina Faso and Senegal, ploughing with mouldboard ploughs is hardly practiced, whereas in Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe it is the norm. In Burkina Faso and in Senegal, it is usual to run a cultivator over the surface of the field and follow it immediately with the planter or by hand planting. The origin of this difference probably lies in climate and soil types. During the dry season in the Sahel, the soils are too hard for easy use of mouldboard ploughs, and then, given the very limited rainfall and short cropping season, there is enormous urgency to plant as soon as the first rains do fall and begin to soften the surface. A cultivator can quickly loosen the top few centimetres of soil enough for the planter, and so necessity is the mother of low-till or no-till in the Sahel. Deeper primary tillage is only used for groundnuts, and for maize to retain more soil moisture in areas where the rainfall is barely sufficient for it.

The role of women in agriculture

Much has been written in recent years about the role of rural woman in Africa, and this is not the place for a further discourse on the subject. Only the salient points that emerged from the study will be provided in this report and placed in the context of how they relate to production technology used by women. 1

1 A very complete picture of the situation of rural women in Africa, and globally, can be obtained from such publications as:

IFAD's Strategies for the Economic Advancement of Poor Rural Women, 1991.

The State of Rural Poverty, IFAD, 1992.

Household Food Security; Implications for Policy and Action for Rural Poverty Alleviation and Nutrition, IFAD 1996.

Rural Women and Food Security Current Situation and Perspectives. FAO, 1997.

'If a woman starts to earn too much cash from her garden (plot) she will get into trouble with her husband'. Comment by member of field research team, Zimbabwe.

'Women work their individual plots very early in the morning, or late in the afternoon when they don't have other tasks such as cooking and when they are freed by their husbands.' Conclusion of research team, Burkina Faso.

'Women do me work; men are in charge!' Extension worker and field researcher, Burkina Faso.

The agricultural system and women's role in it is similar in the five countries of the study. There is usually a family plot of land assigned to the male head of the family by the village leaders or local authorities. Typically this family plot ranges in size from 2-5 ha The man then allocates a small piece of this, usually about 1000-5,000 sq. m., to his wife or to each of his wives - polygamy is very common in the countries of the study.

The family plot is where the principal cash crops are grown, and in predominantly subsistence situations such as Burkina Faso, the staple family cereals are also grown on this plot. On her individual plot, each wife produces food for her husband, her children, and herself. If the family's staple cereals are being grown on the family plot, she will be responsible for producing the items such as vegetables, pulses, groundnuts, etc. to eat with them. She may be able to grow a few things for sale, but only to a very limited extent.

The family plot takes total priority for attention and work, and the women are only allowed to go to their individual plots very early in the morning or when their husbands free them in the afternoon or evening, after the day's work on the family plot is complete.

In the past, there were fairly clear distinctions between what was considered men's work and women's work in agriculture. For example, in most countries, land opening or tillage prior to planting was done by men, using ox-power when they had it. If a mechanical planter was available, the men would also undertake that operation, otherwise women and children became involved in hand planting. Thereafter, all of the hoeing to control weeds, and most of the harvesting operations, were traditionally done by women.

Today, these distinctions have become blurred. Many men have left the land to work in towns or to emigrate to neighbourning countries. The phenomenon is so marked in some areas that, according to reports in Burkina Faso for example, women can make up as much as 80 per cent or more of the adult rural population. In these circumstances, women have been forced to assume tasks that were traditionally done by men, in addition to their own of hand planting, weeding and harvesting.

In the area of livestock, men usually look after cattle, but women do the milking. addition, women generally look after small ruminants and poultry.

Men, even when they spend most of their time working in town, are still considered to be the main decision-makers about the farming activities. And they also take full control of the sale of farm produce and of family finances.


The hand hoe still remains the key farm implement in all of the countries of the study. Uganda may be an extreme case, but it was estimated there in 1997 that almost 90 pa cent of farmers use hand tools and human labour only, that animal draft power is used on only 8 percent of the cultivated land, and tractor power on only 2 percent.

The hoe comes in various forms in Africa, but in almost all cases it is of the traditional chop-downwards-and pull type. The only significantly different hoe that was being used widely was found in Senegal. It is a push-pull hoe that cuts the weeds just below the surface, (similar to the so-called Dutch hoe used in Europe) and it is fitted with a very long handle (180-220 cm) It is used standing upright by both women and men. It is locally known as the hilaire and was, according to various informants, introduced into Senegal in the mid-1930s. It has been adopted by everyone in Central Senegal for weeding, displacing more traditional hoes.

The way the blade of the hoe is fitted to the handle varies from country to country, but there are three basic methods: the tang fitting, in which a steel point, or tang, is burned through the bulbous end of a handle; the socket fitting, in which the steel at the top of the hoe blade is bent into a circular shaped socket; and the eye-ring fitting, in which there is a forged ring at the top of the hoe blade into which the handle fits. While the tang and socket fittings can easily be made by blacksmiths, the eye-ring fitting is usually the sign of an industrially produced hoe. Hoes with socket fittings are generally sold without handles and the buyer cuts one from a tree. Tang-fitting hoes are usually sold complete with handle because the tang has to be heated and burned through the wood. In some countries (e.g. Senegal) handle-making is the preserve of a certain ethnic group, or caste. They come together with the blacksmiths, another caste, to produce complete tools.

In Burkina Faso and Senegal, imported or industrially-produced hoes hardly exist, almost all hoes are made by blacksmiths, using generally poor-quality scrap from motor vehicles. In Zimbabwe, most hoes are also produced by blacksmiths, but using high-quality steel from old plough shares, or from defunct tractor-drawn implements. In Uganda, the hoes are almost all of the eye-ring type, either imported or industrially made in the country. In Zambia, there is a mixture of imported hoes and hoes produced by blacksmiths, with the latter predominating, at least in the areas where this study was conducted. In Zambia, as in Zimbabwe, the steel used by blacksmiths is often recovered from plough shares or from old tractor-drawn implements.

