Posted: March 21st, 2017

. What if the children need to see a doctor?” Thus, women value corn because it is something that they can control, without permission from their husbands, and because it serves as a kind of safety net for unexpected and incidental expenses.

In the 1980’s Country A introduced changes that were intended to change the country’s rural areas. Most subsidies for agriculture were eliminated, including subsidies for agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. Government programs for agricultural loans and technical advice were drastically scaled back. Moreover, restrictions on imports were phased out. The liberalization of agricultural imports was accelerated in the 1990’s, when Country A entered into a free-trade compact with its nearest neighbors. These imports compete against homegrown commodities.


The basic idea behind these changes was to allow market forces to guide agriculture and to promote modernization and efficiency. Policy makers made the following predictions: (a) small plots would be consolidated into more efficient production units; (b) many farmers would leave agriculture completely; and (c) the domestic production of corn (maize) would decrease. These predictions have not materialized. Despite the fact that it is not economically efficient to grow corn in small plots, the small plots of corn persist. In some rural districts, most of the farmland is still planted in corn.


Rather than leave agriculture completely, families have extended their involvement with non-farming activities, while continuing to cultivate small plots. Cultivation of small plots has increasingly been the work of the women. This is particularly true, because many male head of households have found work in the city or in neighboring countries, sending remittances back home to their wives. This migration-based strategy for livelihood means that men are not available to farm, so the job of farming falls upon the women.


Country A has a strong patriarchal tradition in which the male head of the household makes all family decisions. Such decisions include who will migrate to work in the city, and who will stay behind. In this culture, men are expected to “bring in income”, while women are expected to “feed the family”.


In Country A, there is a saying that “all corn that is brought into the house belongs to the woman, because she is in charge of feeding the house”� . The primary use of corn is to serve as food for human consumption. From a food-appreciation perspective, homemade food is preferred to pre-processed food, and locally-grown corn is preferred to imported corn. However, the women also sell corn at market to get money for soap and other miscellaneous amenities. In addition, in the poorest households, the corn stalks and the cobs from which the grain has been removed can serve as fuel for cooking and for heating in the winter.


Women without a supply of corn have no choice but to negotiate with their husbands for miscellaneous expenses, sometimes on an item by item basis. The problem is compounded for women whose husbands are absent for long periods while working in the city. One woman said “He sends money, but isn’� t always enough to cover expenses. What if the children need to see a doctor?” Thus, women value corn because it is something that they can control, without permission from their husbands, and because it serves as a kind of safety net for unexpected and incidental expenses.


In large parts of Country A, corn production has been feminized. Yet, official policy and tradition tends to marginalize the contribution of women. Policy makers emphasize that they would like to see more women work outside the home.


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