Effect of Group and Leader Attributes on Men and Women Farmers’ Participation in Group Activities in Zambia


Kelvin Mulungu


International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

Development economist working at the intersection of climate change, natural resources, and nutrition, and passionate about rural development


Key Takeaways

    How To Apply Insights

    • Need to put into consideration the gender composition of the groups whenever a development agency is delivering interventions through a group.
    • There needs to be careful consideration of the nuances between participation and benefits. Must consider whether the goal of the group is to provide labour, or to have benefits through participation.
    • Encourage group leaders to fully demonstrate and explain the agenda of the group to the members and to create a sense of belonging to the group. 

    Findings & Research Conclusions

    A lot of interventions in developing countries by development agencies, and even government sometimes, are implemented through groups. In most cases these groups try to empower the vulnerable categories in the communities, for example the disabled, the poor and women, by increasing the numbers of that category in the group. However, there is not a strong understanding of what that change in the composition of the group does to the participation of the different categories of members in the different activities.

    This research tried to answer that question by looking at 68 groups that were formed by the community selecting vulnerable members. It attempts to understand how selecting more women into the group affects both the women and the men’s participation in different activities. This is significant because we need to understand if ultimately the criteria of having more vulnerable members in the group leads to them getting benefits from the group, depending on whether those benefits are dependent on participation or not.

    We found that absolute participation in different crop production activities between men and women, despite women or men being more, was the same. They participated similarly except for one activity, which is harvesting. The implication is that with harvesting, they needed to share the produce. This meant men participated more because of the social norms around men being the ones who sell the crop and have the income. Hence, there could have been more motivations for men to participate more at harvest because of the income connotations of sharing the produce they harvest.

    We also found that reducing the members of one gender in the group increased their participation significantly. Because women were the majority in most groups, they comparatively participated less compared to the minority men. The importance of this finding depends on whether the benefits that are coming from the group are participation based or the aim of the group is just to share the labour. If the aim is to just share the labour, then this approach of having more women in the group might be effective at inducing men to participate in activities that they otherwise consider to be for women. However, if the benefits of the group are linked to participation, it means it could be counterproductive because as the women increase, they participate less and so could get less benefits per capita.

    Further, we found that having leaders who can explain and educate the group about their agenda and make people feel that they belong to the group increases the participation of the members.

    Research's methodology

    Two districts in Zambia were selected, and a total of 68 groups from the two districts were studied. Gender-disaggregated data on participation of members in the maize production activities was collected, from planting to harvesting. A survey was administered to the group leaders. Then qualitative data was collected from 12 randomly selected groups among the 68 through focus group discussions.

    The Cooperatives – Cooperatives are used a lot in agriculture to organise farmers and to deliver advice to farmers. This is one of the cases of groups that such results are very important. It is important to understand how those cooperatives are composed and to generate insights into how that composition is affecting, especially, women farmers’ benefits that come through the cooperative.


    The research was on specific groups and on crop production activities, so generalising it to other activities, including household chores, may be difficult.

    Collective action groupA group that comes together to achieve a common goal
    Group identityA person’s sense of belonging to a particular group

    Reference this research

    Kelvin Mulungu & Netsayi Noris Mudege (2020) Effect of Group and Leader Attributes on Men and Women Farmers’ Participation in Group Activities in Zambia, Feminist Economics, 26:4, 178-204 

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