Only in Burkina Faso was there a special tool for planting. Known as the pioche (pick) it was similar to a tiny hoe, with a very short handle and a narrow blade (about 4-6 cm wide) made from a car spring. In other countries small hoes, or worn down larger ones, were used for hand planting.

Burkina Faso also had locally-made tools for marking the rows in the soil prior to planting. They were like a very large rake, made either from tree branches by farmers or of steel by blacksmiths, and they had three teeth set at the desired row-width. Pulling it across the field by hand makes a quick way of scratching the row marks in the soil. No other country had such a tool, and in most places where hand planting followed by animal draft inter-row cultivation were common, the rows for planting were marked in a more cumbersome and labour intensive way using a wire or cord stretched tight across the plot.

Various sorts of cutting and harvesting tools were found everywhere, with axes and pangas or slashers the commonest. The axes were most usually made by local blacksmiths, while the pangas were a mixer of imported and blacksmith-produced versions. The imports were mainly from countries like Brazil, India, and China. Locally made and/or imported sickles were also found everywhere. In Uganda, a special way of fixing a knife to a small branch to be able to prune plantains was encountered, and also in Uganda, women had found another use for small strips of flexible steel normally used as a strap for fixing roofing timbers together: they had become a tool for the fine task of weeding millet.

Locally made rakes and forks, used mainly for compost making and for seedbed preparation in vegetable plots, were found everywhere except in Burkina Faso. Compost making has become quite common in that country in recent years, but farmers are forced to use normal hoes for the work, which are certainly not as convenient as rakes and forks.

Knapsack sprayers were in use for horticultural production in a few communities in the Eastern and Southern African countries of the study, as were watering cans, wheelbarrows, ox carts, and so on. In West Africa, the carts were either donkey or horse drawn.

Nowhere were any tractors, power tillers, irrigation pumps, or similar motor-powered implements found.

The issue of working posture

'Hoes with short handles make weeding easier and faster, but they give us backache. There is nothing we can do about that, because if we just complain and don't -work, we'll starve!!' Women's group in Zambia.

Logically, one would suppose that hand hoes - and especially the length of their handles have evolved locally and over time according to particular soil conditions. the type of work to be performed, and the physique of the user. In general, this evolution, if indeed it is an evolution, has led to short-handled tools that require their user to bend double, causing fatigue and back pain. Some groups of women expressed the opinion that, despite the punishing toil of using them, short-handled hoes were more effective and faster than long-handled ones. A very few groups said they would be interested in trying or having longer handles.

The salient fact that emerged from the group discussions was that ideas about length of handle and working posture have now become enshrined in people's minds according to their culture, tradition, and ethnic group. And there are strongly-held opinions about the these issues, with the generalized opinion in the majority of the countries that to work standing up, with a long-handled tool, is a sign of laziness.

This perception is only completely absent in Senegal, where the long-handled push-pull hilaire hoe is used by almost everybody, and it is less widespread in Uganda today than it was in the past. But in Burkina Faso, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the connection in people's minds between standing up to work and laziness is widely and deeply rooted.

'The short-handled hoe is for hard workers while the long-handled hoe is for workers on white commercial farms. They-don't shake the soil off the weeds, so after a week they will be there again, and me workers can go back and weed again and get money for it. '

A woman who cannot bend her back to weed is lay.' Women during discussion groups, Zimbabwe.

In Burkina Faso, the Fulani people of the north use long hoes, but they are mainly nomadic herders. and the notion among sedentary farmers in many parts of Africa is that nomads and herders are lazy compared to those who till the land.

In the area of the study in Zambia, migrations from different parts of the country had brought in ethnic groups with different traditions about handle-length, but even when they have integrated into a single community, living and working harmoniously together, each ethnic group preserves its traditional custom in respect of the length of its hoe handles.

In Zimbabwe. groups said that lone handles were only for lazy people, such as prisoners and paid workers on commercial farms. And recent attempts by a project supported by Germany to introduce a wheeled push hoe, of the sort very common in Asia, have so far not been successful. The specialist responsible believes that one of the main obstacles to its adoption is that it can be used standing upright.

In Burkina Faso, attempts were made a few years ago to introduce a jab planter. One thousand of them were distributed to farmers, and 840 had to be taken back. Unfortunately, no research was done to determine the reasons for the rejection, but one of the officials responsible for the initiative said that it could well have been because the planter could be used standing up and it therefore seemed a lazy solution.

Standing up is lazy. The social issues are stronger than the engineering issues!' Interviewee in Agricultural Engineering and Soils Department, University of Zimbabwe

Certainly, short handled hoes for weeding, even if they are back-breaking to use, have advantages in that they allow precise control around the plants of the crop, and the other hand can be used to pick up the weeds and shake the roots free of soil. In Zimbabwe, the advantages of short hoes were explained more cogently than in other countries even if the groups complained at the same time about the pain and fatigue they caused In Burkina Faso, one women's groups said they would like longer handles on their hoes but that their husbands would not allow it.

No other cases, other than the two just cited in Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe, were found where rejection of new tools might well have been because of cultural conditioning about working posture, but nor were any cases found of the successful introduction of new tools that involved a change in working posture, with the exception of the hilaire hoe introduced into

Senegal in the 1930s. However, the Senegalese have been consistent travellers for decades, even if only as members of the French army, and one can speculate that perhaps this helped to develop an openness to the outside world, and a readiness for change. In addition the soils are relatively light in Senegal, which facilitates the use of push-pull hoes.

Whatever the reasons for Senegal being the only country of the study where long-handled push-pull hoes are used, it is c/ear that working posture has implications for any attempts to introduce new tools to Africa in the future.

Draft animals for women

There were considerable differences in the use of animal traction by women in the countries of the study. In some regions of the countries, there are taboos in force against women working with cattle, for example in parts of Uganda and Zambia. In other parts of Zambia, women can work with cattle but they are not allowed to fetch them from their kraal or fenced compound But even where taboos do not exist, men tend to monopolize animal traction when they are present in the community, for traditionally it is men's technology. The same applies to animal traction with horses in Senegal, where men justify not allowing women to use it by saying that the implements are too heavy and that the women have not been trained in it. In fact, the implements for inter-row work are much lighter in Senegal than in other parts of Africa and one sees small boys using them, so the men's arguments hardly stand up to examination.

In countries where there has been a strong rural exodus by men, women are fully involved in using draft oxen, or donkeys. (Nowhere is there any taboo against women using donkeys). As we shall see, the ox drawn implements used in countries of Eastern and Southern Africa are very difficult for women to use because of their weight and the height of their handles.

Small tractors and other motorized equipment

Only in Zimbabwe was there any serious mention of the possibility of introducing motorized mechanization for women's groups, though in Zambia, one such group had actually managed to lobby so successfully that they were shortly to be given a tractor.

In Zimbabwe, a development specialist and an NGO working with women expressed the view that the time was ripe to try to introduce tractor power for women. Their hypothesis was that private entrepreneurs in rural areas should be helped to set up machinery hire services. Staff of FAO/AGSE think that this might be possible in a country like Zimbabwe, for the Branch is already planning something similar for Tanzania.

Women's access to land

'A woman is a foreigner in her husband's family.' Comment by researcher during Focus group Discussion training in Zambia.

According to the research teams in each country, their national legislation nonnally specified equal access rights to land for women and men, but in practice, society does not honour that woman's right Land is almost exclusively assigned to men, and if a husband dies, his male relatives take the land for themselves, compelling the widow to return to her parents, although she may agree to many one of her brothers-in-law who has taken over the land. Only a woman of a certain age and with at least adolescent male children will normally be allowed to continue to use her husband's land if he dies. Similarly, divorce may leave a woman landless. Women's groups can usually obtain the right to use a plot of land, but it is often very far from the village and of poor quality. But even more disadvantageous is that the group is normally only given permission to use the plot for one, or at most two seasons, because if they use it for three, they acquire permanent rights to it.

Credit for women

Agricultural credit for all small farmers, women or men, is in a state of crisis in the countries of the study, mainly because of structural adjustment programmes. And for women it is even more problematic than for men, because the guarantees normally required by lending institutions are land rights, which as we have just seen, women almost never have.

Formally constituted women's groups are better placed to obtain credit, but there remain many problems that still make it difficult for them For example getting a loan usually means protracted visits to the nearest town, which may in fact be several hours journey away; it means having the resources to pay for the transport and perhaps accommodation in the town for one or more nights, and travel to town by women is not favourably looked upon by men. With the heavy work and family commitments of most rural women, it is difficult for them to be absent for long from home, though in the case of a leader of women's group, the other members may be able to step in to help out. Finally, literacy and numeracy levels are usually much lower among women than men, and women may therefore lack the ability to handle the bureaucratic aspects of obtaining loans.

'Men think women are spendthrifts and if they go into town, they will spend money on silly things such as having their hair plaited. And they might also pick up bad town habits' Member of field research team in Zambia :

'Men worry that if women go to town alone they will spend money on petty or frivolous things, or elope with another man.' Member of field research team in Zimbabwe.

The role of women's groups

Women's groups or clubs existed in all of the countries, and indeed were a priority area of work for government services and projects. The policy and practice about women's groups was not, however, the same in all countries. For example, in West Africa, the thrust of creating and supporting women's groups tends to be to the exclusion of men, and therefore somewhat antagonistic towards them. In Uganda, the policy was to include a small number of men in women's groups so that they can act as spokesmen and advocates with other male members of the community, and also perhaps put up the land rights as collateral for credit to the group. In Zambia too, some women's groups include men. In Zimbabwe, the emphasis on support to women was so strong in the 1980's that it provoked a backlash of resentment from men. Today, therefore, the focus for support is on the family as a unit. A similar backlash may be in the making in Senegal, where men felt that women are now being 'privileged' by the development policies and actions of government and the donor community.

'We women will win against you men and we'll bury you! Women member of research team in Senegal to male colleagues during training in Focus Group Discussion techniques.

The importance of women's groups is primordial in all of the countries of the study. Pending a revolution in the attitudes and behaviour of men towards women in rural Africa, groups represent the only avenue for the empowerment and advancement of women and for giving them access to, and management of, the means of production they need.

The institutional sector

In no country were government institutions, whether engaged in research or services such as extension, paying any special attention to the specific needs of women in farm production technology. The same was true of universities. However, many interviewees recognized the importance of doing much more in the gender aspects of agricultural engineering.

The agricultural extension services appear to do very little to inform farmers about tools and implements that are available. Nor do importers and manufacturers, as will be explained in later section.

Ergonomic studies

In the past, ergonomic research has been done in some countries, especially in Asia, to ascertain the energy requirements of hand tools. This is normally done by measuring the oxygen uptake of a person while actually working and relating it to the area of ground covered and the quality of the work done. In only one country of the study was there any experience of this type of work, and that was Uganda, where Makerere University had done research into people's work capacity in relation to their diet. The University would be interested in resuming ergonomic studies of hand tool use if provided with the means to get them started.

The NGO sector

Few of the NGOs working with rural women who were contacted by the study team had done, or were doing, much in the area of production technology, though they were aware of its importance. One NGO in Zambia was actively planning to import donkeys and suitable implements for use by its women's groups, but this was the most advanced example found in the NGO sector.


