Is there such a thing as sustainable agricultural intensification in smallholder-based farming in sub-Saharan Africa? Understanding yield differences in relation to gender in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Smallholder-based, sustainable, agricultural intensification is increasingly put forth as a development pathway that is necessary to improve farmer's livelihoods, enhance productivity and engender a surplus that can be used to feed growing urban areas across sub-Saharan Africa. The following article examines trends in yields for Africa's largest staple crop – maize – among smallholder farmers in six regions in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, using longitudinal quantitative data collected in 2008, 2013 and 2017 in combination with qualitative data from nine villages. Substantial increases in yields are found only in Zambia, while yields are largely stagnant in Malawi and Tanzania. In the case of Zambia, however, there is a persistent gender-based yield gap. We use the qualitative data to explain this gap and find that gender-based differences in yields need to be understood in relation to local production systems, as well as the varied positionality of women, where the biases facing women who head their own households are different than for women living in male headed households. In policy terms, technologies that can promote intensification are different depending on these factors, even within the local context of particular farming systems.


External organisations
  • Sokoine University of Agriculture
  • University of Malawi
  • University of Zambia
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic Geography
  • Other Agricultural Sciences not elsewhere specified
  • Gender Studies


  • agriculture, gender, smallholders, Sub-Saharan Africa
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-75
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopment Studies Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch