Since WCARRD, held in 1979, there has been greater emphasis on the reduction of poverty and improved nutrition and on increased self-reliance in rural areas, particularly at the household level. To achieve this, there have been efforts to improve the awareness of decision-makers and planners of the role played by women in agricultural production, marketing and rural development, and to better identify and respond to women's needs for training and access to inputs and services for food production and associated activities.
Mrs. Manju Dutta Das started working for the Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat, Assam, India as an Assistant Professor. Along with her colleagues and students she conducted a few short-term extension projects in areas such as kitchen gardening, fishery, poultry and duck rearing, sericulture, food processing, adult education, and energy conservation based on priority need areas of women farmers in the University adopted villages. However, the nature and extent of women farmer's participation in agricultural extension activities in different countries were not clear.
Because of her high qualifications and relevant experience, Mrs. Dutta Das was awarded an FAO André Mayer Research Fellowship by FAO and, for sixteen months starting from March 1993, explored some of the important factors for improving the relevance and effectiveness of agricultural extension activities in reaching the women farmers of Thai/and, Trinidad, Nigeria and Syria. Selection of these four countries was based on the knowledge that they have a long history of general agricultural extension services to farming communities.
In connection Wit/? this study, Mrs. Dutta Das had discussions with related informed persons at various levels - ministries, research institutes and universities - of these four countries. The administrators at different levels of the extension departments in the ministries of agriculture provided current information on the various problems and constraints of agricultural extension services in reaching women farmers.
The FAO library in Rome and in different related institutes of the study countries (IITA, NISER and University of lbadan, Nigeria, Department of Sociology and Department of Extension Education, Kasetsart University, Thailand, CARDI, CNIRD, University of West Indies and the Information and Training Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Trinidad, and ICARDA in Syria) were also consulted for the collection of secondary information.
Due to a limited time period in each country (two months in each) and language constraints in three of the countries (excluding Trinidad), Mrs. Das designed her research instrument very carefully for primary data collection. The study has had limitations. But efforts were made to include the main problems that might affect the agricultural extension system in reaching women farmers who really need urgent attention.
The findings of this study confirm that women farmers are not a homogeneous group. They represent different situations which need to be considered as a useful factor in planning extension strategies. The nature and extent of their involvement in agriculture no doubt varies greatly from region to region. But regardless of these variations, the most important activities mainly performed by women farmers are planting, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, storage and food processing. Apart from Syria, most of the women farmers of three of the study countries engaged in the marketing of their farm produce. Decision-making patterns in farm activities seem to be changing and women have increasingly become an important partner for their husbands, except in one country. Despite their valuable contribution in agricultural production, women do not have easy access to agricultural resources, such as the required amount of cultivable land, tit/e of land ownership, improved farm implements, improved seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, marketing outlets and credit. It was also observed that real problems and needs for agricultural advice are not considered on a gender basis when planning and preparing extension packages in the agricultural services, and a comparatively lower percentage of women farmers in Thailand and Trinidad participated in the programs than in Nigeria and Syria. Lack of address of women farmers explicitly as an important clientele group in respective extension programmed activities, lack of women us contact framers, lack of appropriate technology suitable for women farmers, the required amount of demonstration materials and equipment for the extension service, lack of appropriate training of field extension agents in extension methodology to serve women farmers, poor monitoring and evaluation systems and inadequate extension/research linkages are the most important factors which need to be improved to make agricultural extension activities effective in reaching women farmers.
Throughout the study, Mrs. Das met with her advisory committee which consisted of Dr. Marie Randriamamonjy, Senior Officer in the Women in Agricultural Production and Rural Development Service, Dr. Ronny Adhikarya, Agricultural Extension, Education and Training Methodology Specialist, and myself as Chairman, who were able to assist her with problems in dealings with such a complex subject.
T. E. Contado, Chairman
André Mayer Research Fellow Advisory Committee and Chief; Agricultural Education and Extension Service