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Different Environments, different approaches

THE 11 FIELD PROJECTS, from Latin America, Africa and Asia, capture a rich and wide diversity of experiences on gender-based approaches to agricultural development.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the government extension networks were either severely limited in their outreach or reluctant to participate, the projects largely concentrated their efforts at the field or grassroots level, working with households and community groups. In both cases, the majority of the villagers were illiterate. The projects, therefore, devised training methods that used visual tools to create an awareness of gender roles and involve households and community groups in improving farm management practices (in the case of Afghanistan) and natural resource management (in the case of Pakistan). The villagers became the frontline responsive planners, and only at a later stage was training extended to the intermediate level

In contrast, other projects enjoyed a more supportive environment. In Ethiopia and Namibia, gender equality is a national priority, so these projects were able to concentrate on building skills and influencing attitudes in government-run field services. In both cases, the strategy was to build capacity at all levels - field, intermediate and national. This three-pronged approach meant that field-level extension workers had the necessary support and encouragement from both intermediate- and national-level management to use gender-responsive extension planning tools in their work.

Yet other projects, such as those in Costa Rica, Honduras and Senegal, gave particular attention to working with and strengthening community groups. In Honduras, the strategy was to build from the bottom up. Locally selected para-professionals were trained to work with local community groups, and help them develop gender-responsive action plans. In Costa Rica, the project planners took a broader approach. They recognized that capacity building at the field and intermediate levels needed to be supported by a more responsive planning approach at the national level. To start this process of integrating national planning initiatives with regional- and field-level needs, a series of thematic workshops was organized at which the gender content of different agricultural and natural resource-related policies was systematically reviewed.

Differences in the political, socio-economic and cultural environments influenced the ways in which the projects were planned and implemented, and the best practices that emerged. This is reflected in the gender focus adopted, the participatory planning tools devised, the level of participation at the grassroots, intermediate and national levels, and the groups targeted for capacity building.

A gender planning focus

Obviously, all the projects had a gender focus. However, in some, such as in Honduras, Pakistan and Senegal, particular attention was given to supporting women. In Senegal, this was partly determined by the fact that 70 percent of the rural population are women. In other projects, however, the focus on women was a deliberate strategy.

It is now widely recognized that women shoulder much of the responsibility for meeting the food needs of their households and yet have the least say when it comes to decision-making and gaining access to resources. Thus, rural women have been specifically targeted to strengthen their ability to participate in and influence decision-making at all levels.

Other projects, particularly those that gave priority to making extension services more client-oriented, targeted both men and women. In the Ethiopia, Namibia, Nepal and India projects, the analysis of difference and the division of labour between men and women was a key feature of both the participatory rural appraisals (PRAs) and the training. In these "client-focused" projects, one major challenge was to sensitize field staff, planners and policy-makers to the fact that women, as well as men, play a significant role in agricultural development. Another equally important challenge was to create the awareness that extension agents might be more effective if they worked with, and responded to the needs of, rural households.

In Afghanistan, the political and cultural environment caused the PIHAM project organizers to rethink their strategy. The traditional focus on men was not having the appropriate impact, but to focus solely on women would not have been appropriate. In this context, the household unit became the main target group. The project worked with households - the farming unit - to help them analyse who does what, and then to direct appropriate extension support.

PRA and participatory planning

PRA and gender analysis were the cornerstones of all the field projects. Once again, projects adapted PRA tools to suit the needs of local cultural and political conditions. In war-stricken Afghanistan, rather than carrying out conventional resource mapping exercises, the project organizers devised a "sitting point" technique, whereby community members worked outwards from the point where they were sitting, explaining the important features and resources. In the United Republic of Tanzania, household interviews and individual observations were included among the PRA tools to take into account the concerns of statisticians.

Clearly, much of the success of these projects can be attributed to the deliberate adoption of a participatory approach. In fact, one of the best practices demonstrated by several projects is that, when PRAs are used as a training tool, they have a powerful affect on awareness raising and skill development. An important part of the strategy of developing PRAs and gender analysis as training tools was that it helped field workers to understand the development context of the local communities in which they work. Training them to undertake such contextual analysis was also the basis for helping them develop a more participatory, gender-sensitive approach to their extension work.

In Namibia, Nepal and India, local PRAs became core training tools. In Namibia, gender analysis training workshops for field-, intermediate- and national-level staff all used the same PRAs to help participants analyse and apply the gender analysis framework to the different farming systems in their countries.

The use of PRAs meant that training was based on factual information about farming systems that was of immediate relevance to the planners, helping them to relate to and empathize with the farmers' environment. Dealing with facts about situations that most planners had some prior knowledge of, meant that they were encouraged to reconsider their prejudices and set aside their gender-resistant attitudes.

Grassroots participation

The Costa Rica, Honduras, Pakistan and Senegal projects stressed the importance of developing gender-responsive planning approaches by strengthening grassroots organizations. Gender analysis training was part of this approach, which followed a broader strategy of leadership development and confidence building - common concerns for many of the women's organizations that were involved in the projects. Developing women's leadership and negotiating skills to enable them to participate in decision-making processes is one of the best practices highlighted by these projects.

Approaches to the development of grassroots organizations varied from one project to another. The Honduras project had been running for some ten years and had built up a strong community network. Women volunteers were trained to serve as agricultural extension link agents and as para-technicians, providing support and advice to women's microenterprises and local savings and credit associations.

In Costa Rica, the initial emphasis was on awareness raising and working with women's organizations in the different project areas to identify common gender problems. A regional, rural women's association was established to help bring these problems to the attention of policy-makers and planners.

