Planners worldwide are increasingly called upon to engage in "bottom-up" participatory planning that will benefit women as well as men. However, participatory, gender-responsive agricultural planning is rarely practised. One reason for this is the question of method. It is not clear just "how" to conduct participatory planning or how to change current planning procedures in order to make them more responsive to gender and other differences among farmers. However, as a start, a review of the different steps and operations of the planning process is needed. This will also determine the nature and level of information required.

Agricultural policy-making

Policy-makers are the elected or appointed officials, high-level civil servants and, in some
  • set goals for the agricultural sector (such as growth, food security, regional equity);
  • develop strategies to pursue these goals (such as giving priority to export crops, commercial farms and smallholders); and
  • set price, input, credit and land policies designed to induce farmers, technicians and others working in the sector to take decisions that will achieve the policy objectives.


Agricultural planning

Planners develop national, regional, district or investment plans and projects as well as line agency programmes that are compatible with the goals, strategies and policies set by policy-makers. Planners may be economists, social scientists or technical specialists employed in the planning units of the Ministry of Agriculture or its various line agencies, such as extension or livestock services, or in national or international development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and agencies. Managers may also be involved in planning, especially in programme planning for line agencies.


Gender-responsive agricultural planning It is agricultural development planning that responds to the different priorities of diverse groups of farmers where these differences are based on gender and other socio-economic factors. Planners and policy-makers are aware of these differences and of how best to respond to them because these groups of women and men farmers have taken an active part in planning agricultural development activities. It is a process in which both farmers and planners are committed to following up plans together.


The structures, processes and relative importance of the various "levels" of planning differ from country to country. A basic familiarity with the common features of most agricultural planning systems can assist in determining where and to whom the information produced by gender-sensitive participatory processes can be directed in order to increase the responsiveness of planning to gender and other differences among farmers.

Development planning, including agricultural planning, may be divided into two basic categories: centralized and decentralized. In a centralized planning system all major policy, planning, programming and budgeting decisions for the sector as a whole and for subsector line agencies are made at the national level. In a decentralized system, responsibility for a large number of planning, programming and budgeting decisions is devolved to regional and/or district levels. A separate regional or district planning apparatus may be formed to develop an area-based investment plan. The decentralization of planning and agricultural administration tends to bring problem analysis and planning closer to regional and local realities.

Village- or community-level planning is still rare. As decentralization takes hold, however, village planning may well become increasingly important. It has two basic functions: i) to provide information for higher planning levels by means of participatory problem analysis; and ii) to set community priorities and formulate action plans that can be carried out either independently or with some outside assistance.

The increasing importance of decentralized planning is one of three main elements in the current context of agricultural policy-making and planning.

Major elements in the current planning environment

  • new constraints, especially a squeeze on operational funding and the loss of staff in a wide range of government agencies as a result of structural adjustment;
  • new approaches, government administrative decentralization, regional and district interdisciplinary planning; and
  • new demands, for participation, "bottom-up" planning, and for taking women into account.


While all these elements do not necessarily "fit" in all countries, and every element is not necessarily "new" in all contexts, they are common enough to constitute a relatively new policy and planning environment. This environment presents an important opening for gender and socio-economic difference-responsive, participatory agricultural planning.

The challenge to planning to "become more participatory" has several sources. Among the most compelling is the failure of many development projects and programmes to meet their objectives when farmers have failed to respond as expected. The old habit of blaming farmer ignorance and backwardness has lost its appeal, especially in the face of evidence that many farmers, such as the resource-limited, women farmers and some pastoralists, face constraints that make it impossible for them to respond as expected. Moreover, successful community development programmes based on participatory planning, implementation and monitoring processes have demonstrated that rural communities are indeed interested in development and will work to make plans and projects succeed so long as those plans respond to local priorities. Finally, the push for democratization has added an important political dimension to the demand for more participatory, "bottom-up" planning.

The admonition to "take women into account" also stems in part from the lacklustre performance of projects that have ignored women's roles in farming systems. Two decades of gender-sensitive project evaluations have resulted in a growing recognition that many projects, while improving men's situations, have actually made women worse off. Other factors have gradually shifted attitudes at both international and national levels; among them, pressure on donors and governments to respond to women's needs as farmers, and the momentum created by major international conferences on population, the environment and women. The rapid growth in women's organizations throughout the world and their growing links with one another have added a political thrust.

A far less positive factor in the current environment is the often extreme pressure on governments to reduce their budgets in order to meet structural adjustment and stabilization targets. This factor weighs in at many levels, from cutting into planning funds and personnel, to prioritizing "men's" export crops and restricting funds for government services such as extension, marketing and credit for women farmers. The implication for gender-sensitive participatory planning methods is that much more attention must be paid to cost-effectiveness in generating and using information that can promote gender-responsive policy, programme and project development.

While the new voices in this complex "planning environment" have, in many places, evoked a positive political response, the question for planners is still, what exactly should be done? That there are no easy answers is obvious. There are, however, promising new approaches for involving different groups of farmers, including women and the poor, in agricultural planning.


Participation is a term that is notoriously broadly interpreted. It may even be interpreted differently by different stakeholders in the same agricultural planning process. Stakeholders, a new notion in comparison to beneficiaries or partners, are all persons and organizations who stand to gain or lose from a particular policy, programme or project. Many people and groups have a "stake" in the results of agricultural planning, including women and men farmers from different socio-economic, ethnic or age groups. An FAO study of multilevel planning for agricultural development in Asia and the Pacific (FAO, 1995; p. 89-90, quoted in the box below) reviews the various ways that "participation" is practised in planning processes.

