Agrarian Labour and Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa

Gender and Generational Change within Family Farms, 1980–2015

image of Agrarian Labour and Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa

This paper traces the restructuring of rural families’ agricultural production, the intra-household division of labour, and land usage in the interim between the global oil price rise of 1979 and its precipitous fall by 2015. These decades witnessed smallholder export crop production becoming increasingly uncompetitive in the world market due to the high costs of transporting bulky crops over the vast expanses of rural Africa. With the decline of cash cropping, men, women, and youth were drawn away from farming towards off-farm cash-earning in a wide variety of non-agricultural activities. Now, male heads of household no longer monopolize cash earnings in rural households to the same extent as in the past. Women’s and youth’s earnings afford them more household decision-making autonomy. Demographically, the HIV/AIDS crisis has imposed strain on rural households, and impacted land usage and inheritance, affecting women detrimentally in some countries, whereas state reform of inheritance laws has improved women’s situation in other countries. Generally, officially published national-level rural labour statistics harbour gender bias and under-reporting of female labour expenditure. Domestic work continues to be the preserve of women. Marriage patterns are changing, with some women experiencing a reluctance to marry men due to men’s lost income-earning capacity and women’s increased wariness of contracting AIDS. In this context, matrifocal families have gained salience.



Conclusion: Surmounting adversity through labour diversification and acknowledgement of female work

This paper has traced the history of peasant family farming in Africa from its colonial origins to the present, stressing the inter-relationship between peasant households, the state and the world market, as well as rural household’s internal labour and welfare dynamics vis-à-vis fluctuating climate, disease and market risks. The state, be it colonial or postcolonial, regulated and taxed peasant production and has provided variable degrees of service infrastructure for household reproduction, while local, regional and world markets have generated the motor force for peasant household economic growth or decline. The coherence and complementarity of peasant households’ gender and age divisions of labour rested firmly on the logic of male patriarchy until the last two decades of the 20th century.


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error