Blacksmiths are much more numerous and active in Burkina Faso and Senegal than they are in the other countries of the study. One possible reason for this is that the early colonial regime in Southern Africa, imposed a ban on village blacksmiths, for they were making both arms and simple farm implements: the arms were a threat to the rulers, and the colonial commercial interests were to create a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of tools, and so blacksmiths were an inconvenience. The village blacksmith trade has never truly recovered from the ban, according to this view. It is curious that also in West Africa during colonial times, blacksmiths produced arms and farm tools that were dangerously competitive to their colonisers, but perhaps the more cohesive social structures in West Africa made repression against blacksmiths less effective. Or perhaps the particularly strong commercial and trading nature of British colonialism caused the blacksmiths to lose out against industrial interests, as they did in Europe.

Whatever the historical background, in Burkina Faso and Senegal today, blacksmiths are central to the rural economy, making tools of all types, and building animal traction implements too. The blacksmiths in those countries are part of a caste system that distinguishes certain trades and occupations, and the blacksmiths are at the very bottom of the social order. This lowly status appears to create social cohesion among them, with the result that they often work together as a group in a village, sharing forges and co-operating rather than competing. This gives them a certain degree of power in their relations with other villagers, who much prefer to buy tools from them than from outsiders. This is in the interest of social harmony, but also in order to obtain follow-up repairs and maintenance more easily.

The level of technical competence of these blacksmiths varies considerably, and some who have been through blacksmith training programmes seem no better than those who have longer experience and a family tradition. All of the blacksmiths interviewed in West Africa complained that their main problem was obtaining scrap steel for their work, and what they could find was of low quality. In the other countries, the wider availability of old plough shares and parts of tractor-drawn implements mainly solves this problem.

In no country of the study was there any tradition or regular practice of consultation between blacksmiths and their clients that might help to improve the tools they make. Only a very few cases were found in which a farmer had actually asked for modifications to the normal line of tools and implements being made by a blacksmith.

The commercial and industrial sector

Importers and manufacturers are potentially central to making available tools and implements that really meet women's needs. Unfortunately, none of those interviewed had so far paid any significant attention to the fact that women are now by far the biggest users of their products. They do no market research into women's needs; they do little, if anything, to provide information about different models of tools and implements they import or make, and nor do they ensure that their full range is available at their sales points so that people can see them and make their choice. In the main, farmers have to buy whatever they can find

The problem is illustrated by the experience of a member of the study team who visited a major tool factory in Uganda - Chillington of Jinja - which makes a range of hoes of different weights, including a light one of 1½ pounds. However, the factory management said it was going to drop that model because 'there was no market for it'. This was contrary to all of the information that had been emerging from Focus Group Discussions in which women repeatedly said they wanted a lighter hoe for weeding, so the study team member took one of the 1½ pound hoes to the countryside and showed it to a group of women: they had never seen it before, did not know of its existence and expressed interest in having it.

The situation is similar with Cock Brand hoes imported from China in vast numbers into some countries of Eastern and Southern Africa: several weights of hoe exist but this is not known by farmers who buy whatever they find in their local sales point. And in the area covered by this study in Zambia, people used to buy Cock Brand hoes from a local Chinese rice development project, and when this closed down, so did the sales point for the hoes. People said they had been very good and that they would like to be able to buy them again, but they were unaware that they were easily available in Lusaka, about 70 km away, but with many male villagers working there much of the time.

In Uganda, the SAIMMCO factory in Soroti produces animal draft implements, which are generally very good, but unfortunately they are too heavy for women to use comfortably.

This is especially true of the cultivator. The general manager of the plant dismissed the problem as being a matter of proper training.

The most important factory in Southern Africa making draft implements and other tools is Zimplow Ltd of Bulawayo. There the management stated that they made no distinction between men and women farmers.

Zimplow's main product line - especially the 5-tine cultivator - is too heavy for women to use easily. However, the company also makes a light-weight 3-tine cultivator, and it has quite recently launched a donkey plough as well. But no one in the discussion groups mentioned these implements, so presumably no one knew they even existed. And nor was the donkey plough launched with women in mind; it was after the serious droughts of the last few years, which killed huge numbers of cattle, that Zimplow merely thought that such a plough would make good use of the country's donkey resources.

'Weigh for the cultivator] is not a major problem. People just have to be trained property to use it.' The expatriate Managing Director of SAIMMCO shortly before a field trial -that clearly demonstrated the difficulty, even for men, of lifting the implement to turn on the headland or to clear it of weeds.

'We don't normally bring gender issues into our business. We just look at the farmer as such.'

'We are just manufacturers. We don't have animals or our own farms.' Remarks by Zimplow management team resource.

It is almost as if Zimplow, which has existed for almost half a century, and other manufacturers too, were unaware of the changes that have taken place in African farming, that it is now women who do by far the most work on the land, and that therefore the actual and potential users of implements have changed. It cannot be said that it is the manufacturers' market that has changed, because in effect it is usually men who actually buy tools and implements. And even if men generally say that their women require lighter tools and implements, perhaps when it comes to actually buying them, they decide on the implements they have known traditionally, whether they are too heavy for their wives or not.

'Most tools for farming were originally meant for men, but circumstances now force women to use them.' Men's discussion group in Zimbabwe.

'Manufactures should differentiate their implements in the same way they differentiate bicycles for men and women.' Men's discussion group in Zambia

One thing is sure, however, and that is that none of the manufacturers or importers have any systematic contact with their clients or do any real market research. The study team found only one exception, and that was URPATA Sahel in Senegal. Its name is an acronym for the French version of 'Unit for Research, Production and Assistance for Appropriate Technology Adapted to the Sahel' and it grew out of a development NGO. It has established regular links to farmers, discusses its implement designs with them, and follows up its new products to ensure they are meeting farmers' needs.

Reverting to the issue of the weight of implements, and to be fair to manufactures, they are doubtless concerned with the strength and durability of their products, and it is a technical fact that to make them lighter and durable calls for higher quality steel. This is precisely the problem that Zimplow has run into with its new donkey plough: to make it light yet strong, it requires a beam made of imported high-carbon steel, with the result that it is almost as expensive as the traditional ox plough. It has therefore not been selling well so far, and Zimplow's management does not seem overly interested in promoting it.