Levels of people's participation in agricultural planning

1. participation limited to elites only (mostly elected representatives);
2. participation in which people are asked to legitimize or ratify projects identified and formulated by government, but do not participate in the detailed planning and management of the project;
3. participation in which people are consulted from the start and also actively participate in planning and management of projects;
4. participation in which representatives from different strata of society/occupation groups find their places in all planning/coordination/evaluation mechanisms devised at the various levels including the highest policy-making level; and
5. participation in which representatives in (4) actually control the decisions at all levels.


The same FAO study points out that, as of 1995, "experience in the various countries shows that the modes of participation in (4) and (5) have not effectively materialized". While this may no longer be strictly true, participation even at level (3) is still quite rare. In promoting participatory agricultural planning, there is a need to analyse current levels of participation to understand better the changes that will be required to reach higher levels.

Participation is key in terms of involving rural people in the information collection and planning process. Participatory methods can be used to collect information on the activities and constraints of women and men farmers. This new information can then be shared with policy-makers and planners to allow the formulation of development plans that reflect the interest of the rural population and support a sustainable development.


Projects to improve the responsiveness of agricultural planning to the priorities of women and men farmers from different socio-economic groups need to foster participation by as wide a range of stakeholders as possible. The ideal would be to have an active involvement in planning by representatives from all groups with a stake in the policy or programme.

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA)

Participatory rural appraisal, commonly known as PRA, is a set of tools to facilitate a research and action process managed by the local community. It is an exceptionally relevant and powerful method for involving communities in the information-generating, analysis and priority-setting phases of agricultural planning. Specific tools such as village resource maps, problem trend lines and institutional profiles assist in the analysis of community issues. Other tools such as farming systems diagrams, seasonal calendars, daily activity profiles and household resource maps can be combined with gender analysis to facilitate the study of livelihood systems of different socio-economic groups. A third set of tools helps communities and different socio-economic/gender-based focus groups to identify and prioritize their problems and resource needs and to develop group or community action plans.

Gender analysis

Over the past three decades, wider recognition has been given to the manner in which the structure of gender relationships and roles affects development policies, programmes and projects, irrespective of whether or not these activities are specifically targeted towards a particular sex. Moreover, there is a much wider understanding of the linkages between gender issues and general development problems such as poverty, lack of political power and environmental degradation. As both a cause and a result of this increased awareness, numerous methods and tools have been developed to facilitate the consideration of gender issues in the full range of development activities.

Gender analysis identifies established patterns of gender-based inequality in economic and social life. This can be threatening to more advantaged stakeholders in the agricultural planning process. Frequently, senior staff or policy-makers appear to be more resistant to undertaking gender analysis than farmers and government field staff. In some cases, the use of gender analysis tools at the community level may foster a level of conflict that can be inimical to women's interests. To avoid such negative outcomes, local women should decide whether or not specific gender analysis tools are best used in mixed sex settings or by women alone. Where gender relations are hierarchical (the vast majority of cases), participatory methods such as PRA should always include a separate "women's problems analysis" as well.

One example is FAO's Socioeconomic and Gender Analysis Programme (SEAGA), which emphasizes the fact that the outcome of development activities (in both public and private spheres) is affected by a range of factors that are, or can be, broader than those that are generally dealt with in the context of gender analysis. These factors include socio-cultural patterns, economic trends and political issues. In other words, the SEAGA approach recognizes that the issues that affect women, such as poverty, lack of power and vulnerability to environmental degradation, while partly attributable to women's inequality and traditional roles, are also related to the same social and economic factors that keep men poor and politically alienated.

The recognition and understanding of the processes, structures and linkages between these different levels is therefore central to the gender analysis process. It is simply not sufficient to focus, for example, on household and community issues, to the exclusion of important intermediate and macrolevel structures and institutions that significantly determine the overall social and economic position of women and men. Cross-sectoral issues and national development concerns are not sufficiently identified or addressed at the field level and thus hinder the identification of proper development strategies.


An ideal gender-responsive agricultural planning process would entail the following elements:

Planning is a forward-looking process that allows us to consider where are we now, where we want to be, and the best ways to get there. The process of strategic planning facilitates communication and participation, accommodates divergent interests and values, fosters wise and analytic decision-making, and promotes successful implementation.

Different entry-points, tools and methods for gender-responsive planning can include the use of focus groups, local cases for PRA training, methods to adapt PRA and gender analysis tools to local circumstances, statistical surveys to supplement PRA-generated information, participatory impact monitoring and methods to strengthen grassroots organizations. Capacity building is another important component where government officials, line agency officers and field workers can be trained in participatory methods and/or gender analysis. Capacity building will allow planners to capture better the information most relevant for agricultural planning and can thus improve the gender-responsiveness of policies and interventions and linking to the right sources for coordination and information sharing. There is also a need to establish a mechanism to respond to community-planning efforts and secure follow-up activities.2

2 For case studies on best practices with regard to gender and participation in agricultural planning see FAO, 1997. Ten case studies are presented from Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Honduras, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Senegal, Tunisia, and India.