Both projects highlight the importance of responding to the priorities of grassroots organizations. This is also demonstrated in the Pakistan project for which the original plans were focused on environmental conservation issues, until the PRAs showed that village women did not include environmental conservation among their concerns. To gain the confidence of and build credibility with village women, the project had first to respond to their priority - the need for income-generating activities. Only then was it possible to discuss environmental issues.

At the grassroots level, women and men want to see tangible results; something that will make a difference to their lives. The projects highlight the need to link confidence building with the development of practical skills, such as jam making, and improved agricultural practices. They also highlight the need to provide not only skills, but also the support and resources that enable people to utilize those skills to their own benefit. The projects in Senegal, Honduras and Pakistan, for example, introduced credit schemes to assist rural women with income-generating projects.

Capacity building

As has already been noted, building of the capacity for gender-responsive planning was a key ingredient of most projects. Some, such as those in Namibia, Nepal and Ethiopia, were specifically geared towards developing the skills of extension staff and planners. In others, such as those in Afghanistan and Senegal, capacity building was built into the project after a workable field-level implementation process had been developed and tested. Most of the projects trained their staff and other extension workers in the skills to conduct PRAs.

Training of trainers (TOT) was a feature of the projects in Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Namibia, Nepal and India. A main objective of TOT was to sensitize the trainers - usually government extension workers or project staff - to the PRA/gender analysis approach. The aim was to provide them with the skills to train other field staff to work with the communities in preparing gender-responsive agricultural extension plans. The long-term goal was to build a training resource within each country that would sustain a participatory, gender-responsive planning approach after the externally funded projects have been phased out.

This latter goal was a major part of the Ethiopia project and from the onset there was a strong emphasis on TOT. As part of this strategy, project staff first prepared training materials based on PRA assessments, designed a guidebook in Amharic - the local language - titled How to make your extension programme client-oriented, and produced a training video based on the pilot PRAs. Trainers were trained in two TOT sessions. The first concentrated on giving the trainers skills in extension methods, adult education, gender analysis and PRA.

Local subject matter specialists and field agents were then trained in these skills and conducted PRAs in five villages.

In the second three-week TOT, the trainers (with their trainers) reviewed the PRA experiences, improved the training materials and discussed ways of using PRA-generated information in the planning of extension programmes. The trainers subsequently trained district-level extension agents on how to use PRA information to develop their individual work programmes.

India's livestock project also focused on training and capacity building in the extension services. In contrast to the Ethiopia (and Namibia) approach, the training focused on technical skills as well as PRA. Agricultural and community development staff were trained in problem analysis, goat and poultry production, livestock marketing, PRA techniques (including rapid appraisal of tenure), gender analysis and interviewing techniques. The trainers then trained field workers and farmers in PRA and livestock management skills.

Best practices

A number of best practices, in terms of training and capacity building, emerge from the project experiences. Best practices are examples of operational principles or guidelines that need to be built into the training strategies related to participatory, gender-responsive planning.

Gender-responsive training is as much about changing attitudes as it is about developing skills. Gender stereotyping and resistance to new ideas and approaches are challenges to introducing participatory gender-responsive planning approaches and the related skills. The need to deal with facts, and use diagnostic and sensitization tools that will encourage field workers, planners and policy-makers to draw their own conclusions about the relevance of a gender-responsive approach to their work, is important.

Training needs to be appropriate to the particular context. Practical examples from the communities in which trainees work need to be incorporated into the training materials. The relevance of gender-responsive planning will be more immediately realized if the training is directly related to the work of those being trained. Case studies on the farming systems and methods that demonstrate the application of gender analysis to the work of extension technicians are essential.

The training approach should create the opportunity for trainees to explore the facts and arrive at their own conclusions about the relevance of gender-responsive planning, rather than being told about it. Competence in the use of participatory approaches comes with practice and not through detailed theoretical training. The training should employ methods and tools that involve people, and should encourage them to discuss the relevance of a gender-responsive planning approach to their own work. Several of the projects adapted PRA techniques, such as the 24-hour activity clock, for use in training.

These types of techniques, and participatory training in general, have an added bonus in that they help to make the training fun. And fun takes the threat out of gender training.

Training should be based on an experiential approach. The training strategy needs to provide the opportunity to apply and review the gender-responsive agricultural planning approach. An action-reflection-action cycle, which allows trained staff to implement a PGRAD approach and then step back to review and improve on what they have achieved, is essential. One-off training events are not sufficient - follow-up is necessary, both to develop skills and to give trainees the opportunity of reflecting on their own ideas and attitudes.There is a tendency to underestimate both training needs and the inputs required to build skills in gender analysis and participatory approaches, especially at the field level.

Capacity building should be done in both vertical and horizontal ways to create a sustainable, in-country resource. If gender-responsive planning is to become the norm in agricultural development, training needs to occur not only at the field level, but also at the intermediate and national levels. A common understanding of the issues, combined with a commitment to a gender-responsive planning approach, needs to go all the way up the institutional hierarchy - and back down again. In Namibia, the importance of this approach emerged as interest was built at the field level. In Ethiopia, training at the district and regional levels, as well as the field level, was part of the implementation strategy from the outset.

There needs to be the political will and real commitment from policy-makers, planners and managers for gender-responsive planning to be implemented at the field level. Training of field staff is not enough; they need to be supported and encouraged by their managers if gender-responsive planning tools are to be used effectively at the field level. A responsive planning culture is required. In Namibia, for example, the training at intermediate and national levels was designed to encourage recognition of the need for gender-responsive planning at all levels. In Costa Rica, on the other hand, national and regional planners were engaged in policy review workshops, examining the responsiveness of present policies and strategies to agricultural programmes aimed at responding to gender needs.

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