Gender and Generational Patterns of African Deagrarianization: Evolving Labour and Land Allocation in Smallholder Peasant Household Farming, 1980–2015


Bryceson, Deborah Fahy. 2019. “Gender and Generational Patterns of African Deagrarianization: Evolving Labour and Land Allocation in Smallholder Peasant Household Farming, 1980–2015.” World Development 113: 60-72.

Author: Deborah Fahy Bryceson


This article traces smallholder peasant household production and reproduction trends against the background of profound change in African agriculture’s terms of trade between 1980 and 2015. The gender and generational dynamics of African peasant households, which evolved under European colonial policies from the late 19th century and largely persisted in the early post-independence era, were disrupted by the 1970s oil crises. By the 1980s, peasant labor displacement was gaining momentum, as evidenced by declining smallholder commercial agriculture, often but not always accompanied by rural out-migration. Ensuing differentiated involvement of peasant smallholder family members in unfolding processes of deagrarianization and depeasantization are explored on the basis of statistical data and qualitative case studies. The article’s broad spatial focus and 35-year overview are accommodated in a human geography methodology, which synthesizes multi-disciplinary social scientists’ research findings on the gender/age division of labor, allocation of decision-making power and welfare provisioning patterns within smallholder households. Spatial and temporal analysis of sex/age ratios derived from published data on sectoral labour force participation, quantitative surveys of intra-household labour time allocation and national census population data provide insight into the differential effects of deagrarianization on household members. Salient trends are: labor contraction in male commercial peasant family farming, smallholder subsistence-based land cultivation squeezed by medium-scale commercial farmers, female resource control and labor autonomy continuing to be impinged by male patriarchal attitudes, and an emerging tendency for “older women left behind” in the countryside, who provide an agrarian fallback for returned migrant family members and other members engaged in local non-agricultural occupations needing subsistence food support.

Keywords: rural labor, agricultural land, family, gender, age, Africa, deagrarianization

Topics: Age, Agriculture, Migration, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Hierarchies, Households, Livelihoods Regions: Africa

Year: 2019

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