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The role and status of women in post-harvest food conservation

Brita Brandtzaeg
Consultant to Skadalsveien le, Oslo, Norway

Research concerned with food and nutrition problems has largely ignored women as economic and social actors, with topics of research focusing mainly on requirements, consumption, and the nutritional vulnerability of women and children. Among the recommendations are programmes to "educate" women in "good nutrition," taking their ignorance for granted and leaving women's possible skills and knowledge unrecognized.

Systematic non-recognition of women has been dominant in science and research. The social sciences, by treating females and their activities as peripheral to the mainstream of social and cultural systems, have failed to transmit a realistic picture of the contribution of women to economic and social processes. This also applies to the role of women within food systems, although the economic importance of women as producers of food has been documented and verbally recognized in a number of international recommendations, e.g., from the United Nations. Research, planning, and implementation of programmes and projects that focus on women and aim at their benefit, in practice, obtain lowest priority.

This is even more true for food-chain activities performed subsequent to actual production. Harvested crops need to be transformed into a variety of storable products prior to actual preparation and consumption. Methods and technologies traditionally used to convert food crops into edible food have, however, remained unnoticed in planning and research aimed at increasing food availability and nutritional levels. Rather, research and planning have emphasized modern food processing and the application of sophisticated technology. One reason is undoubtedly that traditional technologies are not backed up by dominant economic interests in research. Another is the general male bias in research, leaving local food-processing technologies used by women for their post-harvest conservation tasks a neglected area of interest for research and action.


The equipment and techniques used for the transformation of raw food into edible and digestible food products are of crucial importance in providing adequate food and satiating nutritional requirements of members of a society. The organization of this work and the knowledge associated with the use of such implements are conceived of as food technology.

The concept of technology should not be restricted to the use of a certain machinery, but incorporate both equipment and management; the organization required for implements to be put into efficient use. [1]

Available evidence, of which some is presented below, has shown that in most countries women are mainly responsible for local food processing and are the main users of related technologies. This places women in a crucial position within local food systems-i.e., the social organization of foodrelated activities-and vis-à-vis any strategy or effort to ensure that basic needs for food are satisfied. Consequently it becomes essential not only to have information on the specific food-processing methods and techniques used but also to understand the social norms and economic factors that influence women's opportunities to exploit and manage these techniques efficiently.

The development of methods and technologies for the processing of foods can probably be traced back to several factors: the necessity of reducing bulk and increasing palatability, of giving variety to foods in daily use, and of preventing deterioration during storage and transport. In addition, processed foods can be saved in times of plenty for use in times of shortage.

The failure of food-technology research with a focus on women must be considered a serious shortcoming. The skills and knowledge represented by women will remain invisible and unrecorded unless specific efforts are taken to identify and evaluate traditional food conservation methods. There is a need, therefore, to record critical food processing techniques passed on from mothers to daughters. Although there are great variations in raw materials, equipment, and procedures, there seem to be certain fundamental processing principles used by women all over the world. Many of these relate to processing of staple foods and have inherent nutritional advantages.

For the purpose of illustration, basic principles of some traditional methods are presented below. Although little documented information exists as to the current use of these methods, there is evidence to assume that they have been widely used and independently developed by women in different parts of the world.

- Parboiling of cereals has developed as a method to preserve certain nutrients that otherwise are lost in the pounding or milling process. It is assumed that one-sixth of the total rice in the world is parboiled. The process includes soaking of the grain, followed by steaming and careful drying. During soaking, nutrients from the germ are absorbed with the water into the inner part of the grain and the germ becomes more firmly attached during the drying process. As a result, the grain loses less of its nutrients when it is milled. In addition, the heat used in drying hardens the outer coat and results in the grain being more resisitant to insect invasion and more suitable for storage.
- Fermentation is a common method of preservation in warm and humid climates where food drying is not practical. In fermented foods, micro-organisms play an important role in modifying the original material to improve nutritional value and digestibility; to give a better fiavour, appearance, and consistency; to destroy or reduce toxins; and to prolong keeping quality. Cereals, beans, starchy roots, fruits and vegetables, fish, and milk are common raw materials for fermented products in Asia and Africa.
- Germination or sprouting of moistened cereal or legume grains results in increased levels of vitamins and other important nutrients. It also improves digestibility, taste, and flavour. Sprouted grains may be eaten raw or cooked, cooking time being significantly reduced. They may also be dried and milled into flour. Porridge made from such flour has been used as food for infants and small children and in cases of diarrhoea and other illnesses.

