Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Internal Struggles over Resources,
External Struggles for Survival:
Urban Women and Subsistence Household Production

Dan Maxwell
c/o Noguchi Memorial Institute
University of Ghana
P.O. Box 25
Legon, Ghana
Tel: (233)21-760543
Fax: (233)21-502182
E-mail: (Dan Maxwell) (Dan Maxwell)
(C) Copyright November, 1994

Paper presented to the 37th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Panel on "Urban Provisioning and Food." The Royal York Hotel, Toronto, Canada, November 3-6, 1994.


In the wake of the decline of formal economies in Africa and the structural adjustment programs intended to set the basis for future economic growth, agricultural production within African cities has become a much more prevalent activity. A small proportion of this production is purely intended for sale in urban markets but the majority of it is intended for home consumption. Though virtually ignored by the research community until the mid to late 1980s, urban agriculture in Africa has recently attracted attention in the donor community as an alternative urban food strategy that could be employed to alleviate some of the impact of structural adjustment policies on the urban poor (WCED, 1987; von Braun et al, 1993; Smit, Nasr and Ratta, 1994). Von Braun et al. note, however, that public policy "tends to bypass this agricultural sub-sector, and the information base is so limited that policy and program designs are often based on speculation."

Interpretations of urban farming vary widely: Many observers dismiss the practice altogether as evidence of the "ruralization" of cities (Bibangambah, 1992; Bigsten and Kayizzi-Mugerwa, 1992). "Urban agriculture" is virtually an oxymoronic concept to many African urban authorities and state officials who consider the practice to be illegal, economically insignificant and a threat to public health (Maxwell and Zziwa, 1992). Other observers promote urban farming as a solution to the problems of urban malnutrition, unemployment and environmental degradation (Smit and Nasr, 1992; Mougeot, 1993; Rogerson, 1993). Perhaps in an effort to legitimize the practice, researchers have stressed that it is not practiced just by the urban poor or the most recent migrants from rural areas but by a broad cross-section of the urban population (Sanyal, 1985; Lee-Smith et al., 1987; Sawio, 1993). One observer has recently suggested that urban agriculture serves as a springboard by which low-income women enter trade and commerce (Freeman, 1993).

Urban farming has usually been characterized as a household survival strategy, implying that it is a deliberate deployment of labor and resources undertaken jointly by members of a household in the face of an increasingly hostile urban economic environment (Sanyal, 1985; Freeman, 1991; Mvena et al., 1991). This view is rooted in new household economics (Becker, 1981), which presumes households to have an internally unified structure and an altruistic head who acts as a decision-maker for the whole unit. Recent empirical research in Africa raises questions about the applicability of this conception of the household, and suggests that the presumption of a primarily corporate character in African households obscures the analysis of economic strategies (Guyer,1986; Guyer and Peters, 1987). Dwyer and Bruce note that what have been mistakenly labeled household survival strategies are in fact an "uneasy aggregate of individual survival strategies..." The research literature on economic strategies within households in Africa suggests two dominant issues for investigation: the allocation of labor, and control over resources, particularly cash income.

Labor in urban farming is primarily that of women. In spite of this observation, only a few studies have analyzed the practice specifically along gender lines (Rakodi, 1988 and 1991; Memon and Lee-Smith, 1993). Peters (1991) notes that under many circumstances, "labor is not mobilized simply by 'the household' or 'family.' While labor is mobilized on behalf of the larger units of production/consumption..., the allocation of labor is based in most groups on differences of gender and age."

Ward (1990) suggests that many informal economic activities in which urban women engage often simply become another more venue for male control over female labor and female income. Various empirical works from Africa (MacGaffey, 1986; Tripp, 1990) suggest the opposite -- that informal economic activities offer an opportunity for women to earn and retain autonomous control over their earnings. Fapohunda (1988) critiques new household economics and questions the extent to which households pool resources, particularly income, and concludes that the pooling of income is the exception rather than the rule among households in contemporary urban Africa, implying that most urban women have some form of independent income. Rakodi (1991) notes that urban women are increasingly less able to rely on male income and seek to retain autonomous control over their own independent sources. Yet the role of subsistence, or income-in-kind, is frequently overlooked.

