Gender and development People

Posted February 1998


Gender and Participation
in Agricultural Development Planning


by Sally Sontheimer
Consultant, Women in Development Service (SDWW)
FAO Women and Population Division

This SD-Dimensions Special is based on documentation produced for a "Workshop on Gender and Participation in Agricultural Planning: Harvesting Best Practices", held in Rome on 8 -12 December, 1997. The workshop was organized by the FAO Women in Development Service to evaluate experiences in gender sensitive participatory rural appraisal, in assuring women a voice in cultures where men dominate decision-making, in training extension agents to work with rural people, and in setting up mechanisms for needs-based planning processes.

In a sense, the workshop was another of the positive outcomes of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. In preparation for the Conference, FAO supported a programme of national level reporting on the situation of rural women in over 40 countries. One of the constraints that was recognized in these reports is the fact that planners and policy makers need information. They have almost no information "from the source" about what are men's and women's most pressing problems and needs for agricultural development, much less information on gender based differences. Part of this problem stems from the fact that rural people are rarely involved in planning processes. There are few formal mechanisms to inform policy makers of their needs or to create a space where rural men and women can express their views and participate actively in planning at any level.

To support local planning processes in which rural men, and especially rural women, would have a "voice", FAO launched pilot projects - with support from the Government of Norway - in Namibia, Nepal and Tanzania. The goal of these projects was to improve channels of communication between men and women farmers, extension agents, and policy-makers by using participatory approaches and consultative processes. A large focus of these projects was to train planners and extension workers in how to work with rural people in a participatory manner to help them solve problems of food insecurity and rural under-development.

One of the biggest challenges for these projects was to move field-based information about people's needs, which was gathered through participatory rural appraisal, up the planning ladder. What we were trying to do was to make micro-level processes and gender relationships visible to planners and policy makers working at all levels. Our expectation in supporting these efforts was that this information would influence how planners and policy makers think, and more importantly how they plan interventions and set policy.

Well down the road in the implementation of each of these innovative and experimental projects, we began to see that a great deal of useful lessons were emerging. For FAO, these were among the first projects to test how to do gender sensitive participatory rural appraisal, how to assure women a voice in cultures where men dominate decision-making, how to best train extension agents to work with rural people and how to set up mechanisms for needs based planning processes. To evaluate this experience, the Women in Development Service decided to organize a workshop which would bring together nationals who had worked on the three pilot projects.

But word about our plans for a workshop looking at the nexus between gender, participation and planning began to spread. Before we knew it, we had a total of 12 FAO projects - each of which was working on similar issues - who wanted to send national based staff to participate. In preparation for the workshop, SDWW prepared and issues paper as well as case studies from 10 FAO projects that would send staff to participate.

The workshop

Participants. The workshop participants were mainly field staff from 12 FAO projects that had tested various approaches and methods with the aim of making agricultural planning more participatory and responsive to the needs of both male and female farmers. They came from all developing regions and a range of technical areas, including agricultural extension, livestock production, nutrition and food security, watershed management and fisheries. There was simultaneous translation in English, French and Spanish to allow all the participants to freely express themselves. Several FAO staff from SDWW and other technical divisions also participated.

Objectives. Each participant came with his or her own experiences and field-based knowledge of the many lessons learnt in carrying out these innovative FAO projects. The first objective of the workshop was thus to provide an opportunity for the participants to share those experiences among themselves and with FAO and to learn from others about what worked best. The second objective was to "harvest" this hands-on knowledge of "best practices" and use it to develop a global "Gender-Responsive Participatory Agricultural Development Planning Framework". The challenge for the participants was thus to create something that did not yet exist; to pull all the pieces together into a coherent framework for action.

Proceedings. The participants were divided into Working Groups representing important sets of planners in the agricultural sector: small-scale farmers, district level planners and national planners. Each group was given a terms of reference to build a planning framework from the point of view of their actor. For much of the week, the groups discussed their best practices and built a framework for gender sensitive and participatory agricultural planning based on each participant's experience. Because institutionalization of these best practices was the greatest challenge revealed in the case studies, the Working Groups gave particular attention to this issue. Each group answered the questions: What does "institutionalization, scaling up" and "responsiveness" mean from the point of view of your actor? What are your best practices for "stakeholder analysis, the analysis of difference" and for creating an "enabling environment"?


The Working Groups produced over 200 flipchart sheets upon which they recorded their ideas, experiences, and best practices. From this work, we harvested new concepts and definitions of what gender sensitive and participatory planning means, best practices that outline tools, methods, strategies, and approaches that worked. Each group also produced a model framework. All of this taken together, the participants expressed a vision of a far more dynamic and holistic agricultural planning process than currently exists. The process they foresee is based on:

What comes next

The next step is to use the outputs of the workshop to produce a complete and global "Gender-Responsive Participatory Agricultural Development Planning Package". The Planning Package will consist of the following components:

Parallel to the production of the Planning Package, FAO will work with select countries to identify follow-up project activities that support the institutionalisation of participatory approaches for gender-responsive agriculture planning. We will also be working on setting up networking and 'twinning' mechanisms, both regionally and inter-regionally, for supporting capacity building and information exchange pertaining to the gender-participation-planning nexus.

Accessing workshop documents

Documentation from the Workshop is being made available here both as HTML files, for immediate browsing, and Word 6.0 for Windows files (.ZIP) for downloading from our FTP site. These are working documents and subject to final editing. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of FAO. Choose from the following options:

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