«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»
10.2.2 The household’s life course and decision making on land use Question 5: How do the different stages in the household’s life course influence the decision making on land use?
Some households of the 1980s cohort and most households of the 1990s cohort are in a very difficult situation because they have to pay for their children’s education.
Compared to the 1970s and 2000s cohorts, these two cohorts also have less land (see Chapter 7). The households from these cohorts migrate most often, to earn cash for their children’s maintenance and education. Increasingly, these households give up on agricultural production altogether. Some households do not migrate, so they have to cultivate their land intensively to get more cash, or they try to earn money by trading or in the transportation business. They value cash crops very much. Thus, contrary to what the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) (1991) once said, it is not the youngest households, couples who are in their first years of marriage and have young children (that is, people from the 2000s cohort), who have the most difficult time.
Many households in the 2000s cohort migrate. Those who do not migrate, usually try to diversify their sources of income by undertaking activities in transportation, trading, and other businesses. Agricultural production is not their main activity and they prefer to get money from other sources. Their parents usually help them with agricultural production. They are more market-oriented and prefer to earn cash and to pay for vegetables and other food in the market, instead of growing it themselves.
The households from the 1970s cohort have relatively big landholdings because more household members got land in the land allocations of 1980 and
1981. They work hard in the field and only a few men are engaged in circular migration. They have to save money for their children’s weddings. Many take care of grandchildren, and some cultivate their children’s land. Some rent additional land to cultivate, but most do not have enough energy and only work on their own land. Households from the early 1980s mostly migrate circularly, with one spouse staying behind. They have more energy to work on their own land and rented land. They do not have as much land as households from the 1970s cohort and have to rent land. Most households from the 1970s and early 1980s cohorts invest
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more time and money in agricultural production because their children can send some money back for them to use, and they can sometimes earn money by doing circular work. However, they spend less money on daily costs than the younger cohorts do. They employ labourers to work for them in the busy season. They are rich in experience and are eager to learn more about land management and modern technologies, and are thinking about technological innovations. At the same time, they prefer to cultivate more diversified crops for their own consumption. They worry about land degradation and pollution, and some have an awareness of organic agriculture.
10.2.3 Gender and decision making on land use Question 6: How does gender influence the farming household’s decision making on land use?
The women prefer to cultivate more diversified crops, and try to get information on all kinds of crops they know, saw or heard about. Men are more interested in cultivating staple food and cash crops; they prefer to get money from other resources besides agricultural crops. The men think that information about nonstaple food is not very important and leave it to the women to take responsibility for it.
It is common that the one who carries out the job also makes the decisions about it. This applies especially to younger couples. Arduous and technical jobs (ploughing, the transportation of products and manure, the operation of agricultural machines, herbicide application) are men’s tasks. Women’s tasks are usually time-consuming and non-technical (manual weeding, transplanting, manure spreading, and harvesting). If women are left at home and are responsible for agricultural production, they also have more decision-making power in agriculture than men have. Chen (1996) has called this the female-managed farming household. Home gardening is a woman’s domain and men rarely give support or participate in it. Men have no knowledge about home gardening and look down upon it. Yet, there is a relationship between women’s specialized knowledge and skills in relation to plants and their contribution to subsistence (Howard, 2003). Actually, the vegetables, beans and fruits produced in the home gardens are important for meeting a household’s daily food needs. Recently, more small agricultural machines have been introduced (ploughing and harvesting machines). These machines can save energy and solve the labour shortage problem. Because the use of these machines requires certain skills, mostly men are using them. Men are still regarded as more skillful, even though women need those machines as well, because they are in charge of agricultural production when their husband migrates. Usually, men have more opportunities to benefit from new technologies, because these technologies are designed for male users, not for women. This may affect women’s status in a negative way. In sub-Saharan cultures, the shift to a more urbanized society often reduces women’s status because rural women may not be socially equal to their husbands, although their work on farms is recognized and valued (Boserup, 1970).
10.2.4 Livelihood strategies in relation to gender and life course Question 7: How are the different livelihood strategies influenced by gender and life course stage?
Younger cohorts prefer to migrate or engage in their own business and do not pay much attention to agriculture. They leave their land to their parents to manage, or rent it out to others. They do not charge the tenants and only ask for some products in return. Older cohorts stick to agriculture and animal husbandry; only some engage in circular migration. They rent land to cultivate, even though they get limited profits from their land use. They have to stay at home for agricultural production because they are not accepted by factories. Most of them also have to look after their children’s land. Some mention that they would like to work in the factory to earn more money if they were accepted there, but most prefer to work in the fields and feel it is less risky, considering their situation. They use agricultural products to feed their animals, while some earn cash selling animals. Some households from the older cohorts own small factories, small shops, transportation businesses, or work in trade, but this does not happen often. Households from the younger cohorts, however, increasingly try to engage in trading, running a shop in the municipality, or conducting a transportation business.
