Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 761–775 | Cite as

Female access to fertile land and other inputs in Zambia: why women get lower yields

  • William J. BurkeEmail author
  • Serena Li
  • Dingiswayo Banda


Throughout the developing world, it is a well-documented fact that women farmers tend to get lower yields than their male counterparts. Typically this is attributed to disproportionate access to high-quality inputs and labor, with some even arguing there could be a skills-gap stemming from unbalanced access to training and education. This article examines the gender-based yield gap in the context of Zambian maize producers. In addition to the usual drivers, we argue that Zambia’s patriarchal and multi-tiered land distribution system could disfavor women with respect to accessing quality soils. We are uniquely able to control for soil characteristics using farm data from a sample of 1573 fields with accompanying soil analysis. We find an expected difference in yields, but no evidence of a gap in unobserved characteristics, like skill, after controlling for access to inputs, especially quality soil, suggesting women are indeed disproportionately disadvantaged. We discuss how our findings could be used to develop self-targeting policy interventions that could empower women and would be consistent with the government’s stated equity goals.


Gender yield gap Productivity Soil quality Sub-Saharan Africa Zambia 



Central Statistical Office (Zambia)




Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute




Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock


Ordinary least squares


Rural Agricultural Livelihood Survey


Soil organic matter


United States Department of Agriculture


Zambia National Farmers Union



Our foremost gratitude is to the participants in the 2012 Rural Agricultural Livelihoods Survey and the key informants at the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the Ministry of Gender and Child Development, and focus group participants during the spring of 2015. We thank IAPRI for collecting and sharing the data used for this study. We thank Roz Naylor, Danielle Nierenberg, Wally Falcon, Agnes Quisumbing, two anonymous reviewers, the editor and participants of a special session of the 2016 Agricultural and Applied Economics Association annual meeting for useful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10460_2018_9872_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Online Appendix 1 (DOCX 28 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • William J. Burke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Serena Li
    • 2
  • Dingiswayo Banda
    • 3
  1. 1.Agricultural and Food Policy ConsultingBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford UniversityRichmondUSA
  3. 3.Ministry of Agriculture and LivestockMulungushi HouseLusakaZambia

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