How is the semi-subsistence production of food within major African urban centers to be understood? A number of theoretical and policy questions suggest themselves: In an urban context where macro-economic policy is being urged to promote transaction-intensive commercial activities (World Bank, 1993; Collier, 1994), what is appropriate policy towards production for direct consumption? Is the household the appropriate unit of analysis for such policy? Given that urban farming is largely the work of women, can urban agriculture be understood as a strategy mobilized by a household or larger unit, or is it strictly to be understood as the work of individuals? In other words, are women's reasons for farming primarily rooted in forces external to the household such as declining real incomes, or in internal struggles over access to and control over resources?

In order to examine semi-subsistence urban farming and the manner in which the practice has been incorporated into the economic strategies of urban households and individuals, this paper will present data from the author's study of urban farming in Kampala, Uganda. I argue that farming in the city in contemporary Africa is a practice that spans a continuum from a literal strategy for some to a large-scale, lucrative investment for a few. But for the most part, it is the deliberate effort of urban women to provide for themselves and for the persons for whom they are responsible, the security of a source of food that is not dependent on cash incomes or fluctuating markets. The crisis of the urban formal economy, falling real wages and decreased opportunity for wage employment are all real forces driving the need for such a source of food, but so also are the intra-household dynamics governing access to and control over resources, particularly cash. These conclusions challenge the extent to which farming in the city can be characterized as a "household strategy," and have important implications for programs that may attempt to promote urban farming.

Kampala Households And Economic Decline

The economic decline, institutional breakdown and civil conflict that characterized the social life of Uganda from the early 1970s until the mid-1980s were particularly difficult for the residents of Kampala (Obbo, 1991; Jamal and Weeks, 1993). Recent theoretical studies have noted that in periods of economic decline, the boundaries of households tend to expand, and household income not only declines in real terms but the relative proportion of income from wages declines even more and the proportion of income from informal trade and subsistence increases (Wallerstein and Smith, 1992; Rakodi, 1991). Both certainly occurred in Kampala during the 1970s and 1980s.

Jamal and Weeks (1988, 1993) dramatically depict the decline in real income from wages in the wake of the Amin regime's "economic war" which began with the expulsion of Uganda's Indian minority in 1972, as presented in Table 1. Besides the illegal economic activities that came to characterize the magendo economy, there were three main categories of reactions to the drastic drop in the real value of wages. The first major response was to diversify income-generating strategies at the household level beyond formal employment, trade or wage labor (Bigsten and Kayizzi-Mugerwa, 1992). The second was the dramatically increased participation of urban women in income generating activities of all types, but particularly activities other than wage labor (Obbo, 1991; Basirika, 1992; Manyire, 1993). A third category of response was linked directly to the high cost of food, and included changes in the diet, increased inter-household linkages with rural sources of food, and farming in the city (Jamal, 1985; Maxwell and Zziwa, 1993).

Table 1: Cost of Food as Percentage of Minimum Wage, Kampala
Year Minimum Wage (Shs./Month) Price Index (1972=100) Real Wage Index (1972=100) Percentage of Minimum Wage to Purchase Fooda
1967 150/= 75 108 49
1972 185/= 100 100 60
1984 6,000/= 35,000 9 450
1988 55,000/=b 496,000b 6 600

aBased on 9,000 Calories per day for a household of four using the price of matooke as the staple, prices from Kampala's central Owino market.

bThe Uganda Shilling was demonetized in 1987; one new Shilling was worth 100 old ones. Figures shown here are 1972 Shillings.

Source: Jamal and Weeks (1993).

All three categories of response contributed to the informalization of the city's economy, and all had an impact on intra-household relations. Contemporary authors correctly attribute much of contemporary female labor in Kampala's informal sector to the economic downturn of the 1970s and 1980s, and to the policy impacts of structural adjustment (Basirika, 1992). However, a review of literature on Kampala indicates that well before either structural adjustment or the "economic war," domestic and gender relations were undergoing changes in the city and one of the major points of contention in the struggle over the redefinition of these relations was the independent access of women to sources of income (Southall and Gutkind, 1957; Obbo, 1980). This would imply some historical continuity in evolving gender relations in addition to the profound changes brought about by recent economic hardships.

