Smallholder Farming Systems in the Digital Age: Smartphone App for Measuring Diets and Time-use in Zambia

Tractors in Zambia (Source: Thomas Daum 2016)

Gendered time use has major implications for household well-being and agricultural productivity, In particular, gendered time use effects food security and nutrition, as women are largely responsible for feeding the family. The use of mechanized farm tools can decrease the amount of time required for production, allowing households to improve their agricultural yields through improved timing of production activities, and expanding the amount of land under cultivation. In addition, reducing heavy labor decreases the amount of food (calories) required by farm households.

In this context, Thomas Daum, PhD Candidate from Hohenheim University, Institute of Agricultural Science in the Tropics, is undertaking a study to examine the implications of mechanization for time-use and diets of women, men, and children in rural Zambia. He presented preliminary results of the study, “Research on Smallholder Farming Systems in the Digital Age: A Smartphone App to Study the Social Effects of Mechanisation in Zambia,” on 9 June 2017, in the MaSSP Seminar Series.

Knowing that workloads and duties are gendered, he was interested in examining if certain household members are particularly impacted by the introduction of tractor use, and how household members use any time saved. However, there are many challenges with collecting accurate time-use and food consumption data, as standard approaches are time consuming and often error-prone, especially in the case of time-use data.

As such, this study pilots a new pictorial smart phone app designed to make it easy for all people to accurately and easily track their activities and meals, regardless of literacy or education levels. The study site was in Eastern Province, Zambia, in and around Chipata. It included 186 respondents, capturing data for a total of 2790 days, over different time points in the production season.

Smartphone App for Time-use Information

Highlights from the preliminary data analysis were presented for discussion. Daum finds that during the peak of the planting season, people cut down significantly on social activities and personal care (like sleeping). In addition, children spend more time on the farm and less time at school. People with mechanized farm tools spend more time on their social lives—such as going to the bar or listening to the radio—and do not tend to take up additional livelihoods activities. However, counter to expectations, women do not spend more time weeding in households with a tractor, perhaps indicating that those households who can afford a tractor can also afford herbicides. Generally speaking, farming activities are not as highly gendered as was expected. One interesting and unexpected benefit of mechanization is the extent to which it cuts down on time spent traveling—such as walking to and from farm land, markets, or meetings. This type of travel was extremely burdensome for all members of the household, so yielded great time savings for those with tractors.

Smartphone App for Diet Information

In terms of diets, households with mechanical farm tools—presumably the wealthier households—have more diverse diets, driven largely by consumption of meat and oil. Even though these households do cut down on their meat consumption during the planting season (the lean season), they are still eating bigger and more nutritious portions, and enjoying less physically demanding workloads.

Further analysis will delve deeper into the time-use data and control for some socio-economic characteristics. In addition, checks in the relative accuracy of the new all will be undertaken. Any comments or questions for Thomas Daum on this study may be emailed directly to him here.