Women and Resource Use - A study of rural women in a spiny desert region in Madagascar

Bachelor Thesis, 2004

45 Pages, Grade: 2.1 (68.00)





Chapter 1:
Rural women in sub-Saharan Africa and their roles
Conservation, environmental degradation and rural women

Chapter 2:
Introduction to Madagascar
Rural women in Madagascar – their responsibilities and natural resource use
Rural women in Madagascar, natural resources and conservation issues

Chapter 3:
Introduction to Southern Madagascar
Women in Analoalo and natural resource use

Chapter 4:




I would like to thank the people of Analoalo and all the other people who I encountered during my fieldwork, for welcoming me so warmly and letting me take part in their daily lives throughout my stay and answering many of my questions in great depth. Special thanks go to Voatsalinee and her family, Angelina and Onjanasy who cared for me as if I was part of their family. Further, I am deeply indebted to Mahareta Paubert (“Meta”) my translator and good friend during my fieldwork, without whom I would have been totally lost at times.

My fieldwork and evaluation of the data as well as writing my dissertation would not have been possible without the help of many people. I would especially like to mention Barry Ferguson, Caroline Hotham, Shirley Ardener (my supervisor) and Dr Joy Boyce. Special thanks go to the Tandroy Conservation Trust for supporting my fieldwork in many ways and to New College for financial support.


Figure 1 – Rights and obligations in traditional household, farming or enterprise activities

Figure 2 – Divisions of rural labour in Africa – women’s responsibilities

Figure 3 – Map of Madagascar

Figure 4 – Participation to Domestic and Agricultural Activities

Figure 5 – Gender Distribution for Water and Wood Search

Figure 6 – Map of Southern Madagascar showing location of Analoalo

Figure 7 – Daily Activity Schedule of Analoalo women (productive year)

Figure 8 – Women in Analoalo

Figure 9 – Women’s tasks – Maize (“tsako”)

Figure 10 – Women’s tasks – Sweet potatoes (“bageda”)

Figure 11 – Women’s tasks – Cassava (“balahazo”)

Figure 12 – Castor Oil (“Menaka kinaña”) Production

Figure 13 – Mobility Map of Analoalo Women

Figure 14 – Diagram Showing how Sustainable Rural Development can be Achieved


‘In the developing countries, many women’s relationship with the environment is vital to their daily lives, for example, in the provision of water, fuel, food and other basic needs. These women not only bear the brunt of environmental degradation, but also play a crucial part in environmental management. Their importance as key agents in achieving sustainable development cannot be overstated.’ (Annabel Rodda, 1991, p.vii)

In many places throughout the developing world, women have a central role in growing food crops, collecting water and fuel-wood, and using materials from plants, trees, and marine ecosystems to prepare medicines for their families or products for sale in markets (WWF, 2002c). For example, women in sub-Saharan Africa are the backbone of the agricultural sector, accounting for 70% of agricultural labour and being responsible for 60% of agricultural production and 80% of food production (Kabeer, 1994). Yet this critical work is often overlooked and many women have little opportunity to participate in decisions about their community’s natural resources or join training and capacity-building initiatives designed to promote sustainable resource management (WWF, 2002c). This dissertation seeks to argue that rural women in Madagascar are very important in the management of natural resources; indeed this is one of the main aspects conservationists have to deal with when considering the sustainable use of natural resources (WWF, 2002c; UN, 2000; Ngong and Arrey, 2003).

Having discussed the major areas of rural women’s work in Africa and their implications for the environment, this dissertation will explore the role of rural women in Madagascar to exemplify the issues associated with resource use in a biodiversity hotspot. First, general research on the topic will be introduced followed by a specific case study of Antandroy women in Analoalo, a village in the Spiny Forest of South-Eastern Madagascar. The dissertation will conclude by examining the importance of women in the use of natural resources and ways in which they could be integrated into sustainable rural development. The question of how rural women can be involved in the conservation of their local environment has become a contentious issue (Rodda, 1991; UN, 2000) and one which needs to be explored. It should be noted that any efforts to involve rural women in conservation projects also need to concentrate on improving the quality of life in rural areas in general, including a sustainable rural economy.

Before exploring the case study, I review the major areas of the work of rural women in sub-Saharan Africa showing how closely linked it is to their use of natural resources. Further, the implications for conservation will be highlighted.

Rural women in sub-Saharan Africa and their roles

The types of work that rural women do in sub-Saharan Africa are all crucial to keeping the family, as well as the rural economy, alive. Women commonly use natural resources in all areas of their work. These can be distinguished as: survival tasks, work in the household, and income generation.

