The crucial importance of women's contribution to food security in developing countries is widely recognized. In most developing countries, rural women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture, the farm labour force and day-to-day family subsistence. Yet rural women are faced with a number of constraints. They have more difficulties than men in gaining access to land, credit and extension services. Development interventions to improve the economic roles of women have also so far had limited success. Up recently, the overriding concern of such interventions for rural women remained one of welfare and home economics programmes, mainly through women-specific projects or women's components in multi-purpose projects. In many cases, however, development projects have not taken adequate account of women's responsibilities, participation and priorities in their specific local conditions, constraining the achievement of the objectives of the programmes, or leading to negative effects on women and families.
In recent years there has been an increasing recognition of the need to integrate women into mainstream development efforts. The economic rationale behind this approach is that the full use of productive potential of human resources (male and female) cannot be realized if women, who make substantial contributions to food output, do not have adequate access to resources, productivity enhancing inputs and services. This approach focuses on gender differences (gender = socially and culturally determined differences between men and women) primarily in division of labour in production, or income-earning activities, and access to and control over resources and assets. Gender analysis also involves the desegregation of women's roles and responsibilities by socioeconomic class, agro-ecological environment and farming system, culture and ethnic group and, for each of these categories, by age and marital status. This shift to a gender approach has been primarily due to the overriding attention of governments to the need for socioeconomic policies to take into account the role of and the impact on women. Many governments are increasingly recognizing, for instance, that policies such as price incentives cannot be fully successful in stimulating agricultural production if the institutional arrangements prevent women producers from getting the benefits. The gender approach to integrate women into mainstream development has also been stimulated in part by the impetus created by and new directions given at the Nairobi World Conference (1985) to review and appraise the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women.
Many studies show that in the efforts to generate household food supply and income, a substantial burden falls on women. Almost everywhere, women are responsible for processing, storing and preparing family food. Rural women also fetch water and firewood for the family. Above all, women are engaged as family labour in agriculture as well as wage labour and in other income-earning activities, and generate a substantial proportion and sometimes even all of the basic daily food for the family. They are usually responsible for small livestock, often for small ruminants and sometimes for large animals that are not on free range. In many countries women play an important role in fishing in shallow waters and in coastal lagoons.
It is also observed from many studies that, although there is a wide diversity in household production patterns, women in all regions play a predominant role in household food security through agricultural and food production. It is estimated that a significant proportion of women in developing countries spend up to two-thirds of their time in traditional agriculture and marketing. Their working hours tend to exceed those of men. Women in rural areas grow at least 50 % of the world's food. They work in all aspects of cultivation, including planting, thinning, weeding, applying fertilizer and harvesting. Women are also active in post-harvest activities and in livestock production.
In Africa, it is estimated that women represent from 30% to 80% of the agricultural labour depending on area and socio-economic class. In most parts of this region, women have been traditionally responsible for food crops and men for non-food cash crops. This division of labour between food crops and cash crops, however, is never clear cut. Often women help their men-folk in cash crop production.
The contribution of women to agricultural production and household food security in the Near East varies widely from country to country, but in many of the countries their contribution is substantial. Where permanent drought has forced men to migrate, women's participation in agricultural tasks that were traditionally done by men has increased. In some countries women perform laborious and repetitive tasks all the year round, whereas men work during ploughing and threshing periods only. In several other countries, irrigation, pest control and to a large extent fertilizer application are the exclusive tasks of men, while threshing and marketing are the exclusive tasks of women. In the region as a whole women are heavily involved in livestock, particularly small animal and dairy production (FAO, 1990).
In Asia, in nearly all rice-growing areas men traditionally perform such activities as preparation, ploughing, irrigation and leveling of the fields. However, sowing, transplanting and weeding are usually women's work. Harvesting and threshing and transporting of grain from fields to home is done by both men and women, while drying, cleaning and processing of the rice are done by women. A number of studies show that the contribution of women to agricultural production in terms of number of operations performed and number of hours worked is in most cases greater than that of men (FAO, 1990).
Women in Latin America also are heavily engaged in food production, but to a lesser degree than in Africa and Asia. Surveys in parts of Colombia and Peru show that female participation rates in agricultural field tasks range from 25% to 45%. Some studies show that, while in the more commercialized agricultural regions almost all households have at least one woman who participates in field work, female participation in the regions characterized by traditional agriculture is more in processing activities than in direct field work. Women in these regions have, however, a high participation rate in animal husbandry, which in some areas contributes as much as 30% of the household income (FAO, 1990).