Seeking an "emic" definition for households was an early priority of this study. Respondents repeatedly expressed perceptions of what they considered to be their own households in terms of those persons for whom the collective identity (the household) was responsible for feeding. Such definitions came from a diverse range of respondents. With the exception of the small group of commercial farmers in Kampala, all respondents said that provision of food was their major single reason for farming in the city. If the "household" is defined to some significant degree by food and the responsibility of the collectivity to assure the access of individual members to food; and if food is the major reason for farming in the city; conceptual and methodological reference to "the household" is unavoidable in any analysis of urban agriculture, however messy or unwieldy the concept may be. But the organization of economic strategies within the household diverge sharply from orthodox theory.

Urban Farming In Kampala

With the exception of a small group of commercially-oriented farmers, urban agriculture in Kampala represents a form of semi-proletarianism, or relying on a measure of cash income (labor market participation or petty trading) as well as on home-production for direct consumption. There are two distinctly different forms of agriculture within the city. The first, occurring within the central city, the older suburbs, and City Council housing estates, represents a long-term movement away from sole reliance on the labor market in both the formal and informal sectors of the city's economy for livelihood, with increased effort over time devoted towards production for direct consumption. The other, occurring within the newer suburbs and the peri-urban areas within the city -- areas in which farming has always been a prevalent activity -- represents movement towards either the labor market or informal trade, but a reluctance to become entirely dependent on either.

The common perception among current residents is that farming began inside the built-up area of the city in the mid-1970s in the wake of the Amin regime's "economic war." An estimated 35% of households in the entire city are involved in agriculture. Given that the average size of household engaging in urban farming is considerably larger than the mean for the city as a whole, this implies that subsistence production along directly affects the livelihood or diet of something like half of Kampala's residents. Underlying the practice of urban agriculture in Kampala is the fact that it is technically illegal, though the bylaws banning the practice are only erratically enforced, and have little impact on farming. The most common crops grown are starchy staples (cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and plantains), but fruits, vegetables, poultry, maize and beans are all commonly produced as well.

Even a small parcel of land, if cleverly managed, can have a notable impact on the well-being of the family of the farmer. Table 2 compares the nutritional status of children in farming and non-farming households in Kampala while controlling for income. Variation in the amount of land farmed is considerable, but in the lowest income groups, children in households where someone is farming have significantly better levels of nutritional status. Multivariate analysis suggests three factors in this relationship: adequacy of the diet, sufficiency of the household food supply, and the amount of time that mothers are able to devote to care for their children. In the lowest income group, farming contributes directly to household food security; among higher income groups indicators of food security are not significantly different, but the amount of cash spent on food is considerably less, indicating a significant source of fungible, though invisible income in terms of savings on food expenses.

Table 2 Height for Age by Income Group and Farminga Group
Income Farming Non-Farming Groupb
n HAZc n HAZc N Diff T-test Means
VL 29 -0.561 26 -1.918 55 1.357 0.001 -1.203
L 71 -0.468 100 -0.900 171 0.432 0.010 -0.721
LM 21 -0.161 23 -0.727 44 0.565 0.079 -0.457
UM/H 7 0.549 16 0.962 23 -0.413 0.548 0.836
GROUP MEANS 128 -0.383 165 -0.856 293 0.473 0.002 -0.650
ANOVA F=1.980 F=20.697 F=15.692 p=0.119 p<0.001 p<0.001 df=3 df=3 df=3

aConfirmed Birth-dates only

bVL = Very Low
L = Low
LM = Lower Middle
UMH= Upper Middle and High

cHAZ refers to Height for Age z-scores (standard deviations above or below a reference median), a measure of stunting.
Source: Author's household survey, Round I, April, 1993.

Urban Households And Urban Farming

Almost without exception, when people who are currently engaged in farming were asked if they would like to stop farming if offered a different job with the same monetary remuneration, the answer was no; an indication of both the importance of farming and the precariousness of other forms of employment. Nevertheless, the manner in which farming is incorporated into the economic strategy of the household or individual varies greatly. To understand the logic of urban farming, a series of comparative household case studies was undertaken, followed by a two-round household survey based on a multi-stage, random sample in three areas of Kampala. Highlights from the case studies, substantiated by statistical results of the survey, are presented below.

