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The Irrational Choices made by Farmer’s Wives: Working towards an analysis of the farm family as an economic unit

This paper argues that a systematic measure of the contribution made by female led farm based enterprises is needed.

Year of Publication2009

Rural areas remain characterised by the importance of small scale enterprise and self-employment. Farmers have faced pressure on income in the latter years and change management as a means of survival for many farming families has become axiomatic. Raynor (1999), surveying the economic contribution of women in agriculture, noted that up to a third of farmers’ wives contribute vital additions to the household income through ‘non-farm but on-farm’ (NFOF) micro-enterprises or diversification. The debate surrounding the contribution of rural female self-employment or enterprise development, is all but non-existent. The case for a more systematic measure of the contribution that is being made through female led farm based enterprises is made in this paper. It applies the principles of Becker’s (1993) analysis of capital assets within the family, to the family farm. It highlights, in the context of Becker, the seemingly irrational choices made by farm based female entrepreneurs and concludes that a more multidisciplinary approach needs to be developed to better understand the socio-economic contribution made by “farmer’s wives” as part of the process towards sustainability for the family farm.

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Supporting the development of the national rural economy.

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