The point of most concern, however, is that the commercial and industrial sector dealing with farm tools and implements appears to be out of touch with its clients, generally does not take into account that almost all of the farming operations are today done by women, and fails to recognize that women have special needs in the tools and implements they use.

The Oxen versus Donkey Debate

In all the countries of the study, except Senegal, draft oxen are considered to belong to men, as do all cattle. And if women use draft oxen, it is only when their men are not available - which is very frequently nowadays - and when there is no taboo against women handling bovines. So women using draft oxen is really a case of necessity being the mother of invention, and it is not part of the cultural tradition. And the reason that Senegal is an exception is because there it is the horse that provides the main source of draft power, and horses are as equally the preserve of men in Senegal as oxen are elsewhere.

Donkeys have certain advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, they are much cheaper than oxen or horses; they are easier to train than oxen; they are hardy and survive droughts much better than oxen, they mainly fend for themselves, browsing on any sort of shrub or plant even in the dry season; there are no taboos anywhere against working with them, and women, children, and men all do so with equal ease.

However, there are development specialists who argue against donkeys (See the Zimbabwe country report). The negative options of donkeys are that there is no prestige attached to them: you cannot buy a wife with them; you cannot give one away as a wedding present; you cannot eat them; when they die you have to bury them like a human; their only economic usefulness, therefore, is as a source of power, and because they are lighter than oxen, they do not even develop as much of that. Donkeys are for the poor, and even if you own forty of them, you are still considered poor. In sum, it is better, the argument goes, to concentrate on improving cattle, which have a social and economic value in rural life that goes far beyond merely providing draft power.

The authors do not share this negative view of donkeys, for precisely because they have no prestige, are cheap and hardy, require little looking after, and have no taboos governing their use, they are a priori more accessible to poor women.

What women and men farmers say

The hardest job women do

There was almost unanimous agreement among rural people that hoeing was the hardest and most time-consuming job that women do on the land. Uganda, was something of an exception because there were groups that put land clearing and preparation ahead of weeding as the hardest task, while in Zimbabwe, a very few groups mentioned planting and harvesting as harder than weeding because they felt there was even greater time pressure to get them completed. But weeding was never ranked lower than the second hardest job, and overall, there can be no doubt that weeding is enormously taxing on women's energy and time. Only in Senegal, where inter-row cultivation with animal draft is the norm, was weeding given less prominence in the discussions, and furthermore long-handled push-pull hoes are used.

In every country, weeding took up more days in the field than any other operation. Minimum estimates were 60 days spent weeding, even in Senegal, while in Uganda, the days increased to as many as 120 because of the two cropping seasons in the country. And even in Zambia, with a single cropping season, estimates for days spent weeding were in the 90-120 day range. Land preparation, when done by hand in Uganda and Zambia, were not far behind in the number of work days, but nowhere did any operation take longer than

'We punish ourselves to finish weeding a big field in a few days. Most women Jose weight during the weeding season.' Women's group, Zambia.

'We really overwork ourselves when we are weeding.' Women's group, Zimbabwe

Without weeding do not expect any harvest. The back has to ache to conquer the weeds! Women's group, Zimbabve.

'Oh, weeding is the most taxing job, both in energy and time, because you have to bend down and work carefully not to damage the crop, pull out the weeds and shake them, while at the same time you want to finish the operation before the weeds outgrow the crop.' Women's group, Zimbabwe

'It is weeding that almost kills women!' Men's discussion group, Uganda

However, the most significant finding came from Zimbabwe, because there the research team found it easier to ask people to discuss how long they spent per acre on the different farm operations, rather than the total days spent per year. The groups immediately differentiated between the days spent hoeing an acre according to whether an animal drawn cultivator had been passed down the inter-row space or not. The difference was truly staggering: for maize, it was 2 4 days of weeding per acre after animal draft inter-row weeding compared to 2-4 weeks if the whole job had to be done by hand And randomly planted groundnuts required 3 weeks of hand weeding per acre, while broadcast millet, called for 1-2 months of thinning and weeding per acre.

The importance of this finding, and of the fact that most women see weeding as their hardest and most time-consuming task, is that weeding naturally emerges as a priority area for trying to bring about improvements in production technology.

Differences in tools used by men and women

The traditional gender connotations attached to tools, for example that axes and ploughs and cultivators are 'men's' while hoes, sickles and other harvesting tools are 'women's' has largely disappeared. Necessity has forced women to use all available implements and tools. However, there is still a tendency for women to use lighter hand tools; this is often achieved by passing a man's hoe on to a women once much of its original weight has been lost through wear.

Replacement of tools

In Burkina Faso and Senegal where poor quality scrap steel is used by blacksmiths to make hoes, they need to be replaced every year. In Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe where there are more industrially produced hoes, or hoes made by blacksmiths using the high-quality steel from worn out plough shares or tractor drawn implements, the life of a hoe was said to range from 2-15 years.

Pangas or machetes were said to last 4-6 years on average. Plough shares were changed at least once a year, and the landside and land wheel on ploughs were said to wear out almost as fast. In Zambia, breakage, theft, and loss, rather than wearing out, were often mentioned as the causes of the need to replace tools.

Preferences for blacksmith or industrially-made tools and implements

The choice between these two classes of tools and implements was not easily available in all the countries. However, the general result that emerged from the discussion groups was that industrially-produced tools were much more expensive than those made by blacksmiths. In some countries, people said industrially-produced tools were better and lasted longer, but that was not the case in Zimbabwe where blacksmiths were said to provide excellent quality tools.

In Uganda, where Cock Brand hoes imported from China dominate the market, rural groups - and key informants too - stated that there were 'fakes' or 'copies' of the original Chinese hoe being imported. Some were said to come from India, and none were as good as the original.

In countries where there was a choice between tools and/or animal traction implements made industrially or by blacksmiths, most groups expressed quite strong preferences for buying from blacksmiths. Lower prices were a major consideration; for example, animal draft implements produced by blacksmiths in Senegal and Burkina Faso cost about half as much as those built industrially, whereas hand tools produced by blacksmiths in Zambia and Zimbabwe are about 30 per cent cheaper than those from factories. But more than price was involved in the preference: people said that they could negotiate credit and discounts with blacksmiths; they could barter farm produce for tools; and if something went wrong with one they could have it put right more easily. There were also reasons of social solidarity within the community for buying from local blacksmiths, as already mentioned in connection with the caste system in West Africa.


The prices in the table on the next page are of some selected of tools and implements and they are provided to give a general picture of the situation. The highest prices cited were in Zambia, the lowest in Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Who decides what tools to buy?

In the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, most people said that a husband and wife discussed this issue but it was usually the man, or the head of the household - whether man or women - who took the final decision.

The response during the group discussions on this topic in West Africa were quite different, with everyone saying that the men alone decided. The study team believe it likely that this response may have been given for socio-cultural reasons, in the sense that in some societies it is not acceptable for women to state openly that they play a part in decision-making with their men. This is so even when, once behind closed doors, they participate fully in the discussions that lead to decisions 'taken by their husbands'.

One must treat with caution the idea that men are responsible for all decisions because it can lead development staff to concentrate their efforts on men, when in fact women are just as important, even if less obviously, in any process of change that is under discussion.

Tool or Implement

Prices in US$


Traditional hoes made by blacksmiths

1.00 - 4.25

Cheapest hoes in West Africa, most expensive in Zambia.

Imported/industrial hoes

2.50 - 8.00

Normally $3-4 Most expensive: hoes from South Africa and Zimbabwe imported into Zambia

Animal draft cultivators/ploughs built by blacksmiths - Burkina and Senegal


Mainly for donkey or horse draft.

Rigid 3-tine cultivator built by factory in Senegal


For donkey or horse draft

As above but spring tine cultivator



Ox-ploughs industrially-built in Uganda and Zimbabwe



5-tine ox-cultivator

85-1 10


Zimbabwean plough in Zambia



Zimbabwean cultivator imported into Zambia



Single row planter higher for Senegal


Lower price is for Zimbabwe, the

Improvements women would like for their tools

'As long as hand hoes are used by human power, there can be no increase in production.:'

'Improving hoes will not increase production. The only solution is replacing them with ox-drawn tools,.

Women's and men's groups in Zambia

Most groups were of the opinion that not much could be done to improve the basic design of their hoes, but much could be done to improve their general quality and durability. In Uganda there was much nostalgia for the so-called 'Finland hoe' that had been imported by an IFAD project in the past. It was appreciated for its light weight and the way it maintained its sharp edge over time, and these are the basic characteristics which women everywhere wanted but do not often have at present: lightness, effectiveness, and durability. In Uganda where Cock Brand and Chillington hoes are the most widely used, most women were using the 3-pound version and knew nothing about the existence of lighter models.

Many women's and men's groups directly or indirectly expressed the opinion that the hand hoe, however good, suffered from such inherent limitations that there was no way that they could ever significantly increase production without using different technology. Several interviews with specialists confirmed that a women cannot keep an area of more than about 1 ha free of weeds in a typical cropping season, and from this fact alone, the finite

General Report limitations of the hand hoe become apparent. And one needs also to remember in this connection the growing shortage of labour in many rural areas of Africa

In sum, even when other outputs such as fertilizer and improved seeds are available, it seems hardly possible to raise agriculture much above subsistence level as long as the hand hoe remains the primary means of tillage and weeding

In countries where women's use of animal traction was very limited - Burkina Faso and Senegal - the women's groups generally expressed the opinion that their problems would be solved if they could have access to this technology and be trained to use it. The groups specified donkey-powered traction as the best adapted to their needs In the parts of Uganda where animal traction is used by women to some extent, the women wanted greater access to it and training in its use. In the parts of the country where it is not in use at all, people expressed great interest in knowing more about it and in seeing it at work.

Animal traction makes the difference between night and day!' Women's group in Burkina Faso

In Zambia and Zimbabwe, where women are already much more involved in the use of animal traction there were generalized complaints about the weight of the implements especially of the 5-tine cultivators built in Zimbabwe. They said they simply could not handle them when turning on the headland, and some women said that they often fell over triyng to do so

'We don't use the cultivator. We just watch it lying there.' Women's group, Zambia.

'Some marriages have broken down because women failed trying to work with the existing and heavy animal drawn implements.' Men's group, Zambia

There were also complaints about the lever that allows one to adjust the working width of the cultivator. Firstly, it was generally agreed that it was difficult to move, and secondly, people wanted an adjustment system that they could use as they went along, for their row spacing is never as precise as it should be.

In Senegal, where the working width of most hoes can only be adjusted after considerable work with a spanner or with clamps and bar screws, it was suggested that it should be adjusted by closing and opening the normal steering/lifting handles; in other countries it was said that 'something like a bicycle brake-lever' fitted on the handles should be invented. Such mechanisms may not be feasible from the engineering viewpoint, but easier adjustment of the working width than presently available is certainly a felt need. And ideally it should be possible to make the adjustment while moving along the row.

Many women said that the height of the handles on Zimbabwe-built implements was too high for them, and they are not adjustable; in Senegal and Burkina Faso, on the contrary, most implements have height adjustment for the handles.

Women also had trouble lifting zigzag harrows around obstructions and suggested that they should have a lifting handle at the rear.

The ox-carts used in Zimbabwe came in for much criticism. The pneumatic tyres usually fitted last a very short time and women have great trouble repairing punctures. Both women and men would much rather have solid rubber tyres. And the lack of brakes on today's carts causes problems of control, and can also provoke dangerous situations.