Survival tasks are those essential for daily life, and it is for these that women are largely responsible. They grow food crops, provide water, gather fuel and perform most of the other work that sustains the family. Women in Africa do up to three-quarters of all agricultural work in addition to their domestic responsibilities (UN Economic Commission for Africa; Rodda, 1991). Figures 1 and 2 show the division of rural labour between men and women. Women are generally responsible for regular sowing, weeding, crop maintenance and harvesting, as long as these tasks have not been mechanised (Rodda, 1991). Subsistence agriculture – the growing of food crops – is almost exclusively a women’s task. But women’s participation is increasing in cash-cropping as well. Care of small animals is also often their responsibility. Men, on the other hand, generally look after sporadic field preparation (Dankelman and Davidson, 1988).

In sub-Saharan Africa, women play a vital role as both water-suppliers and water-managers. They are responsible for collecting water and for controlling its use; they also oversee the sanitary arrangements. Water is needed by the family for drinking, domestic purposes, personal hygiene and sanitation, as well as for agricultural uses and the many processes involved in food production and craftwork. Collecting water may be a tiring and arduous task that usually needs to be undertaken several times each day and can take many hours (Rodda, 1991).

Figure 1 - Rights and obligations in traditional household, farming or enterprise activities

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2 – Division of rural labour in Africa – women’s responsibilities

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(UN Economic Commission for Africa; Rodda, 1991)

Ninety per cent of rural sub-Saharan African energy supplies come from biomass such as fuel-wood, crop residues and manure. Fuel collection, where it is not commercialised, is mainly a task for women, with children’s help. Depending on the ecological characteristics of the area in which they live, women may spend up to five hours a day on fuel collection. Fuel-wood collection is often referred to as a cause of deforestation, but as women mostly collect dead wood, which is easier to cut, their work does not damage the trees. In addition to collecting the fuel, women are involved in its cutting and drying. Women are the fuel burners, and traditional methods of cooking often consume extravagant quantities of fuel. Fires serve many purposes in addition to cooking: for boiling drinking water and to heat washing water; fish and meat are smoked above it; a fire provides light at night; and heat to dry a wet harvest. It may also be used to cure tobacco, boil water to extract natural medicines from leaves and bark and to make dyes. The smoke from fires also helps keep insects away. Fires also have many social and ritual uses, particularly as the focal centre for evening conversations (Rodda, 1991). Women also utilise forest products for a variety of household uses. ‘The time spent in forests, gathering wood, has taught women the many uses of trees, including providing fibres for cloth, mat-making and basketry. Many trees are used as a source of food, offering vegetables, nuts, fruits and even vines. Women also know the medical uses of various trees…’ (Aloo, 1985).

Activities in the home are almost exclusively the responsibility of women, although older children may occasionally assist. These tasks return every day and absorb hours of time. Food preparation and cooking are good examples. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, women contribute substantially to the family budget through income generating activities such as food processing, trading of agricultural products and the production of handicrafts (Dankelman and Davidson, 1988).

Conservation, environmental degradation and rural women

Notwithstanding their obvious important role in managing natural resources in rural areas, women have not really been perceived to be part of the natural environment conservation scene. They are often seen as part of the problem (e.g. firewood collection for household use is often blamed for deforestation), seldom as part of the solution (Njie, 1995). But because of the various roles women play in food processing, farming, agricultural management and family health, it is crucial that their understanding of environmental issues should be increased and their knowledge and skills taken into account in the conservation strategy of natural resources.

In rural areas the depletion of natural resources by environmental degradation has a significant effect on the daily life of a woman and the well-being of her family. As more people are competing for diminishing resources for their basic needs due to population growth, women find that each day they must walk further from their homes in search of water, fuel-wood and other forest products. This extra distance not only adds to their physical burden, but also means that there is less time for looking after the family and for the production and preparation of food. Lack of the traditional source of fuel-wood causes many problems. In order to be able to cook, an alternative source of fuel has to be found (for example in Cameroon saw dust has been used as a fuel) and such alternatives may be less efficient thus making cooking more time-consuming and they may be difficult to obtain. Consequently women may be forced to cook less or to change the traditional diet. Where fuel is difficult to find, women may have no option but to buy from traders, with money which could have been spend on other basic needs. This is just one example of how environmental degradation can make life for poor rural peasants even more difficult and an increased poverty may lead to further unsustainable natural resource practices. A great reliance on natural resources, as it is the case in many rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, calls for a conservation of such resources, e.g. through reforestation and efficient forest management, or the finding of alternative sources of fuel (Rodda, 1991).

