Disparate access to quality land and fertilizers explain Malawi’s gender yield gap

February 25, 2021 - William J. Burke, <jayne@msu.edu>

Burke, W. J., & Jayne, T. S. (2021). Disparate access to quality land and fertilizers explain Malawi’s gender yield gapFood Policy, 102002.


Grain yields on land managed by women in developing countries are usually lower than those on male-managed fields This is usually attributed to unequal access to productive inputs, highlighting the systemically inegalitarian distribution of opportunities between men and women. This study examines the yield differences between male-, female- and jointly-managed maize fields in Malawi. We test the hypothesis that there is no yield gap after controlling for access to higher quality soils, fertilizer, and other inputs. Furthermore, we explicitly test for significant differences in the endowment of soil quality and the likelihood of employing soil improving management practices between male-, female- and jointly-managed fields. We employ field-level data on field managers, production, and input use, coupled with lab-assessed field-specific soil characteristics from 912 observations in Malawi’s Central and Southern regions that were collected during the 2018 harvest season. Unlike many previous studies, we measure yield using a combination of yield cuts, plant population density, mid-season chlorophyll measurements, and satellite data (versus using farmer-reported data). Soil quality endowments are measured using total carbon, an effectively fixed condition. Farming effects on soil quality are measured using labile carbon fractions. We find women are disproportionately likely to be farming with lower quality seeds and less fertilizer on lower quality soils, and there is no yield gap after controlling for these factors. Our results will be beneficial to policy makers in Malawi because they highlight potential interventions that can be both productivity-enhancing and advance the goal of gender equality.


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