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Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), which is located in the north of Pakistan, lies between longitude 73-75 and latitude 33-36 and covers an area of 13 297 km2. The topography is mainly hilly and mountainous with stretches of plains on which there are villages. The area is covered with thick forests, fast-flowing rivers and streams. The climate is of subtropical highland type with a yearly rainfall of 150 cm.

According to estimates, the population of AJK was 2 915 000 in 1998, with a rural-urban ratio of 88:12 (NJVCDP, 1999). Administratively, AJK consists of seven districts with a total of 1 646 villages. The population density is not uniform, being higher near towns and on foothill plains and lower away from towns and on steep slopes.

The pattern of agriculture in AJK varies according to elevation and ecological zone. Among the crops grown in various parts of the area are maize, wheat, bajra, rice, jowar, rapeseed, mustard and pulses; fruits such as apple, guava, walnut, apricot, pear, plum, citrus and almonds; and vegetables such as potato, onion, garlic, turnip, bringal, radish and spinach. However, the sizes of area under these crops are changing, as are cropping patterns, and there is a visible trend towards vegetables, gram and jowar.

Farming is neither subsistence nor full-time for the people in AJK, but mixed farming is an important way of life. The traditional occupations of agriculture and supporting crafts, which had bound people together within communities, have now lost both their prestige and their importance. The main causes attributed to this steady change include the small size of farm holdings and the consequent limited profitability of agriculture. These two limitations have been instrumental in the widespread geographic mobility of young males to other parts of Pakistan and elsewhere, where the wages they earn, even from unskilled labour, are higher than the income that is generated by the combined family efforts of both males and females in traditional agriculture. Off-farm employment provides the bulk of family income - 70 percent according to one estimate (Fida, 1991).

Male migration has resulted in crop farming and livestock raising and management becoming increasingly women's domain. According to a senior administrator at AJK's Department of Agriculture, livestock care and management is entirely in the hands of women in almost 90 percent of households. Similarly, women's participation is significant in farming-related operations such as harvesting and the cleaning and storing of major crops (wheat, maize, fodder, etc.). In 85 percent of households, women are involved in sowing, weeding, transplanting and harvesting of vegetables for home consumption and sale; vegetables sales have become a source of income for some farm women.

Although there has been growing recognition of women's crucial role in the production, processing and preservation of food, planners have not included a women's component in most of their development programmes. There is a definite need for innovative change to the strategy and approach of extension programmes, in order to reach rural women who account for a large segment of poor rural communities. Since women's contribution to agricultural production has been significant and crucial over the past years, it is essential to shift from traditional male-dominated extension services to an integrated approach in which women become an important element within the scheme of extension programmes.

In areas such as AJK, rural women have reasonably good potential to assume an important role in development. All that they need is greater access to institutional support in terms of credit, inputs and technical assistance. Social services must be addressed to rural households, and women should be encouraged to participate in income-generating activities, based on resources and skills that are readily available to them. Farm women's interest groups and rural institutions therefore deserve attention and promotion. Rural women will not be able to take full advantage of technological advances unless they are mentally prepared for them and unless there are organized efforts, community action and group activities. A number of rural development projects have taken initiatives to bring women into the mainstream of development. The NJVCDP financed by IFAD, with technical assistance component by UNDP, is a good example of an intervention that involves women in the process of community development.

Established in 1992, NJVCDP is an integrated, multisectoral development project aimed at improving the quality of life indicators of rural dwellers. The project is based on a participatory approach that emphasizes the organization of rural communities at the grassroots level through the formation of both men's and women's community development groups (CDGs). The CDGs are designed to help and encourage people to take charge of their own affairs and achieve self-reliance for sustainable development.

NJVCDP aims at: social organization of the CDGs, emphasizing savings as a means of generating capital for credit and entrepreneurship; skill enhancement and upgrading of people's capabilities through human resource development; and strengthening linkages with government line departments (GLDs) and other development programmes. The programme package is delivered to the target community groups through the GLDs, which support the CDGs through training, provision of inputs and skills and transfer of technology, with the objectives of generating new income and raising the living standards of target communities.

Purpose of the study

The study aimed at assessing the feasibility and productivity of the modality under which female extension assistants (FEAs) use women's CDGs as a platform for imparting agricultural extension advice, and comparing this performance with that of the traditional modality of making individual farm visits - usually followed by male extension agents.

The specific objectives of this study were:

The study area

NJVCDP operates in the Muzaffarabad district (excluding the Integrated Hill Farming Development Project area) across 32 union councils spread over an area of 5 500 km2 (Table 1).

Table 1. General information on NJVCDP

Union councils (Number)

Villages (Number)

Neelum Valley



Jhelum Valley






Project area

5 500 km2

Number of households

70 000


550 000

Source: Coordination Unit, NJVCDP, AJK, Muzaffarabad.

For operational purposes the project area was divided into eight field units. There are a total of 431 villages, and 416 of these were included in project activities. There are 416 men's and 324 women's CDGs in the project area, with total memberships of 10 634 and 8 271, respectively. The volume of total savings is Rs 12.5 million (Rs 8.5 million from men's CDGs and Rs 4.4 million from women's CDGs). Annex V outlines the present status of the CDGs in the project area.

The study sample

In the project area, the total number of FEAs working through women's CDGs was reported to be 32, one in each union council; all of these FEAs were included in the study sample. However, during the data collection it was revealed that several FEAs were no longer accessible because they had been promoted, had resigned from their positions, were on maternity leave or were located in the firing range.[2] Only about 13 FEAs were directly available to the study and a further two were able to participate through colleagues; thus, data from a total of 15 FEAs were available for processing and analysis.

In order to ensure a representative sample of members of women's CDGs, a multistaged stratified random sampling technique was adopted: five field units were selected from the total of eight in the project area; one union council was selected from each of the five selected field units; and one women's CDG from each of the five union councils was drawn.

The number of members in each of the five selected women's CDGs ranged from 20 to 45, of whom ten were randomly selected from each CDG for further detailed investigation. The study sample drawn thus constituted a total of 50 women's CDG members.

Using a checklist that had been specially prepared to allow for free and frank discussion of the usefulness of experimenting with the emerging new model of extension through CDGs, the points of view and responses of the main actors - i.e. the Director and Deputy Director of Agricultural Extension and the three Female Extension Officers responsible for supervising the CDG areas - were recorded.

Two separate interview schedules were developed for FEAs and CDGs. Extension supervisors and administrators, were interviewed in-depth using a checklist, and focus group discussions were held with FEAs, using another checklist.

The data collected from the study respondents were analysed by using Excel software. Most beneficiaries' responses were assessed and ascertained using weighted arithmetic averages and percentages. The FEAs' responses and opinion statements were quantified by assigning scores according to the Likert scale.

[2] The firing range lies along the Line of Control between the Pakistani and Indian sides of Jammu and Kashmir, where frequent shelling poses problems to the civilian population, including loss of life and property.

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