In a paper prepared for the Seventh Session of the FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG), Rome, Italy, 21-30 March 1983, it was shown that women made up an average of 42% of the agricultural labour force in 82 developing nations. In 24 of the countries surveyed, women made up over 50% of the agricultural work force and over 40% of the work force in 52 of the countries. Furthermore, the COAG (1983) paper also goes on to suggest that due to migration, the percentage of women involved in farming may even be increasing.
Women form a large segment of the agricultural work force. As such they deserve increased attention of agricultural extension services in every developing nation. There is a need for an action-oriented plan to reach the millions of women in agriculture who fill the bread baskets of the third world and contribute to their exports.
The 1983 COAG paper contains a great deal of data which clearly show that nearly half of the officially enumerated agricultural labour force in many developing countries are women. Studies also show that a significant proportion of women spend up to two-thirds of their time in traditional agriculture and in marketing. Their working hours tend to exceed those of men. In some countries women are the principal labour force on small farms and perform the major share of hoeing weeding transporting storing processing and marketing. Their share in cash crop farming is also significant. Yet agricultural extension networks often by-pass women producers. This means for women that they are disadvantaged and implies for governments that resources made available for extension work are not rationally used.
These facts were largely unrecognized by the international community prior to the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD) held in 1979 which declared: "Rural development based on growth with equity will require full integration of women including equitable access to land water and other natural resources. inputs and services and equal opportunities to develop and employ their skills. There is also an urgent need to expand knowledge and statistical data on all aspects of women's roles in rural activities".
Following WCARRD 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 this end there have been efforts to increase awareness among decision-makers and planners of the role played by women in agricultural production marketing and rural development and to better identity and respond to women's needs for training and access to inputs and services for food production and associated activities.
It is now fully recognised that agricultural extension services suffer from a number of weaknesses in their programmes for rural women. These include: (a) a focus on efficiency objectives and few 'progressive' farmers to the relative neglect of resource-poor term households women as heads of rural households and ladles households; (b) misperceptions and prejudices about women's actual and ideal roles with the result that they are often excluded from the target group of extension in areas in which they play major roles; (c) attempts by separate women's units staffed by people without agricultural backgrounds to implement technical agricultural projects; (d) a gender bias among extension workers; and (e) inappropriate extension methodology for reaching rural women (quoted from FAO 1987).
Historically scientific knowledge and technical skills of any given population or society spread significantly through formal and non-formal (including agricultural extension) education systems. However this does not consistently happen among rural women. In agricultural countries complex socio-economic socio-cultural and religious factors need to be analyzed and understood for developing effective extension and training programmes to reach women farmers. What is the actual situation and what are the problems and solutions related to improving the effectiveness of agricultural extension programmes for the benefit of women in agricultural countries? What strategies and lines of action can be recommended to governments and external development agencies so that present and future generations of rural women in agricultural countries apply scientific knowledge and use improved agricultural techniques and skills in their farm work? These are questions that need to be answered through this proposed research.
There is some evidence to support the contention that small farmers in general, and women farmers in particular, are not being well served by the existing extension systems in developing countries . A recent FAO study of extension services in Asia and Africa concurs with this observation, concluding that: "in very few countries has an adequate organizational solution been found for advising rural women who not only work at home, but also in the fields" (von Blackenburg, 1984). The failure to reach women farmers is part of an overall problem related to a lack of support and resources. In looking at women farmers as a neglected segment of the farming community, the realities of life in many less developed nations must be realistically addressed. With some extension workers being assigned to work with as many as 1000 farm families, the need for policy review is obvious. Just as obvious is the need to remember that each country has its own specific problems. Generalizations offer much food for thought, but little basis for action. Specific situations need to be reviewed and perspective action on a country-by-country basis needs to be taken. The important contribution made by women in agriculture justifies the necessity to make the system more equitable. The above background, therefore, provides the necessary basis and justification for this research study.
The following are the specific objectives of the present study:
i) to develop a concrete understanding of women farmers as clientele of the agricultural extension system;
ii) to determine the capacity of the agricultural extension service to provide advisory services to women farmers;
iii) to make an analysis of the agricultural extension programmes and the extent of women farmers' participation;
iv) to determine the constraints of the agricultural extension services in reaching women farmers;
v) to make some suggestions to improve the relevance and effectiveness of agricultural extension activities in reaching women farmers.