1. Patterns of Engagement in Urban Farming.

At least four major patterns of household engagement in urban farming emerge from an analysis of some 40 case studies. A small group of urban farmers produce mainly for the urban market, and can be described in terms of a commercial logic. By far the largest number raise poultry but other forms of commercial production can be noted. This group tends to be reasonably wealthy and has access to commercial credit. A second group, found mostly in the more peri-urban parts of the city, gain the majority of their livelihoods from agriculture, and so can be described in terms of self-sufficiency. But it is largely production for home consumption rather than for sale, and "self-sufficiency" refers mainly to basic staples, not all foodstuffs. Needless to say, this group has access to fairly large amounts of land, usually on the basis of customary tenancy. A third group can be characterized as farming to achieve a measure of food security. Their income is predominantly from non-agricultural sources, and they purchase the majority of their food from the market, but farming is an important activity nevertheless. The last group farm because they have no other means. Often single women with children recently widowed or abandoned by their husband, farming is a last resort against starvation for this group.

The "measure of food security" category is by far the most common. The vast majority of farmers in this group are women, who have gained access to some land and are producing food on it. But the amount of food produced does not constitute the majority of what the household consumes, the market is their major source of food. It is particularly these women farmers who insist that they would never stop farming in exchange for another job that, in monetary exchange values, remunerated labor at the same rate: First, food is a form of income that is less easily expropriated by other members of the household than is cash. Second, in some cases, these women may have a source of cash income from informal businesses that rely on farming for inputs, preparation of food for sale being the most notable example. One woman who had gained access to a sizable area of land in Kitante valley through the informal purchase of land-use rights expressed it like this:

I was lucky [that there are workers at a construction site nearby]. I prepare this food and sell it to them. I come here [to my garden] in the morning, get food [sweet potatoes and cassava], prepare it and sell it. After eating lunch, I come here again and cultivate.

Third, farming is a task that meshes well with the other workload expected of women -- especially child care and food preparation, as stated emphatically by this mother of three children:

Of course I cannot stop this farming... You may get another job when you do not have anyone to leave at home. Who would cook and look after these children? You would still need to do both.

This is not to imply that women farmers in this category do not hold other jobs. Many do, both in informal commerce and as wage earners. However, unless a family is wealthy enough to afford hiring domestic help, having outside employment is in addition to, not instead of, these expected household roles.

In a sense, the "no other means" group is a more extreme form of the one just discussed. As a group they are very low-income, food-insecure and land-insecure households. This group is often forced to sell some of what it produces in order to meet other expenses, though it would be very misleading to characterize the "no other means" logic as commercial. In fact, it is this aspect which distinguishes this group from the "measure of food security" group: the latter can usually afford to eat the food they produce; the "no other means" group is often forced to sell some, even if they don't have enough to eat. Farming, for this group, does constitute something of a "survival strategy" in the most literal sense.

Striking differences were noted among these groups in the ways in which they gained access to land for farming. The commercial group tended to own titled or leased land, and hence did not face tenure security problems. The "self sufficiency" group were largely customary tenants on privately owned land in peri-urban areas, a form of land tenure unique to Buganda known as bibanja. In the older parts of the city, some members of this group had purchased use-rights on unoccupied land. The "measure of food security" group was so large that no single form of land access or tenure was dominant, but within this group, a strong association was noted between income levels and the security of tenure in land used for farming: lower income groups were largely dependent on illegally sub-divided bibanja, or land accessed through borrowing, purchase of use-rights or outright squatting. The "no other means" group relied almost exclusively on borrowed land or squatting.

2. The Use of Food.

Within the largest group described above, the "measure of food security" farmers, there are two different logical patterns in the way in which household-produced food is used: one is completely supplementary use of such food, largely at the time of year when seasonal crops are harvested; the other is the reserve of such food in case of emergencies which prevents other sources from being accessed.

The logic of supplementary usage is fairly straight forward. The urban market supplies food for most of the year, with the exception of the time around the harvest of staple crops, as expressed by this working mother of four children:

Now, since the season is not bad, food has been in plenty. We are getting a lot of potatoes now from our garden. We are not buying [food].