Many women's groups mentioned the hard work of carrying water to their vegetable plots in watering cans or buckets. Small hand-operated irrigation pumps were mentioned as a need, but in Zimbabwe where one had been demonstrated and made a very positive impression on the women, they said it was quite beyond their financial reach It cost about US$ 110.

Many groups said that tolls and implements were very expensive for them; in Burkina Faso, even blacksmith made hoes at about US$ 1.75, but which needed replacement every year, were found to be expensive for the levels of income in the Central Plateau.

Only in Zimbabwe did any groups of women mention that they thought small tractors would be the solution to their problems.

Willingness to work with technicians to develop better tools and to pay more for improved versions

'If they are easy to discuss with we are willing to work with them.' Comment about working with researchers and designers to improve implements during women's discussion in Zimbabwe

In all of the countries, the groups were unanimous in expressing their willingness to cooperate with researchers and other specialists in trying to develop better tools and implements. In some countries. particularly Zimbabwe. there was evident enthusiasm for a dialogue with manufacturers and technicians about them. Men's groups also expressed their interest and willingness to work with technicians in attempting to improve tools. Just one women's group expressed reservations about working with technicians, saying that they would have to be easy to talk to, and adding that men are often difficult to work with because they are not sensitive to women's feelings and needs.

'Good things sell themselves.' Men's group in Burkina Faso.

Equally unanimous in all countries was the willingness to pay more for tools, but only if they were truly better and more efficient And clearly there are limits to what poor farmers can in fact pay, as witnessed by the comments from a women's group about a water pump in Zimbabwe, which was desired by them but way beyond their financial reach.

Zimbabwe. Women harrowing with donkeys. Harrows were not seen in other countries of the study. There are no taboos anywhere on women working with donkeys.

Senegal. Inter-row cultivation with a single ducksfoot tine in a very poor crop. Working with cattle is traditionally a man's task, though where no taboos exist against it, women are increasingly taking over. Women in all the countries of the study want more access to animal traction.

Zimbabwe. Women harvesting vegetables. The baby they frequently carry on their back while in the fields hardly makes their work any easier.

Burkina Faso. Women considering their tools during a Focus Group Discussion.

Conclusions and recommendations


The authors conclude that no quick-fix is possible for improving the production tools and implements used by farm women in Africa However, over time, and with appropriate action by governments, development agencies, NGOs, and the private sector, the situation could be very much improved The constraints, and actions necessary to overcome them, follow.

The constraint of resources available to women

The prime constraint is the one of resources available to women, and this in turn is a direct consequence of their low socio-economic status in society. With little access to cash income, with even less access to land and credit, with men who generally consider that it is quite normal for women to do so much work, and for that workload to increase, there are formidable barriers to women being able to take matters in their own hands and invest in better production technology. Even donkeys and lightweight cultivators to go with them are beyond the reach of most, unless their husbands cooperate for the purchase.

'Men don't really appreciate all the work that women do, even when it is increasing all the time. It is normal, traditional, and expected, just like a dog is expected to bark and -is not appreciated any more if it barks more!'

'Men just marry more women to have more free labour on me land Women are used as income-generating resources.' Field researchers, Zambia,

'Among themselves, men will often praise their women and their work, but no man will ever praise a women to her face. He thinks that doing so would spoil her and weaken his position of power'. Male field researcher, Burkina Faso.

It is true that men's groups talked positively about the need to improve women's production technology, but for them to do anything practical about it may be a different matter. The societal norms are based on a centuries-old perception of male dominance and control, and individual men may see their power at risk if they start behaving differently. But in addition. a man in a rural community with progressive attitudes toward women runs the risk of criticism and ridicule from his more traditional peers.

The work already done to promote women's groups in all of the countries of the study is remarkable, and it provides almost the only way to help women gain access to status and production inputs. But care must be taken not to create a backlash from men by giving the impression that women are especially 'privileged', as has happened in some countries and is beginning to happen in others.


Weeding as women's hardest job and a major constraint to increased production

If women see hand weeding as their hardest job and as a major constraint to increased production, looked at from the other side, it also offers the greatest opportunity for improvements. The remarkable information from Zimbabwean women about the difference in the time required to weed after a prior pass by an animal drawn cultivator and without, appears to offer a major opportunity for saving time and effort and improving production.

Light-weight three-tine cultivators for donkey draft could be an answer, but obviously, their introduction and use would depend on wider application of planting in rows. The relatively cumbersome way of marking rows with a wire or cord, generally used in the Eastern and Southern African countries, could be easily substituted by the simple home-made row marker, like a large rake, found in Burkina Faso. It is certainly faster and easier, for it marks three rows at a time and can be pulled across the plot by one person.

A further consideration would be the need to ensure proper animal care and health services for the donkeys.

Finally, row planting and inter-row weeding with animal traction might allow more general use of push-pull hoes, such as the Senegalese hilaire, or longer-handled traditional hoes, even in soils that are heavier than those in Senegal. The study team carefully watched women weeding with very short-handled hoes in a field of randomly sown groundnuts, and it was evident that the short handle allowed them to make circular movements around the base of the plants that they could not have made with a long handle. The short handle and their bent backs also allowed them to exert more power. But if they were only weeding the inter-plant space in the row, these circular movements would be less necessary; and furthermore, if most of the soil had been loosened by the animal drawn weeder, it might be not be necessary to exert the same power. Thus, perhaps longer handles or push-pull hoes would allow a more erect and less fatiguing posture without too seriously reducing the effectiveness of the weeding task.

At all costs, the situation that has pertained in the past in some countries, where animal traction was used only for primary tillage, creating even larger areas for women to weed by hand, must be avoided, for animal draft ploughing without being able to follow up with animal draft weeding is senseless.


The constraint of lack of information flow between importers/producers of tools and farmers and the general isolation of this commercial sector.

