Groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea), Women and Deveopment: Impact on Nutrition and Women's Roles in Western Africa

What are Groundnuts?

Groundnuts are a staple food in many developing countries. Also called peanuts, groundnuts are a protein rich tuber that grows well in semi-arid regions.   There are two main types of groundnuts: the American groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), and the African groundnut, the Bambara nut (Voandzeia subterranea).  Both are grown in Western Africa as a protein source. Groundnuts also contain sufficient quantities of carbohydrates and fats. After drying and roasting the groundnut it can be used to make flour, soup, porridge, and milk. Groundnuts are often grown by small farm holders and is considered a woman's crop in Western Africa.

This web page provides information on  groundnut production programs  in Africa. It focuses on how to mobilize women agricultural groups and can be used as an intial resource on groundnuts. This page does not provide a how-to guide on groundnut production. However, it does provide basic information and links on the impact groundnut production has on women, their children, and their income.

For information on groundnut (peanut) production, please visit the following sites: 
Describes the growth habits and environmental requirements of the peanut. Also details the fertility and lime requirements needed for successful production.
Provides description how ICRISAT created high-yield, long-duration groundnut varieties to resist the groundnut rosette The rosette is the most damaging disease of the groundnut in Africa
Peanut production methods and some diseases affecting the production in Northern Ghana are outlined in this journal article. Depicts crops cultivated on different types of land and its implication for peanut production.

Groundnut yields in Africa are traditionally low, due to a combination of: unreliable rains, little technology available to small scale farmers, pest and disease occurrence, poor seed variety, and increased cultivation on marginal land. Political instability and non supportive small farm policies have also negatively impacted ground nut production in Western Africa. Because of these reasons, there has been an increased demand for women support groups for home gardening and farming projects.


The history of the Bambara groundnut originated in West Africa, is an extremely adaptable plant suited for hot, dry soils, and has been known to resist pests & disease. Harvesting is similar to the peanut.

Why are they important?

Groundnuts provide a vital source of cash income and nutritious, high protein food which could prevent child malnutrition.

Nutritional benefits:
Groundnut has many important nutrients and useful in the treatment of hemophilia. Also, groundnuts can cure stomatitis, prevent diarrhea, and beneficial for growing children, pregnant mothers & nursing mothers.

Women, economics, empowerment:

The groundnut is considered a women's crop in Africa. It was originally grown by women to supplement their families diet with protein. However, groundnut production can also be a way for women to earn a cash income and participate in the economy. Consequently, increasing women's agency, and empowerment. Women value groundnut harvests for many reasons, including: harvest profits can send children to school,  provides a high energy and protein food source for their children, oil for cooking, and high quality feed for cattle.
Study on home gardening projects in Senegal Africa. Found that women were the more successful home gardeners than men. Income recieved from garden harvests allowed women to spend more and allowed them to better provide for their family's needs.


According to ICRSAT, 2001, the groundnut is mostly grown by poor small holder farmers (mainly women). Groundnut production gives an opportunity for these women to generate additional cash income from oil. Given equal access to resources and human development capital, women farmers can achieve yields equal or exceed those of men.

Technology adoption increased the workload of women farmers and expanded the employment prospects of female laborers in developing countries. Production technologies for groundnut farming created a positive impact on yields and income and helped create an informal farmer-to-farmer seed market

Groundnuts provide a vital source of cash income and nutritious, high protein food which could prevent child malnutrition

girl collecting groundnuts

Groundnut production programs:

Groundnuts require a light sandy loam soil, and semi-arid conditions. Optimal growing time is five months of warm weather, with an annual rainfall of 20 to 40 inches or the equivalent in irrigation water. Groundnut production is dependent on land preparation, seed extraction, seeding, cultivation, harvesting, stripping and sun-drying. This process is labor intensive which can affect the productivity and quality of nuts produced. However, with the introduction of groundnut projects and simple technologies production yields can be increased.
There are several start-up small scale groundnut programs available on the web. Many of these programs include area-specific guidelines of appropriate groundnut production techniques. Significantly, the greater the support and participation of women in a community project, the more successful a program will be.  The following links provide information on involving women in groundnut production projects.
Groundnut Improvement Program for West and Central Africa:
The groundnut improvement program in West and Central Africa (WCA) was established in September 1986 at the ICRISAT Sahelian Center (ISC) to develop groundnut varieties suitable for various production systems in close collaboration with National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES). The program focused on alleviating the main production constraints identified as drought and heat, foliar diseases (early and late leaf spots and rust), groundnut rosette, Aflatoxin contamination and soil pests.
One example of a groundnut production program is the Namibian Bambara Groundnut Improvement Program, launched in 1995. This program identifies promising lines of bambara nut germplasm and uses single plant selection as a breeding tool to ensure greater plant size and yields. Additionally it focuses on improved management  skills. The web site also provides information on crop pests.

Advises using a more selective seed to prevent further spread of the peanut clump virus which is known to cause losses exceeding $40 million on a global scale. Cropping systems that avoid cereals before growing the groundnut can be beneficial to reduce disease incidence.

Groundnut production

 picking groundnuts

Directories of some women's groups in Ghana are listed to help progress the production
 of groundnuts for women farmers.

groundnut harvest

Within 5 years many new groundnut varieties will be introduced leading to a significant increase in world-wide production. New varieties are disease resistant and produce 50% more than traditional groundnuts in Mali. The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) helps increase crop productivity and food security, reduce poverty, and protect the environment in developing countries. Special emphasis is placed on groundnut since it is particularly important in the diet of the poor.

The Common Fund for Commodities with ICRISAT studied the germplasm of the groundnut of Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. Since groundnut production is limited by diseases, viruses, and drought the germplasm was screened for sources of resistance to these constraints.

The groundnut market can be increased through export. Exporters of groundnuts must ensure food safety by preventing contamination of products and adapting groundnut supplies for various specific end-uses. Groundnut farmers need to grow varieties for specific market uses.

Describes a process-oriented model developed at the University of Nottingham as a tool to simulate crop growth and yield in bambara groundnut.

The objective of this study was to assess the potential productivity of bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea L. Verdc) - an under utilized African legume - across the world.

Groundnut  recipes:                             

Cook groundnut stew similar to the Western African version.

groundnut stew
yummy groundnut cookies

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Published by:
Amber Kenny,
Katrina Finn,

Page Created: April 6th, 2004