Food from farming represents a source of fungible income. A retired clerical worker whose pension benefits were rendered meaningless by inflation in the 1980s expressed it like this:

We may spend about two weeks without buying food. We even praise God for that. But when we ...go to the market, we can spend about 15,000 or 20,000 Shillings [twelve to seventeen dollars] within two weeks. Therefore when you grow crops sometimes it saves you from buying food in the market.

The logic of reserve usage of food from farming is more complex, and may be explained by a diversity of factors. The first is simply erratic or unreliable household income. The second has to do with household dynamics and the need to have a source of food in the event that the primary income-earner does not provide money for purchase. In the words of one low-income mother who was growing cocoyams on low-lying land near a drainage canal:

This food is like a reserve. This food helps us when money is scarce or you have no money in your pocket. You can go and harvest your mayuni and also you eat the leaves as etimpa [sauce].

Producing some amount of food for the household both increases the food security of the members of her family for whose welfare she is responsible, as well as permitting her to put her cash income to other uses.

3. Division of Labor.

The labor in urban farming in Kampala is predominantly that of women. Table 3 depicts the way in which men and women provide labor for cultivation in different household categories. Similar proportion, though lower overall numbers, were reported for livestock keeping. Men were somewhat more involved in helping to provide cash for the purchase of inputs, and in obtaining land for farming. No statistical association is noted in Table 3, nor is any association noted between labor and income group. In other words, women farmers predominate in all categories. Hiring labor outside the household, not surprisingly, was associated with middle and upper income groups.

Nevertheless, the reasons why women were more involved in farming varied dramatically between men and women respondents.

Table 3: Labor in Urban Farming
Men 1 1 10b 0 12
Both 0 0 8 2 10
Women 2 6 75 11 94
Total 3 7 93 13 116

Chi square = 4.67
df = 6
p = 0.58

aCOMM = Commercial
SS = Self Sufficiency
MFS = Measure of Food Security
NOM = No Other Means

bHalf of these were single men living by themselves; in other words there was no woman in the "household."

4. Reasons for Farming: Views of Men and Women.

While maintaining access to food was listed as the most prevalent reason for farming in Kampala by almost all farming respondents in both the case studies and the survey, there were differences in nuance between males and females. Men tended to justify urban farming in terms of an over-arching cultural imperative, while women were much more blunt about why they farm. The consistency of this trend across various social groups was striking. The views of women were typified by comments like these, the first a young mother with no formal employment, the second a low-income slum dweller self-employed as a beer brewer:

[I farm] to get enough food to get enough food for my children. ... I want to make sure that I do not just wish to eat something when I cannot afford buying it.

Men tended to invoke a cultural rationale for why farming is predominantly a women's activity. Two men, both civil servants, expressed commonly-held beliefs:

Look at our wives -- no matter how educated they are, they still want to dig! ..... My wife wants to see something growing.

Time and again, male respondents, while eventually acknowledging a "needs" imperative to urban agriculture, would explain its presence in the city in terms of women's cultural expectations of themselves. There is indeed some resonance between the rationale offered by male respondents and customary practices of the various groups who now inhabit Kampala, but numerous forces including urbanization have led to the breakdown of customary roles (Mair, 1940; Obbo, 1980).

5. Division of Household Responsibilities.

Wide variation was noted in the responsibility for purchasing food and providing the money to purchase it, but the preparation of food is still the responsibility of women, and as a result, it is women who are expected to see to it that food is put on the table. As already noted, this is a common reason for women's involvement in farming in the city. This point was reiterated in a focus group discussion with married women:

Q: In those households where there is both a husband and a wife, who of the two is responsible for ensuring the availability of food?

R1: The wife.

R2: I am the one responsible for food in my home. It is up to me to decide what to eat and to ensure that it is available.

R3: It is the same with me. I am responsible to see that there is food in the home.

Q: Does your husband contribute to meeting expenses of the household?

R1: No.

Survey results indicate that men are responsible for purchasing food in only about one third of the households where women have independent income. In households where women had no apparent independent sources of income, responsibility for ensuring that food was prepared remained with women:

Q: Would we call that [provision of food] then a man's responsibility since he is the one that provided the money?

