Internal Struggles over Resources,
External Struggles for Survival:
Urban Women and Subsistence Household Production
c/o Noguchi Memorial Institute
University of Ghana
P.O. Box 25
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Maxwell)
email@example.com (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