It is important that women are well-informed on the cost and benefits of the sustainable use of natural resources, and these must be equally distributed among all users. It is important to see rural women as key agents in maintaining and improving the quality and stock of natural resources through a development path which is both sustainable and profitable for them and their families welfare. This means not just conserving natural resources, which is only one dimension of sustainable development, but also ensuring regular economic growth in poor rural areas as well as an improvement in the living conditions for all rural inhabitants. Such sustainable development is especially important in the so-called biodiversity hotspots. The phrase biodiversity hotspot was coined by Norman Myers in 1988 to define those areas in the world which have exceptional concentrations of endemic species and experience exceptional loss of habitat. Today, 25 terrestrial hotspots have been defined by Professor Myers and his colleagues (Myers et al., 2000). In many of these areas rural poverty and environmental degradation are severe threats to these ecosystems. Therefore conservation approaches in such areas should not exclude women as they often are the primary natural resource users.


Figure 3 – Map of Madagascar

illustration not visible in this excerpt


Introduction to Madagascar

‘Many conservation biologists believe that Madagascar should be considered among the highest conservation priorities. However, the poverty that afflicts Madagascar’s people threatens to destroy what remains of this unique biology.’ (Sussman et al., 1994, p.334)

Madagascar lies some 400km off the east coast of Africa, south of the equator. With an area of 590,000km2 it is the world’s fourth largest island. Due to long isolation from major landmasses, and the influence of geography and climate, the biodiversity of Madagascar is extremely rich and diverse (WWF 2003b), with high levels of endemism not only at the species level, but at the genus and family levels as well (CEPF, 2001). Current estimates put the number of plant species in Madagascar somewhere between 10,000 – 12,000, of which 80% are endemic. Regional levels of plant endemism are also quite high. Further, 46% of bird, 91% of reptile, 99% of frog, 67% of mammal and 100% of primate species are also endemic to Madagascar. Thus Madagascar, together with the Mascarenes, Comoros and Seychelles, is one of the world’s identified 25 biodiversity hotspots. In terms of the original extent of its native habitats it represents the 10th largest of the 25 hotspots and it ranks 8th in terms of remaining intact habitat (approximately 18% of the original extent) (CEPF, 2001).

The future of Madagascar’s remarkable flora and fauna is far from secure. It has been estimated that over 300 species are threatened with extinction. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (2001) summarised several direct threats to ecosystem function and species diversity in Madagascar including: agricultural expansion, timber exploitation, uncontrolled livestock grazing, fuel-wood collection and charcoal production, hunting, corporate and small-scale mining, ornamental plant and wildlife collection and the introduction of exotic species. Madagascar has already lost over 80% of its natural areas and continues to lose an estimated 200,000ha annually to deforestation (WWF, 2003). Madagascar had an estimated population of nearly 17 million in 2003 (BUCEN, 2002) together with a population growth rate of approximately 2.6 percent p.a. (UNDP, 2000) Traditional energy use (wood and charcoal) is high with 84% in 1997 (GDF/WDI, 1997). Sussman et al (1994, p.342) have argued that most of the deforestation in Madagascar ‘has occurred since 1970 and probably is related to a global increase in fuel prices. Since 1970, there has been a massive movement of population from the countryside into the cities.’ With the population increase in the large cities, like Toliara, after 1970 local surrounding regions could not produce enough dead wood to supply fuel needs. Thus a large-scale charcoal industry was begun in the early 1970s leading to massive deforestation (Sussman et al, 1994).

While there have been some tangible macro-economic improvements in the last decade, around 70% of the population of Madagascar is currently considered poor (Razafindravonona et al 2001). Moreover, poor households live overwhelmingly in rural areas and depend mainly on agriculture for their livelihood (Dorosh et al 1998). Despite the percentage of female workers in agriculture being roughly 50% (World Bank, 2000), the hours of input by women are generally higher than those of male agriculturalists, thus implicating an importance of women in Madagascar’s agricultural sector. Most of the farming in Madagascar is self-subsistence farming on family plots, but widespread poverty, increasing population and the absence of resources and techniques to improve the productivity of agricultural and pasture lands have led to agricultural extensification by further deforestation.

The forest ecosystems of Madagascar provide its society with a wide range of essential products such as timber, fuel, food, medicine and raw materials. They also provide environmental services such as protection of watersheds, soils and carbon storage to mitigate climate change. Adelski (2002, p.I-5) noted that ‘forests are essential to the long-term well-being of local populations in Madagascar, the national economy and the earth’s biosphere as a whole.’ Thus there is a need to protect Madagascar’s natural heritage not only from a pure conservationist point of view, but also from an economic point of view. Therefore Madagascar’s biodiversity should be protected in a sustainable way, leading to benefits in all three dimensions of sustainable development: environmental, economic and social. As women play a major part in Madagascar’s rural areas, conservation organisations should integrate them into their strategies to conserve natural resources.


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Women and Resource Use - A study of rural women in a spiny desert region in Madagascar
Oxford University
2.1 (68.00)
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Women, Resource, Madagascar
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BA (Oxon), Dip Psych (Open) Christine Langhoff (Author), 2004, Women and Resource Use - A study of rural women in a spiny desert region in Madagascar, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/80233


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