Further investigation may reveal other examples of methods used to prepare supplementary and weaning foods.

Technological and/or nutritional studies of these methods are scanty indeed. The few that are known, however, clearly emphasize these processes to be as "complex" and "scientific" as any "modern" or "advanced" food processing technology. A food technologist with experience from third world countries writes:

I can refer to many examples of such apparently simple methods being nutritionally, scientifically, technologically far more advanced than modern methods associated with the term "advanced." I refer in particular to the Indonesian tempe which is a fermented product from soya. [2]

Because of lack of empirical data on specific processing techniques, in depth studies of such techniques are needed in order to evaluate their economic and nutritional significance. This may be particularly important for methods or techniques related to processing of staple crops that form the basis of local diets. However, in order to understand and evaluate the technology involved, data on input and organization of labour for each task are equally important.

Furthermore, local food systems, including technologies in use, are affected by technological transition and by changes in the economic politics of a society. It is now widely recognized that technological change affects men and women differently, and that women are particularly vulnerable to modern technological developments (3).

The sex-based division of labour distributes certain tasks and differential power to men and women. Because of the crucial position of women within local food systems, studies aimed at revealing the extent to which economic technological change affect local food-processing practices seem of great relevance. For instance, systematic knowledge of the compatibility of given food systems with the satisfaction of basic needs of children is virtually non-existent. Such knowledge would be of major interest, considering the demand both usually make on female labour.

In the following sections, empirical data on local food systems and the sex based division of labour are presented. In particular, data on tasks allocated to women and the nutritional and technological significance of relevant methods are discussed. Further, an attempt is made to discuss possible impacts of economic and social change on women's role and status in post-harvest food conservation. Indications that such impacts are disruptive, or at least not for the benefit of women and their dependents, should be regarded as a matter of great importance for interdiscipli nary efforts in research and action.


For the purpose of understanding local food systems, information regarding division of labour and allocation of tasks within the household is of great relevance. Based on information about what people do and who does it, further investigation will be needed in order to know how a specific task is carried out and why it is performed in that particular way.

The studies presented below provide information regarding allocation of food-related tasks to males and females. They further give rough estimates of input of labour by men and women on these tasks. The data are obtained by time allocation studies. Some authors use the recall method, by paying regular visits to a sample of households for informal interviews concerning the time schedule of the previous day. Others have tried to record daily activities of household members by participant observation and record-keeping minute by minute.

Food Processing

One early study of a local food system and diet is that of Audrey Richard (4) from the Bemba tribe in Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe): "Briefly speaking, there is no specialization of labour in this area except on a basis of sex." The only activities for which men were absolutely essential were tree-cutting, fencing, house-building, hunting, and fishing. Women piled branches, sowed, harvested, hoed, fished, and collected bush-foods as well as cooked, brewed, fetched, water, mudded the floors, collected firewood, and made salt. While men's work was more limited to seasons, allowing them to have a month or two more or less free, women's work was continuous throughout the seasons. Richard kept work diaries for husband and wife in selected households but recorded only the main activity of the day.

Forty years after Richard's study, the never-ending character of women's work is still reality. Time budgets collected in a village in Sri Lanka (5) show:

A woman's duty in connection with housekeeping and childcare is continuous, and those who have paid work in addition just have to manage as best they can. A woman is always busy and she in fact gets up before anyone else in the household and often retires later. Food preparation and cooking is the most timeconsuming of all activities, taking about 3 1/2 hours a day.

The working day of men usually starts around 8 a.m. and finishes around 5 or 6 p.m., with a lunch break of 1 - 2 hours:

When men don't work, eat, sleep or wash themselves, they are usually free to chat with family or friends, play cards, read or visit the toddy tavern. A man's time is mostly his own when he is not in paid work. The men's daily doings change little with age and with the number of children they may have. [5]

In Java, Indonesia, White (6) recorded the average annual input of work by age, sex, and type of activity. Out of directly productive work, which he defines as work that brings some income in cash or kind, the input of women and girls amounts to 50 per cent (trading and agricultural labour dominating). For men and boys, animal care and non-agricultural wage labour are the main activities. Among the activities related to household maintenance, women and girls are responsible for 71 per cent of the work (food preparation, drying, pounding/grinding, cleaning, cooking, and child care taking the largest share of their time). When all groups of activities are added, the input of labour by women and girls is greater than that of the males.

A time budget survey from a Tanzanian village 17) gives further support to the overall findings that the work-load of rural women by far exceeds that of men. Out of the total number of hours spent in agriculture by eleven husband and wife units during two successive agricultural cycles, women on average accounted for 85 per cent.

There are no marked differences in the agricultural time schedules of married and single women, indicating that thee lack of a male counterpart companion does not make much of a difference from the point of view of women's work-gads.

Time budgets for non-agricultural tasks in the same Tanzanian village show that women alone were responsible for collecting firewood and fetching water, milling and grinding, preparing food, cleaning, and milking. On average, women devoted 8.7 hours per day to non-agricultural tasks (excluding child care and other tasks difficult to quantify), of which nearly half was taken up by food processing and preparation.

In a forthcoming paper,* Skijønsberg shows that women, on average, spend 4- hours per day on food-processing and preparation, compared to men who spend half an hour per day on such activities. On average, 1-1/2 hours are spent on pounding and shelling, and cooking takes another 13 1/2- hours daily. Men's main contribution to food processing and preparation is by collection of firewood, although the time used for this task is half of what women spend.

A study of food-related activities in an Indian village (Brandtzaeg, in preparation) shows that both men and women take part in harvesting operations like cutting, reaping, and threshing. However, while men use bullocks and a gundu (a heavy stone roller), women use a wooden stick for threshing. The subsequent separation and cleaning of grains is left to women, as is the transporting of crops as headloads for storage in the house. Men will transport larger amounts by bullock cart. For these operations altogether, the input of time by women was twice that of men, i.e., winnowing and cleaning of grains required twice as much time as the actual threshing of the same amount. Both men and women are in charge of storage, for most crops women select the seeds to be stored for the next season.

The study, from Kefa village in the Intensive Development Zone, Eastern Province, Zambia, in 1977-1978, is based on detailed recording of time allocation where women and men above the age of 18 have been observed, on average, 13 and 1 2/ hours per day over a period of a year.

TABLE 1. Division of Labour on Food-Related Tasks by Sex and Age Group


Share of Work*
Performed by Each Group

Men Boys Women Girls
Transportation and maintenance 1 30 49 20
(transportation of water, fuel, and food crops;  
carrying food to workers in the field; cleaning
and repairing utensils, house, and clothes)
Food production (agriculture and milk for sale 38 16 22 24
or own consumption)  
Food processing (sunburning, cleaning, peeling, winnowing, milling, grinding, and food preparation) - - 83 17

* Measured as a percentage of the total time devoted to the activity by members of the household. That is, for example, men put in 1 per cent of the total hours spent on transportation and maintenance tasks; boys put in 30 per cent; etc.

Time budgets were collected from ten households by recording daily activities every six weeks during the main agricultural season (June to December). Table 1 illustrates how work related to provisioning of food is divided between men, women, and children.

While men perform a good share of the farm work, the contribution by women and children is equally significant. This is even more so for transport and maintenance, and all food processing is done by women and their daughters. An average of 4 hours per woman per day is devoted to food processing and preparation.

These studies of male and female labour input show that women generally work longer hours than men and that food processing taxes women's resources more than any other activity. Women are responsible for post-harvest food conservation, and in order to keep up with the heavy load of work, the labour of their children is equally needed.

Some tasks are performed daily, others are seasonal, i.e., those related to harvesting, threshing, and storage. Among the activities to be carried out every single day of the week and all through the year, food preparation and cooking alone take several hours per day. A few accounts of such activities are presented to give an impression of the time and labour involved in the daily preparation of staple diets.

Food Preparation

Sandra Wallman (8) describes the daily preparation of food in Lesotho:

The staple village diet is maize. It is eaten in kernels on or off the cob or in the form of porridge, fresh or soured, thick or thin.... Most foods must be ground before they are cooked. Two days' supply takes nearly half a day to grind unless one can get it to and from the mill two miles away and has the cash to pay for machine milling. Porridge is then cooked for more than an hour and bread is steamed for an hour and a half. The "lizu" fire must be kept up and the food watched throughout.... Beer takes several days to ferment. When sorghum is plentiful, the housewife will brew as much as her clay pots will allow.... Porridge is eaten with cooked pulped vegetables, and an afternoon may pass in gathering enough of vegetables for an evening meal.... The problem of water is always time-consuming.... At any time there are about six springs operating in and around the village. New springs are dug by women, and current springs are tidily and carefully kept. Great care is taken to keep the water clean.

The preparation of staple foods by Valenge women of Portuguese East Africa was recorded by E. Dora Earthy as early as 1933 (9). These women grow a number of maniac varieties that are processed in various ways according to their cooking and nutritional qualities. Some of them may be split after scraping and spread out in the fields for a week or so. The dry pieces are pounded in a mortar, cooked into a porridge-bread, and eaten with a dish of green vegetables and ground-nuts.

Maize processing is even more laborious:

a. The sheaths enfolding the ears of maize are stripped off.
b. The ears are pounded in a mortar in order to separate the grain.
c. The grains are winnowed to separate the husk.
d. The separated grains are pounded in a mortar, a little water being added.
e. The pounded grain is winnowed to separate the chaff. The wooden mortar is in front of the win hower, and the conical field basket is placed on top of it to form a receptacle into which the chaff may fall, the floury part remaining in the winnowing tray. With a very dexterous movement, the worker winnows so that the chaff collects on top of the tray and is caught in the basket below.
f. The grain is pounded again in another smaller mortar
g. After pounding, the grain is sifted or winnowed again.
h. After winnowing, the grain may be soaked in water.
i. The mass is taken out of the water after being steeped for some hours.
j. The mass is pounded again, and the resultant flour is spread out to dry.

Then comes the actual cooking of the daily meal:

The hard little bits which remain after the steeped grains are pounded and winnowed, are mixed with water in a clay bowl and mashed with a small pestle until the mixture assumes a creamy colour and consistency. It is then added to boiling water with large wooden spoons and some of the flour is stirred in. The mixture is cooked very quickly over a big fire, being stirred when necessary. [9]

Sorghum is used to make a kind of malt for brewing beer is also used for making porridge bread:

To make the bread the heads of the sorghum are spread out to dry in the sun. They are afterwards put in a winnowing tray and beaten with a stick in order that the grains may be more easily separated. When separated, the grains are pounded and winnowed many times to free them from the chaff. Some leaves of sorghum are then placed in a wooden bowl, and the pounded mass is mixed with water in the bowl with the hands. It is patted into cakes, wrapped up in the leaves and cooked in boiling water in a pot over a big fire. The water must be boiling, or porridge instead of bread will result. The cakes must be boiled for at least an hour. When properly cooked they are taken out and put in an old torn field basket. The loaves will keep good for four days. If they become too dry they can be pounded again, and made up again into cakes. [ 9]

The preparation of millet staple by the Bemba tribe is described by Richard (4): The Bemba diet is composed very largely of one cereal food, the finger millet. The bulk of each meal consists of a porridge made of this flour and the subsidiary foods, vegetables or meat, are eaten with it in small quantities only (about ·/ pound to 5 pounds of flour).

A thick porridge (ubwali) is made from coarseground flour poured into boiling water, left for a while and then stirred until the mixture is stiff. It is then ekneaded and patted with a strong wooden blade and served in warm lumps that are round in shape. The hot water and meal are mixed in proportions of 3 to 2 to make "ubwali," and this produces a solid mass of !the consistency of plasticine and quite unlike what we know as porridge. Ubwali is eaten in hunks torn off in the hand, rolled into balls, dipped in relish and swallowed whole. [3]

This procedure, used by Bemba women, seems strikingly similar to the one applied for preparation of the millet staple called rags mudde in the Indian case study. The tools used, the proportions of water and meal, and the quantity of relish to go with the staple appear to be exactly the same, as does the appearance and method of eating the prepared food. Only further studies from different regions will reveal whether this similarity is coincidental or whether it illustrates a procedure developed by women in different environments and based on independent experiences as the optimal method of using a given food resource.

