Women in the groundnut sector
Groundnuts have been traditionally seen as a ‘women’s crop’, with 50% of groundnut farmers being women, including 20% female-headed households. Yet as groundnut production is becoming more commercialised and profitable, a visible trend exists which suggests that men are moving into the sector. This sway is compounded by a shift away from other large male-dominated cash crops, such as tobacco.
The division of labour in groundnut production and processing is complex. The early stages of land preparation, weeding, and planting are frequently shared on jointly managed plots. Yet some of the most time consuming tasks, such as stripping and shelling the groundnuts, are mainly undertaken by women, while transporting the groundnuts to the point of sale and selling them is almost exclusively controlled by men (Twin/Twin Trading: The role of women in the production of groundnuts in Malawi).
Interventions such as those led by the Malawian Oilseed Transformation (MOST) programme relate to the introduction of mechanical shelling of groundnuts, and are therefore likely to have a significant impact on women’s roles in groundnut processing. These may be positive – reducing the burden of time-consuming and arduous work – but could also be negative as women might get pushed out of the value chain if mechanical shelling becomes an exclusively male domain. To ensure that negative impact is mitigated and positive outcomes are maximised, MOST is currently undertaking studies on the likely impact of this shift on women’s labour, and is developing strategies to ensure that women play a role in mechanical processing.