Access to extension and training
Since women constitute over 50 percent of the food producers worldwide and up to 60 to 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, it makes sense to expect that a corresponding percentage of agricultural extension and training services would be directed to women farmers. This is far from the reality. A 1989 FAO survey on extension services in 115 countries showed that women received only two to ten percent of all extension contacts and only five percent of extension resources worldwide.
Some of the obstacles to women's extremely low access to extension and training are:
· Lack of knowledge of women's contributions to agricultural production: Lack of gender-disaggregated data and information, the unpaid nature of much of women's agricultural work, assumptions by agricultural policy makers and planners that agriculture is a male domain, all combine to make women's work "invisible" to field extensionists and extension policy makers.
· Extension priorities: Extension services are often directed to cash and export crops and to farmers who own land and have the collateral to obtain credit for inputs and other services. Women farmers are more likely to be responsible for food crops for domestic consumption and less likely than men to own land and have collateral for credit.
· Agricultural research priorities: Agricultural research is often directed to cash/export crops and to technologies which are used by male farmers. The food crops raised by women have not generally been a priority in agricultural research. Moreover, there has been little research on technologies appropriate for women, either for their agricultural production or their time-consuming responsibilities for food processing, preparation and other household tasks.
· Attitudes and assumptions: Extension personnel generally share the commonly-held attitudes of society that women do not contribute significantly to agriculture, but are mainly concerned with household responsibilities. It is often assumed that men are the heads of the households and that they will pass on agricultural information to their wives and other women in the household. The fact is that a growing number of rural households are headed by women and that even where men are household heads, they may not transfer information to women, sometimes because it is not relevant to the agricultural work that women are doing.
· Practical constraints: Extension services and personnel may not be aware of the practical constraints facing women farmers, such as lack of time due to their household responsibilities in addition to farming; timing of extension services and demonstrations which conflict with women's tasks; restricted mobility for cultural reasons, lack of money for transport, or inability to leave their children, which may prevent women attending demonstrations or training.
· Lack of female extensionists: In many societies, contact between men and women is restricted and, since the great majority of extension workers are male, women farmers may not have access to them.
· Lack of appropriate extension training materials: Extension training courses and curricula seldom deal with the role of women in agriculture or approaches for working with women farmers.
Box 5 - Problems of Extension Training
"A significant problem is that in many courses of study, in-service training and education in extension methodology there is insufficient examination and discussion of the roles of rural men and women in agricultural production and rural development. Too little time is allocated to gender analysis and a participatory approach aimed at solving the problem of how extension work can effectively be carried out with rural women".
Improving Extension Work with Rural Women, FAO, 1996.
· Low literacy and educational levels of women: Women farmers are hampered in taking advantage of and using extension services and information because of low literacy rates or lack of access to basic education.
The low percentage of women in higher agricultural education is one of the root causes of these constraints. The small number of women agricultural graduates translates into a limited pool of available women extensionists, agricultural technicians, researchers, planners and policy makers. More gender-sensitive women researchers could help agricultural research institutes to focus on women's crops and technologies appropriate to women. A critical mass of women agriculturists might be able to open doors to greater opportunity for women in the field, especially at the planning and policy-making levels.
A larger number of women in higher agricultural education could also help shift attitudes and assumptions about women's roles in agriculture.
Box 6 - Contacting Rural Women
"A study in Tanzania found that extension workers assumed that all adult women are married and that their husbands would pass on advice to them. In fact, many women were single and heads of households and even when they were married, the husbands did not pass on the information".
"Some female farmers could be selected as contact farmers, and act as an effective link with other women farmers....To ensure that women are included as contact farmers, extension workers need to consider the criteria commonly used in the selection process. Some of these tend to indirectly exclude women: e.g. requirement of land ownership, literacy, and the ability to purchase inputs. Adding an emphasis on farming ability could result in an increase in women contact farmers".
Improving Extension Work with Rural Women, FAO, 1996.
A number of approaches and interventions have been identified to increase women's participation in both extension and training. While these are being implemented in various places, they need to become more widely accepted and applied if women are to have equal opportunities to access and benefit from agricultural training and extension. These include:
· Data collection and awareness building on women's contributions to agriculture and food security: The growing collection and dissemination of gender-disaggregated data are contributing to an increasing knowledge and awareness of the important contributions of women to agricultural production and food security. Other measures contributing to this awareness are gender analysis and gender sensitivity training of development policy makers, planners and agents.
· Reorientation of extension and research policies and priorities: Greater knowledge of women's key roles in agriculture can help persuade agricultural development policy makers and planners of the need to reorient extension policies and priorities to include the needs of women food producers and of landless farmers. Mandates and guidelines are needed to implement this, as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
· Improving the linkages between extension and research: Gender-responsive extension services can channel information to research institutes on the needs of women farmers, and gender-responsive research institutes can channel gender appropriate information and technologies to farmers through extension services.
· Training extensionists to involve women in extension services: Both men and women extensionists need training on how to work with women farmers and promote their participation in extension work. Some of the efforts being made are: training extensionists on gender issues and how to carry out gender analysis; the preparation of specific instructional materials on improving extension work with rural women to be used in special training courses and/or inserted into the curriculum of extension courses and training institutes; and developing training materials appropriate for women.
· Training women as extensionists: Girls and women need to be encouraged to train as extension workers. Some efforts in this direction are the provision of special training courses for women farmers, and the reorientation of home economics curricula to emphasize the needs of women in agricultural production.
· Improving women's access to higher agricultural education and opportunities to benefit from this education: More women in higher agricultural studies means more potential women extensionists, researchers, and policy makers, and a critical mass of women to help push open the doors of greater opportunity for women.
Box 7 - Improving Extension Work with Rural Women: An Instructional Package (FAO 1996)
Divided into three major parts, The Trainer's Guide, Course Design and Learner's Workbook, this instructional package is intended to help fill the gap in the lack of gender-sensitive materials available for pre-service and in-service training in extension methodology for extension and community development workers. The modules are designed to be adapted and used at various levels and in a number of formal and non-formal educational settings: education at the intermediate (technical) and higher levels, induction training at the start of employment, in-service education or on-the-job-training and shorter refresher courses and workshops. The Instructional Package was prepared by and is available from: the Research, Extension and Training Division, Extension, Education and Communication Service, FAO, Rome.