Many of the younger women and men have long-term migration experience and keep migrating after marriage. Younger husbands prefer to conduct non-agricultural activities. Even though they do not migrate, they prefer the transportation business and trading to agriculture. Agriculture is not regarded as their main livelihood activity. About half of the younger wives migrate. Those left behind work in agriculture, but they get help from their parents-in-laws. Few older women have migrated, and most work exclusively in agriculture and animal husbandry. Almost all migrants say that they will eventually return to their hometown. All the migrated (migrating) women just want to earn cash; they do not expect to live in urban areas in the future. Lou et al. (2004) also found that, for married women, migration is a temporary activity to earn money. A number of aged men still engage in circular migration, e.g. in construction and mining. They earn money from both agricultural and non-agricultural activities.
Local enterprises are good for the villagers to take care of the households’ agricultural production and to earn money at the same time. The local enterprises are very few and small. Only a few villagers work in a local enterprise. They are usually elderly men, or people coming from poorer villages. The villagers in the research area prefer to go to industrialized provinces to earn higher wages and use the money to employ people to work on their land in the busy season.
10.2.5 Impacts of changing household livelihood strategies on rural society Question 8: What are the impacts of the changing household livelihood strategies on rural society?
Migration causes a serious labour shortage in agricultural production. The free exchange of labour is decreasing, because many households do not have enough labour available. Meanwhile, money-oriented employment is increasing. The unity of rural society is decreasing, and it is increasingly difficult in the villages to organize community activities. Nobody wants to be the village leader because it takes a lot of time to do a leader’s tasks (Sun, 2007). At the same time, the mutual help of villagers, relatives, and friends plays an important role in the migration process. Some self-help groups have been organized, such as zahui for raising money, and there are some recreational women’s groups.
Currently, rural society is mostly composed of women, elderly people, and children. Women are left at home and make decisions in many fields, and more de facto female-headed households are emerging. However, women are not yet regarded as suitable community leaders. Women participate in many activities, even if they are not village leaders. They started to organize group tours to visit scenic spots for which formerly nobody would have had the money. They also began to engage in leisure activities, like singing and dancing. People who have extra money start a zahui group. Especially women take up this activity. Women play an important role in rural life, although it is not formally recognized. Outmigration of husbands gives wives the chance to assume more responsibilities, resulting in the acquisition of new skills or new areas of competence, which in turn enhances their visibility (Murphy, 2004). The men’s earnings have increased, however, which might make women’s status lower than it was in the past (IFAD, 1995).
Rural society has opened up and returning migrants bring new ideas from outside. Migrants are more confident in their daily life after their exposure to the outside world. For many households, agriculture no longer is the main income source and a greater choice of professions is emerging, such as that of businessman or trader. Cases of abandoned land are increasing.
Although the trend of increasing long-term migration is obvious, most villagers plan to come back after they have earned enough money or can no longer find a job. None of the female migrants wants to migrate permanently, so all will someday return for farming (Lou et al., 2004). However, by then, the quality of the land may have declined, due to mismanagement. Many couples now attach more importance to raising and educating their children, especially younger couples.
Although children now get a higher education, some children break off their education at middle school because they prefer to migrate to earn money. Since migrants have started to leave their children at home, their education sometimes falters because the grandparents who usually who take care of their daily needs have no time and energy to look after their studies.
Villagers now have better living conditions and more leisure time than they had in the past. They feel that life is better and build increasingly nicer houses. Compared with older couples, younger people have more time to relax, even to gamble. At the same time, grandparents, especially grandmothers, have come to carry the largest burden. Younger couples form independent households, but when both migrate, they leave their land, children and house for their parents to look after. They usually leave when the children are older than two or three.
Their parents still work hard in the field and have to look after their grandchildren
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as well. Elderly people are the busiest and most hard-working people in rural households. This applies especially to aged women.
The economic differences between farming households are not as big as they were in the past twenty years, because diversified livelihood strategies give households more opportunities to earn money in different ways. At the same time, the government provides several subsidies to poor households. Occupational stratification is increasing and new occupations emerge, such as that of the business person.
10.3 Implications for agricultural extension policies The multitude of changes that have occurred within households after the implementation of the HRS in terms of the aforementioned aspects imply that current agricultural extension policies should be adapted to the local context in order to be accepted by the local villagers. The following section will discuss these issues and will thus provide an answer to the two research questions about agricultural technology extension.
10.3.1 Agricultural extension and farming households’ perspective Question 9: What are the current agricultural extension policies and delivery mechanisms, and how appropriate are these, as seen from a household perspective?
The government still delivers agricultural technologies in a top-down way, as they used to do in the collective era. The municipal agricultural extension station has no autonomy and has to follow the county’s arrangements. The top-down approach does not give villagers any voice in the extension process and does not match their needs. Most technologies do not last long, even after intensive extension activities.
Farming households have poor access to information about agricultural technology, even though the demand for it is large. The experiences gained from migration do not bring them information on agricultural technologies because most migrants are working in non-agricultural activities. Government technology services are very limited and cannot supply enough help to meet local needs.
Villagers have no intention to depend on the government’s technological support.
Mutual learning, autodidactic learning, and other informal ways of learning are common. Most villagers agree that “seeing is believing”.