R: No. He doesn't give you that money for food only. He gives you one lump sum and tells you [you are responsible for the household]. So it is a woman's responsibility.

In households where both spouses generate incomes and pool them to meet expenditures, household logic is self-evident. But 85% of households surveyed did not pool incomes and, in the majority of these, husbands and wives had only very partial knowledge of each other's incomes or expenditures. Non-pooling households where the wife did not report any income from wage labor or trading present something of a paradox, since wives in this category have no separate income, but reported that each spouse spends independently of the other. This category contained the greatest number of respondents among married women interviewed in the survey, and it defies easy explanation in terms of either new household economics or the critique of the notion of household income pooling (Fapohunda, 1988).

However, when the issue of farming is brought into the analysis of this paradox, several things quickly become apparent. Of all married women respondents who claimed to have no separate incomes and who claimed to have no access to a household "pool" of income, nearly half engage in some kind of farming. A much higher prevalence of reserve usage of food was noted among this group of farmers than in the overall sample. The impact of income-pooling does not arise in such stark terms in female-headed households, and a higher prevalence of supplementary usage of food was noted in such cases, although some of the kinds of income-generating activities available to single, low-income women (brewing and distilling, for example) provide income so erratically that reserve usage was noted in this group as well.

6. Discussion.

These quotations and statistics alone do not tell the full story about the multiple motives for farming or the dynamics of the struggle over household resources. Provision of food is the major reason for farming, but it is also clear that in many cases, farming also provides a source of income for women, if only on an emergency or occasional basis -- a source of income many women feel reluctant to divulge.

A picture emerges from the above analysis of great variation in urban households, in terms of their composition, internal relations and economic strategies. Within this variation, however, several themes begin to emerge.

One theme is contemporary women facing economic circumstances which leave them responsible for the provision for food for their families, but without, in many cases, access to the means to adequately do so. They may have little real voice in the allocation of their husband's income to household needs, to say nothing of their own personal needs, and no access to an independent source of cash. This has already been mentioned as a major rationale for engaging in farming. On the other hand, some women reported beginning to farm because of high inflation and the drop in real incomes that affected Kampala wage earners in the 1970s and 1980s, even if it was primarily their husband's wages that were affected at the time. It is mostly this distinction -- forces predominantly internal to the household or predominantly external ones -- which determines to a large extent the "reserve" or "supplementary" logic question raised.

A difference was noted in the rationale for farming as expressed by men and women. An apparent paradox also arises regarding claims made about sales: most respondents claimed not to sell any of their produce and only claimed to sell livestock to raise cash for emergencies. Yet a picture clearly emerges that farming represents to many women some means of economic self-reliance. It appeared that many married women have good reason for letting their husbands believe whatever they wanted to about their motivations for farming; that in fact, women had good reason to keep their economic activities secret, or at least marginal in appearance. This point was confirmed in several focus group discussions when the whole group consisted only of women:

R1: On realizing that his wife has some money, [the husband] will relax until every single coin of the wife's is spent. Even when he knows there is some food like cassava in the garden, he will not spend his money to buy food. All the time he will tell you to 'go and get that cassava in the garden.'

R2: When some men realize that their wives earn some money, they may decide that it is the wives who will cater for this and that. For example, the time my husband was still alive, I used to grow beans and other crops. Whenever the beans got ready for harvest, I would not tell him. I would let him buy sauce ... because if I [didn't] then we would feed on that crop until it got finished.

Where women are responsible for provision of food, or where they are allotted a lump sum by their husbands to meet all household expenses, and where the actual income and expenditure patterns of both husbands and wives are not fully known by the other spouse, there is a strong incentive to keep unknown sources of income unknown. Farming, by its very nature, has to be done in the open, but the perception by men of farming as a marginal activity is, at least in some cases, deliberately maintained.

It is impossible to calculate exactly the amount of fungible income from farming, but a comparison of food expenditures in farming and non-farming households in Kampala deflated by the number of adult equivalents living in those households, shows that the mean savings is roughly fifty dollars per month. This is in an economy where a total household income of $150 per month is used by policy makers and demographers as the line between low and lower-middle income groups. While the $50 figure is the difference in means between groups and undoubtedly highly variable, it is an indication that the real value of subsistence production both to urban women and to the households for which they are responsible. One can only speculate as to which spouse in a conjugal household captures the greater portion of this value, since the "negotiation" over responsibilities and expenditures is largely non-verbal, but women farmers are clearly the ones who know the value.

Conclusions And Implications For Policy

The incorporation of urban farming into the economic strategies of Kampala households is subject to a great deal of variation according to the five primary factors discussed above. Nevertheless, a kind of modal logic of urban farming emerges from the foregoing chapters: Urban farming is largely a strategy of urban women who come from low-income households who do not have access to sufficient money to guarantee access to food for the persons for whom they are responsible for feeding, either because of insufficient total household income or because women lack control over the way in which household income is allocated. Food from farming is often not the major source of food for the household, but constitutes one important source, and is utilized as a reserve for times when cash for purchase is not available. Farming is carried out in such a way that it is perceived as a marginal activity done more for cultural reasons than for economic reasons, in order to secure a reserve source of food and to use income-in-kind from farming to protect women's sources of cash income. Such a generalization does not cover all cases studied or even a majority of them, but it nonetheless constitutes a modal case, or a kind of ideal type for non-commercial urban farmers in Kampala.

Is farming to be considered a "household strategy?" Clearly, in terms of the imperative to provide a secure source of food, whether for supplementary or reserve usage, the household is the social unit from which the imperative springs. In terms of the forces driving urban farming, as well as the manner in which production is controlled, the issue is much less clear cut. A variety of factors are involved, as the above analysis has highlighted. But I have argued that factors internal to the household, particularly the allocation of labor and control over income, are at least as important as external factors such as declining real wages.

Of course, all of these factors are themselves subject to the influence of external factors, but farming is largely an effort by women to assert some control over a source of food which is required for the survival and well-being of persons for whom they are responsible and to do so in such a way as to protect and in some cases, supplement personal sources of cash income. Except for those with no formal education, farming represents less the exclusion of women from other kinds of economic activities than an effort to protect or supplement their other income, and to delink their own sources of food from the unpredictable nature of wage labor and trade in the city.

It is by no means clear that municipal councils are ready to change their views about the legal status of farming in urban areas, but even if they do, other policy questions remain unanswered. If anything, this analysis probably makes policy implications less clear: If one were to simply demonstrate that urban farming has an unambiguous benefit to food security and nutrition, as indicated in Table 2, a fairly strong rationale for direct intervention in support of urban farming would be suggested. However, the above analysis suggests that part of the reason that farming is a successful food security strategy of urban women is because it is a somewhat "hidden" activity. Recent research on gender conflicts over economic activities elsewhere in Africa suggests that well-intended donor programs can easily be manipulated by men to recapture female labor and income in circumstances where women had asserted some autonomy over their economic activities (Schroeder, 1993).

Several implications would follow from such an observation: First, low-income, female-headed households should be given priority by programs promoting urban farming. Not only are such households among the most vulnerable in terms of food security, domestic conflict over the benefits of programmatic intervention are less likely (unless, of course, there is an estranged husband who attempts to assert some residual claim on the income of his ex-wife). Second, programs should work through established women's organizations, such as informal savings and credit groups, or formal women's associations. Informal groups may not be readily apparent, but that is precisely their advantage, and numerous such groups exist in urban areas. Third, the impact of any such programmatic intervention should be closely monitored, both in terms of food security and nutritional status and in terms of the indirect effect on women's income. The logic of farming in the city varies with the circumstances of the people who, individually or as a household, are able to engage in it. The logic of intervention into such a process should likewise take into account threats to the interests of the intended beneficiaries of such intervention.

I would like to acknowledge the excellent research assistance of Gertrude Atukunda in the collection of data presented in this paper, and comments on earlier drafts of this paper from Aili Tripp of the University of Wisconsin, Joanne Csete of UNICEF, and the late Emmanuel Nabuguzi of Makerere Institute of Social Research. Funding for this research came from a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, and from the National Science Foundation, USA. I am also grateful for the institutional support of Makerere Institute of Social Research during fieldwork.


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Revised April 8, 2001

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture