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The Sustainable Choice: How Gendered Difference in the Importance of Ecological Benefits Affect Production Decisions of Smallholder Cacao Producing Households in Ecuador


  • Blare, Trent
  • Useche, Pilar
  • Grogan, Kelly A.


Ecuadorian women have traditionally been sidelined from full participation in the economy and have lacked equal political rights. Yet, Ecuador has made advances in gender equality in recent years. Women now have greater access to educational and career opportunities, equality in inheritance and martial property rights, and gained positions of authority in Ecuadorian society. However, these advances do not necessarily mean that Ecuadorian women have gained equity with men, especially in rural areas. Even though women legally have been granted greater equality in Ecuadorian society (Correia and van Ironkhorst 2000), many women, especially in rural areas and the coastal region of the country, have not equally participated in these advances. Many of these women have been excluded from utilizing these new rights, participating in economic activities, and being allowed to make important household and farm decisions (ECLAC 2011; Twyman 2012). Our research examines how the changing cultural norms and legal status in Ecuador impact women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector and in rural communities. We study women’s ability to influence household and production decisions. In particular, we examine the common view in the gender literature that sees women as the appropriate target group to mobilize for sustainable production and conservation (Plumwood 1992, Jackson 1993, Agrawal 2010). The cacao sector provides a particularly relevant case because of its economic and ecological importance to Ecuador and the region. This industry employs 12% of Ecuador’s economically active population (CORPEI 2009). In fact, cacao production is often the only source of cash income for many rural Ecuadorian households and traditionally the domain of men, who have usually managed household income and determined the economic activities of the household (ECLAC 2011). Thus, women’s involvement in cacao production is an important indicator of women’s status in a large share of rural Ecuador. The traditional cacao agroforests provide many ecological services such as habitat for many endangered plants and animals. However, they are not as profitable as the monoculture systems. So, smallholder households face a difficult choice between earning larger profits and protecting the ecosystem. Because of these economic and ecological concerns, promotion of cacao agroforests has been the focus of development efforts by the Ecuadorian government, nongovernmental organizations, and international donor agencies (Suarez 2013). Many of these institutions also have the additional goal of empowering women. Past research on gender relations in rural Ecuador only examined the differences in agricultural activities and asset ownership between women and men. There has been little research that examines women’s ability to influence household and production decisions. Due to the laws that protect female property rights, Ecuadorian women own 52% of all assets. However, women in the cacao growing region of coastal Ecuador are less likely to own important agricultural assets such as land than their counterparts in the Andean region, an area culturally distinct from the rest of Ecuador. Coastal women have ownership rights to 49% of agricultural land while women in the Andean had rights to 73% of the agricultural land (Deere and Diaz 2011). Although women may legally own the land, women are generally seen as helpers on cacao farms and are almost entirely excluded from marketing of the product (Ponton Cevallos 2005). Our study builds on this research to better understand women’s influence in the cacao sector and in rural households. We enhance the conjugal contract model developed by Carter and Katz (1997) to include a value for the nonmarket ecological and social benefits in the joint utility function. Through our innovative conceptualization of the model, a household may adopt the production method that does not maximize profits, cacao agroforests, if the utility from more nonmarket benefits are greater than the lost utility from larger profits. Male and female members of the household may differ in the value they place on these nonmarket benefits. Thus, they may have different preferences about whether the household adopts agroforestry or monoculture production systems. Women’s ability to influence production decisions could change the outcome of whether a household adopts production methods that are more sustainable. To determine the value that men and women place on these nonmarket benefits and the ability of women to influence household production decisions, we conducted 320 household interviews throughout coastal Ecuador from February through July, 2013. The household surveys examine not only women’s roles on cacao farms but also who makes production and management decisions on the farms. In addition, we implemented a choice experiment separately with the principle male and female member of the household. The choice experiment consisted of the household member choosing between pictures of two parcels to determine how much more profit he or she would need to receive in order to prefer the monoculture system over the agroforestry system. One picture had characteristics similar to a cacao agroforest and the other similar to a cacao monoculture field. The monoculture parcel was more profitable, but the cacao agroforests included nonmarket benefits. These nonmarket benefits included access to subsistence crops, enhanced soil quality, and a greater diversity of native plants and animals. Each respondent was presented with six choices, where the profits and characteristics of the agroforest differed randomly. By employing a multinomal Logit regression, we were able to estimate the value that men and women place on each of the attributes of the cacao agroforests (Birol et al. 2006) We found distinct differences between men and women in their land use preferences. During the focus group meetings, we discussed the benefits they received from agroforestry production systems. Women were more likely to prefer agroforestry production methods than men were. They were more concerned about food production such as raising plantains, oranges and other fruits than they were about profits. They also were more likely to prefer this production system because of the environmental benefits it provides and the ability to have diversified income sources. Although some men did prefer the agroforestry systems for many of the same reasons as the women did, especially since it provides a method to diversify production and price risk, the men were much more likely to prefer the monoculture system. The opportunity to obtain bigger yields and larger profits was more important to the male participants than the other environmental and social benefits provided by the agroforestry system. Preliminary results show that, despite heterogeneity in preferences across genders, men dominate household spending and production decisions even on the land that is owned by the women or jointly owned by men and women. Men manage the income in 36% of the households, women in 18% and both men and women in 46% of the households. Thus, women have a say in household spending decisions in only 64% of the households interviewed. Women have ownership rights in 44% of the land parcels as 56% of parcels are owned by men, 17% by women and 27% owned jointly. Yet, some women are excluded from managing the parcels they own. Seventy percent of the parcels are managed by men, 8% are managed by women, and 22% are managed by both genders. Women only participate in 30% of land use decisions. Only 17% of participants in agricultural training programs are women. Female empowerment in rural Ecuador, would likely encourage the adoption or continuation of cacao agroforests. Gender equity and female empowerment not only are important moral issue but also have large economic, social, and environmental impacts. Efforts to enhance gender equity in the Ecuadorian cacao sector would likely provide the additional benefits of encouraging the adoption and protection of sustainable production systems. References Agrawal, B. 2010. Gender and Green Governance: The Political Economy of Women's Presence Within and Beyond Community Forestry. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Birol, E, K. Karousakis, and P. Koundouri. 2006. Using a Choice Experiment to Account for Preference Heterogeneity in Wetland Attributes: The Case of Cheimaditida Wetland in Greece. Ecological Economics 60: 145-156. Carter, M.R. and E. Katz. 1997. Separate Spheres and the Conjugal Contract: Understanding Gender-Biased Development. Intrahousehold Resource Allocation in Developing Countries: Methods, Models, and Policy. L. Haddad, J. Hoddinott, and H. Aderman eds. 95-111. Baltimore: John Hopkins. Coporación de Promoción de Exportaciones e Inversiones (CORPEI). 2009. Cacao. Ecuador Calidad de Origen. Quito, Ecuador Correia, M. and B. van Ironkhorst. 2000. Ecuador Gender Review. The World Bank. Washington D. C. Deere, C. D. and J. Contreras Diaz. 2011. Acumulación de Activos: Una Apuesta por la Equidad. Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLASCO): Quito, Ecuador. ECLAC (UN Economic Commission for Latin America & the Caribbean). 2010. What Kind of State? What Kind of Equality? Santiago, Chile: ECLAC. Jackson, C. 1993. “Environmentalisms and gender interests in the Third World,” Development and Change, Vol. 24, No. 4. Potón Cevallos, J. 2005. Relaciones de Género en el Ciclo Productivo de Cacao: ¿Hacia un Desarrollo Sostenible?. Master’s Thesis. Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLASCO). Plumwood, V. 1992. “Beyond the dualistic assumptions of women, men and nature,” Ecologist, Vol. 22, No. 1 (lYY2), pp. 8-13. Suarez, L. Director of Conservation International Ecuador. Personal Interview. 18 Jul. 2013. Twyman, J. 2012. Intra-Household Distribution of Assets and Wealth in Ecuador. Doctorate of Philosophy Dissertation. University of Florida.

Suggested Citation

  • Blare, Trent & Useche, Pilar & Grogan, Kelly A., 2014. "The Sustainable Choice: How Gendered Difference in the Importance of Ecological Benefits Affect Production Decisions of Smallholder Cacao Producing Households in Ecuador," 2014 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2014, Minneapolis, Minnesota 169782, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:aaea14:169782
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.169782

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