The accounts presented above of food processing and foods preparation methods show the laborious processes involved in making the best possible use of available food resources. Experience in composing a nutritionally well balanced meal is likewise demonstrated in the way women compose the diet from balanced proportions of starchy staples (cereals or roots) and available sources of protein (legumes, nuts, vegetables, meat, or fish).


Women's food-related tasks and their control over resources are influenced by changes induced by economic and technological modernization. The implications for women of such changes have not, until very recently, been considered an area of interest for research. In particular, no information exists as to how such external changes affect the practice of local food-processing methods and technologies in use in the domestic sphere. Regarding women's work as wage labourers in post-harvest food conservation, recent studies do indicate how some of these occupations will be, or already are, affected by economic and technologiocal change. A few of these studies are briefly presented below.

A survey of farm tasks performed by female workers in three different regions of Punjab, India (10), shows that all harvest operations like cutting, reaping, threshing, winnowing, and transportation involve women. Following the green revolution in this area, a number of labour-saving mechanical innovations have appeared, and, according to the authors, the new technology will reduce the demand for human labour to no more than three per cent of the traditional level and will greatly affect female labour in Haryana.

As mechanical threshers become common, substantial displacement of the casual women workers will take place. The great need for extra hands in wheat reaping makes this activity the one most sensitive to changes in technology. It is estimated that by 1983-1984, mechanical reaping will reduce farm labour by 33 per cent, mostly male and female casual workers. Corn shelling and cane crushing are other farm activities being mechanized, which will significantly reduce female labour. However, the authors are not worried by this "development":

With progressive release of women from farm work, they will devote more time to their homes, children and education, thus setting in motion a wide process of social change in the rural areas. [10]

The authors do not raise the question of how this change is perceived by women themselves. Neither do they discuss possible consequences for women and their dependents when these occupations and badly needed sources of income are no longer available to them. What may be learned from this survey is the complete ignorance of women's crucial position in providing the basic needs of their families when development is being planned and technological transitions implemented.

Recent publications from Indonesia have documented the ways in which large farmers and landlords have begun to limit the number of harvesters in their fields or to reduce wages given to them. Traditionally, a large number of women harvested the rice with the small-bladed anion; (a local knife) and were paid with a share of what they harvested. These women are now replaced by a small number of male harvesters using sickles and paid a cash wage.

It is not only new harvesting methods, but even more the milling of rice that affects female labour:

The dramatic recent rise in the use of small machine rice-hullers owned by wealthy villagers to replace hand pounding in the processing of the rice harvest, has resulted in the loss of another relatively lucrative labour opportunity for women. One result of this change in Kali Loro was a dramatic rise in the number of women traders operating with a tiny capital, a consequent further saturation of the market system and presumably further diminution of their profits. [61

The Indonesian Government does have public work programmes to provide income for the country's poorest citizens. But where 125 million woman-days of wage labour were lost in Java, the public work programmer provided 43.5 million man-days of employment. Recent reports from Java note that, for the first time, large numbers of women are now vying for the remaining jobs of hand pounding of rice (11). The impact of rice hullers has been to replace a strenuous but paid job with unemployment, resulting in an increase in rural poverty.

The establishment of modern food industries interferes with women's earlier monopoly in the market for processed foods and has taken many women out of business. Women of Upper Volta produced a report outlining their perspective on development (12):

Traditionally women are in control of processing and manufacturing many products which they can use in their homes. The surplus they trade or sell. As modern products are introduced, the market for homemade items diminishes. In many cases industrialization changes the item from women's domain to that of men's.

Food industries are not only national undertakings; large multinational companies find their way into third-world countries. Because rapid transition to new, unknown, and often expensive products takes place in the context of rural poverty, the consequences for health and nutrition can indeed be serious.