The study has shown a serious lack of consultation and information flow between those who import or produce tools and implements and their users. And this problem also exists, though to a lesser extent, between blacksmiths and farmers. As long as it persists, it will never be possible to offer tools that meet the felt needs of today's mainly women users. The private sector which imports or manufactures tools and implements seems to have a captive market and a take-it-or leave it attitude. Whereas in most commercial activities in industrialized countries, a prerequisite for success is market research to know one's customers, and systems of follow up with them, tool importers and manufacturers in the countries of the study seem largely to ignore this aspect; and they are able to do so because farmers, uniformed, passively buy whatever they find available in their local store. Nor do extension services become significantly involved in issues of tools and equipment, since their main concern is usually advice on other inputs and on production techniques.

Another problem is that the commercial sector involved in tools and implements is generally isolated from policy and development issues and is not seen as an essential partner, either by governments, NGOs, or donor agencies. Indeed, the private sector is often considered by government and development institutions as merely money-oriented and crassly commercial, whereas properly approached and involved, synergy can be created with the private sector, for the benefit of all.

A negative example is the way development projects often procure tools and equipment from outside the country or area, thereby damaging local suppliers' interests, whereas working with them in a constructive way would strengthen their capacity in the long term to provide more appropriate tools and services.

In many countries, blacksmiths are the main providers of tools and implements, but frequently their knowledge and skills are still too limited to enable them to provide the necessary levels of design and quality. In addition, and they often have problems obtaining adequate quality of raw materials.


Lack of training animal traction for women

Women's and men's groups in many countries stressed the need for more training in animal traction for women. There seems to an implicit and lingering belief in the institutional/government sector that those needing such training are men, because animal traction was traditionally men's preserve. Thus the vast majority of people who attend training courses or field days are still men, whereas it is women who really need the training, rather than having to be the self-taught practitioners they mainly are today.


2 The initiative to seek women's participation in animal traction training should come from the institutions, not from rural men, for women must not see K as an initiative by men to make them do even more work. Rather it must appear to be the institutions trying to help women better assume a task which is, in any case, coming more and more their way, and which can reduce their workload with hand tools.

Lack of research into women's production technology

Although interviewees all said they believed that research into production technology for women was very necessary, little or none was actually in progress. Women almost everywhere said they wanted lighter tools, but there is no scientific research into the benefits of lighter tools in terms of the energy required from their users and the effectiveness with which the job is done. The only institution in the countries of the study with the experience and capability to conduct such research is Makerere University in Uganda A very interesting research activity could be to measure the oxygen uptake of women while weeding with 3, 2½ and 1½ pound hoes, and also set the energy requirement against the effectiveness of the work done. Properly used, the results of such research could provide an important basis for future manufacturing and marketing policy for tools.


Attempts to introduce exogenous technology

This is the trickiest area of all because of the human and social factors involved. And it is frustrating because it is also the area that could provide the quickest results, for there are production tools and implements already in use in other developing countries that could have a major impact in reducing working time and discomfort if people in Africa adopted them. However, there have been numerous examples of failed attempts to introduce some model of a tool, usually based on a design used in another country. This report has cited the case of the jab planter in Burkina Faso, and the wheeled push-hoes that appears to be failing in Zimbabwe. Another case, also in Burkina Faso, involved pedal-operated water pumps for wells which were never accepted. 3

3 No research was ever done to find out why these pumps were not adopted, but anecdotal evidence suggests two reasons: it was thought dangerous for pregnant women to use a foot pedal; small children do much of the water pumping and the force required on the pedal was too great for them, even standing on it with their full weight.

These initiatives are usually the idea of a technician, and while they may be technically perfect, and even economically viable, they too often ignore certain social or traditional factors, and they are therefore rejected. Unfortunately, in addition to the prior social research that could avoid such mistakes, there is seldom any post-failure research to find out what went wrong. There is only conjecture, based perhaps on a few isolated comments by people. This is frustrating too because research into the reasons for failures could lead technicians to make modifications, or at very worst, teach them lessons for the future. In general, where exogenous tools have been successfully adopted in various countries worldwide, it has only been after working closely with rural people and after they have themselves conducted comparative trials with the traditional tools and the proposed new ones.

Despite the human, social, and cultural factors involved, the benefits of possible success from introducing exogenous technology warrant further attempts to do so, but only under carefully controlled conditions and with the participation of potential beneficiaries assured.

Punch or jab planters, planter attachments to ploughs or cultivators, push-pull hoes, hand pushed cultivators and weeders, hand drawn planters, row markers, harvesting tools such as serrated sickles, hand pumps for irrigation, water-carrying carts - these are just some of the possible candidates for testing and evaluation with people in Africa. A publication produced by the Intermediate Technology Group of UK called Tools for Agriculture: A Buryer's guide to Appropriate Equipment for Smallholder Farmers provides descriptions of hundreds of tools and implements and the name and addresses of their manufacturers.4 The idea should be to import just a few of a selected type that appears to have potential in Africa and test them carefully with farmers. If they met with acceptance, they could be copied by blacksmiths or small-scale industries locally, but incorporating any modifications that the trials had shown to be wanted by the users.

4 4th edition with introduction by lan Carruthers and Marc Rodriguez available from Intermediate Technology Publications, 103-105 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4HH, UK. Fax number +44 171 436 2013

In respect of push-pull hoes, it would be particularly interesting to try them for the hand weeding that remains after an animal drawn weeder has passed along the inter-row space.


End Note: It is pleasurable to imagine a future in which Africa's overworked women use tools and implements that save them time and effort, and give them the chance to rest and relax a little. But men's attitudes towards them will have to change before this is likely to happen

'For a woman, having time left over is called "laziness".. ' Member of research team in Zimbabwe.

'If a man comes home and finds his wife sitting resting, he will say, "Why aren't you doing something? Member of research team in Zambia.

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