PMMA-20428 The unintended consequences of the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) on women's agency


While women constitute a majority of Africa’s agricultural labour force, only a minority of them make decisions over incomes earned from harvests. Poor command over production capital – including unenforced individual rights over cultivated land, and low access to inputs such as fertiliser – is one constraint that limits women’s agency over incomes from agricultural output. This paper studies Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy (FISP), a programme that distributes fertiliser vouchers to poor agricultural households in a context of high gender inequality, a dominantly matrilineal land inheritance system and dual matri- and patrilocal settlement practices after marriage. Because FISP alters households’ agricultural input combinations, de facto gender-specific land rights in matrilocal and patrilocal communities should play a smaller role in determining decision-making power inside households. This paper estimates heterogeneous impacts of subsidies on gendered patterns in agency in both matrilocal and patrilocal communities. Women in all communities have a low degree of agency, though the disadvantage is highest in patrilocal communities. Econometric models show that men in matrilocal communities have lower agency than men in patrilocal communities, but the FISP narrows this gap. Male household heads in matrilocal communities experience a reduction in competition with men from their wives’ extended families when they receive the FISP. The programme therefore increases gender inequality in matrilocal decision-making, resembling the pattern in male dominated patrilocal communities more closely. Nevertheless, women in patrilocal regions are able to leverage the returns from higher market integration to reduce their involvement in precarious ganyu labour. Targeting women as beneficiaries of the FISP is unlikely to change patterns in agency in especially matrilocal communities, unless women’s individual rights over cultivated land are asserted.


Project leader: Dieter von Fintel

Project researchers: Martin Mwale | Anja Smith | Tony Mwenda Kamninga | Catherine Manthalu | Joy Omar Karim

Scientific mentors: Francesca Marchetta

Policy outreach mentors: Stephen Wainaina

Journal publication

No journal publications.

Working Papers

Title Modified Size Comments Recommendations
The negative impact of farm input subsidies on women’s agency in Malawi’s matrilocal settlements. 2021-06-18 2.17MB 0 0

Policy Briefs

Title Modified Size Comments Recommendations
Improving gender equity in Malawi’s input subsidies 2021-04-16 0.99MB 0 0

Final report

Title Modified Size Comments Recommendations
The Unintended Consequences of the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Program on Women’s Employment and Decision Making Power 2020-12-22 1.08MB 0 0


Title Modified Size Comments Recommendations
The unintended consequences of the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP): Women's entrepreneurship and financial inclusion. 2019-09-12 563.17kB 0 0

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