As already emphasized, the economic and sexual politics of a society to a large extent determine the actual functions of women in food systems and their opportunities to fulfil their many responsibilities. The penetration of capital invariably accentuates the sex-based division of labour and the differential control of resources in the direction of enhancing male dominance and the subordination of women. Possible consequences of this process, not only for women but also for child nutrition, are indicated in a recent study from Tanzania by Jakobsen (13).

Monetarization is one of the social changes that in many villages has worked to divert economic power away from the mothers and concentrating it in the hands of the purse holder. In 89% of the families the spending of money is reserved for husbands. The mothers who have a say in money matters are frequently unmarried or widowed. They belong to an unprivileged economic group. Still they have fewer underweight children than the average.

However, the conclusion should not be that it is better to be economically unprivileged, but rather that economic privileges in this society tend to be men's privilege.

In the concluding remarks of this study it is emphasized that the most significant determinant of malnourishment in families seems to be found in the economic sector. Peasants cultivating food crops have fewer malnourished children. A recurrent feature of the findings is the negative relationship between economic growth in monetary terms and children's nutritional level: "Apparently there is something in the way monetarization evolves which results in resources being drained away from the mothers" (13).

Almost universally, new technologies for activities within the food chain are introduced to men. Governments and planners assign technology a high priority, but more often than not, the socio-economic costs are not included in the final counting. As other studies have revealed, the change may engender problems as large or larger than the original problems the technology was meant to solve.

The economic interests behind any introduction of capital intensive and labour-saving technology are concerned with keeping the cost of labour at a minimum, to allow for rapid accumulation of capital for reinvestment. In this process, the assumed incompatibilitiy between women and modern technology has served to explain the redundancy of women. Where sophisticated technology is not used, women are still welcome as cheap, reserve labour, often left with unskilled work that may also be the most arduous.

Women's traditional contribution to meeting family food needs is being undermined, and their access to resources has been reduced, on the assumption that men would become the bread-winners and marriage a guarantee of support for women and children. However, data presented or referred to in this paper clearly show women's significant contribution to the support of households, and reveal that women are less likely than men to siphon off a part of the income towards non-essentials and prestige-enhancing goods. In many third-world countries, as many as 30 to 40 per cent of households have women as the sole bread-winners.


The above studies of male and female labour input to satisfy the need for food clearly show that women generally work longer hours than men and that food processing and
preparation tax women's resources more than any other activity. In their productive work, women labour under several disadvantages. They have less access to modern technology than men, a factor that makes their labour less efficient. Furthermore, the classical economic definitions of "work" or "economic activity" exclude much of what women do.

The male bias in science and research has contributed to the assumption that technology and technological development is a male achievement. The fact that women may have invented and developed important technologies, particularly those related to the food system, has not been considered until very recently: There is a consistent tendency to underestimate the female as a tool maker, whether in archeological or ethnographic investigations. Since she was a tool user from the start, this is rather absurd. [ 14]

It is urgent to recognize women as the tool-makers and tool-users they have always been and to provide training opportunities and encouragement that will enable them to redesign their own tools-not necessarily only for food processing.

Modernization of third-world economies has made it necessary for women to take up wage labour in order to support their families. Where such labour is available, it means heavier taxation of women's energy and labour and less time available for individual food processing and preparation at home. Income earned from wage labour often has to be spent on a limited range of foods processed by expensive technology, often giving the diet a lower nutritional value. This development may actually contribute to increased malnutrition and deterioration in health.

Except in the case of bottle-feeding, there are few data on the extent to which women adopt new and "convenient" products promoted by the modern food industry. But such products can easily be assumed to be the only option for many women to make up for the reduced time available for traditional food practices at home. Neither do we have information concerning current practices in traditional food-processing methods. We can only assume that such practices are being seriously threatened by technological and social change rapidly taking place in third-world countries. Changes in food production patterns, e.g., through the introduction of cash crop schemes, may prevent many people from maintaining established traditional and well-balanced diets. Further, the penetration of foreign food industries or the establishment of national ones influences food consumption patterns and increases the demand for sophisticated, more costly, and often less nutritious foods.

However, the strategy should not be for women to continue to spend long hours on individual food processing. Nor should it be to exclude women from wage work. Efforts should be made to encourage modifications and development of more appropriate technologies based on the best in traditional food processing. The aim should be to provide nutritionally sound convenience foods in local markets at a price the bread winner can afford and to provide income-earning opportunities for both men and women in the villages.

The point is not an indiscriminate preservation of traditional methods and technologies. Many of them need to be modified or changed. Methods of raising the productivity of household work must be explored, even though it has been unmonetized and unmarketed work, not providing the worker with a profit to be invested in better tools and timesaving equipment.

Today, almost everywhere, women's home-related production and processing of food for home use is carried out individually. Women spend long hours and much effort on repetitive operations. Each woman does the same job inside her own house for her own family. An important point to be considered, therefore, is how to improve on and develop local food-processing technologies in a way that is appropriate for the community in question and that will serve many households at a time. It may be assumed that this is the only way by which labour saving technologies can be economically feasible to most women. Such modified local food technologies could be related to organized water supply, to more economic utilization of energy, to drying of food crops, to saving cooking time (i.e., by common supply of solar-heated water or by common pre-processing of "convenience" foods), to crop cleaning and sieving operations, or to any other activity common to the households. By sharing duties and responsibilities, women's resources could gradually become better utilized, for their own benefit and for that of their dependents and the community as a whole.

Implementation of such technologies will necessarily meet with social and other constraints. The majority of third world women have to struggle with material shortages and lack of awareness that any change is possible. Resistance from women is to be expected. However, historical evidence from societies where patriarchy and male dominance was less accentuated has shown a number of forms of co-operation among women. Many forms of social organization of
labour are possible when men and women are regarded as autonomous economic units (15; 16).

Modifications and improvements of food-processing technologies on a large scale would serve to safeguard the continued practice of nutritionally desirable techniques. Also, mobilization of technologies still in the hands of women may represent a force towards self-reliance in food.

Action-oriented research with emphasis on the existing potential of local food conservation technologies will have to be an interdisciplinary enterprise, involving nutritionists, food technologists, social scientists, and economists. Women are, however, not easily reached by research, particularly since most researchers are men. The increased recruitment of female professionals into research and planning is therefore of greatest importance.


1. "Science and Technology for Development: Swedish National Report for the UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development" (1979).

2. J. Raa, "Tempe," Tidsskrift for kjemi (Norway, 1979).

3. B. Brandtzaeg, "Women, Food, and Technology," Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, 14:47 (1979).

4. A Richard, Land, Labour and Diet in Northern Rhodesia (Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1939).

5. E. Skjønsberg, "Caste and Sex: A Village Study from Sri Lanka" fin press).

6. B. White, "Population, Involution and Employment in Rural Java," Development and Change, 7:267 (1976).

7. E. Tobisson, "Women, Work, Food and Nutrition in Nyamwigura Village, Mara Region, Tanzania," report to the Tanzania Food Nutrition Centre (1980).

8. S. Waliman, Take Out Hunger (Athlone Press, Division of Humanities Press, Atlantic Heights, N.J., USA, 1969).

9. E.D. Earthy, Valenge Women (Frank Cass and Co., London, 1933).

10. M.H. Billings and A. Singh, "Mechanization and the Wheat Revolution: Effect on Female Labour in Punjab," Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, 5:52 (1970).

11. Tinker, "New Technologies for Food Chain Activities: The Imperative of Equity for Women" (Office of Women in Development, US Agency for International Development,
Washington, D.C., USA, 1979)

12. Social and Economic Development in Upper Volta: Woman's Perspective (Agency for International Development, Regional Economic Development Service Office, West Africa, 1978).

13. O. Jakobsen, "Economic and Geographical Factors Influencing Child Malnutrition in the Southern Highlands, Tanzania," Geo Journal, 2:4 (1978).

14. E. Boulding, The Underside of History (Westview Press, Boulder, Colo., USA, 1976).

15. M.K. Martin and B. Voorhies, Female of the Species (Columbia University Press, New York, 1975).

16. D.M. Schneider and K. Gough, Matrilineal Kinships (University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., USA, 1961).

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