Education Knowledge

Posted March 1998

Enrolment of Women in Higher Agricultural Education: Case Studies from Côte d'Ivoire, Jordan, Nigeria, Philippines and the Caribbean (Part 2)

prepared by Marilee Karl
FAO consultant
in collaboration with the Education Group
Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE)
FAO Research, Extension and Training Division
< to Part 1

Higher agricultural education in Nigeria

Since Nigeria is still primarily an agricultural country, it is not surprising that the majority of its universities offer agriculture as a field of study. Since more than 60 percent of the labour force in agricultural production are women, it would also make sense to find a similar proportion in agricultural studies. This, however, is not the case. In fact less than 25 percent of those studying agriculture are women.

The Nigeria case study focuses on agricultural studies at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ile-Ife, founded in 1962, and its two affiliated institutions: the Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan and the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure. All three institutions require good preparation in sciences and mathematics for admission of students.

The OAU offers degrees in a wide range of agricultural subjects, while the Federal Colleges have traditionally been oriented more towards training middle-level agricultural extension workers and other junior, middle and high-level professionals in the agriculture sector. At present, the Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan, offers two-year programmes: the Higher National Diploma Programme in Agricultural Engineering (Farm Power and Machinery Option) and the Higher National Diploma Programme Agriculture (Crop Production Technology Option), while the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, now offers a one-year National Diploma Programme in Agricultural Technology.

Only 14.7 percent of the staff of the Faculty of Agriculture of OAU are women, and the majority of these are in the home economics department. The same is true of the affiliated institutions where women hold lower-level positions as instructors and demonstrators.

Data on enrolment at the three institutions are scanty due to poor record keeping and insufficient gender-disaggregated data on the student body. Data from the graduation records of the OAU show the percentage of female graduates ranging from 8.5 to 16.7 percent. The majority of women were in the Agricultural Economics Department, followed by Soil Science, Animal Science, Agricultural Extension and Plant Science. Female enrolment at the Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan, reached a high of 20 percent in 1994. At the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, 16.2 percent of the student body was female in 1993.

A survey on what motivated women to enrol in agricultural found that 42.8 percent of the students had taken up agricultural out of interest. The second most cited reason (16.3 %) was patriotism and desire to improve the national economy. This was followed by the desire to go into private practice of farming (9.8 %) and the hope that it would afford them independence (6.8 %). Only 4.7 percent said that they had no other choice open to them. Other reasons given included encouragement by friends and family members, to earn a living, the admissions policy, and the desire for gender equality and to break men's monopoly of the field of study.

Significantly, the perception of the teachers (the vast majority of whom are male) was quite different. They were of the opinion that female students enrol in agriculture simply to have a degree and rarely to practice farming. In spite of the positive motivations of the majority of women to study agriculture, paradoxically, 44.7 percent said that they would have chosen another course of study had it been offered to them. Interestingly, many of the alternative choices cited were in fields stereotyped as women's work and where more jobs are open to women (e.g., pharmacy, medicine, food science and accounting).

Constraints on women students in agriculture were cited by both the teaching staff and the women themselves. It is interesting to note that a major constraint on women was considered to be the physical work and stress involved in agriculture: "Policy makers and administrators pointed out that it was not the norm for women to carry out the heavy duties. As employees, they are not allocated stressful jobs such as operating a tractor or driving a truck or working in forestry which is very hazardous. At the initial stages of produce marketing women were not given a place in the subsector because they were regarded as not being physically fit to stand the stress of produce management which demands quality" (Afonja and Olusi, 1995).

It would be interesting to consider the reasoning of policy makers and administrators as to why operating a tractor or driving a truck is more physically taxing to women than hauling large loads of fuel, water, crops and produce on their backs and heads for long distances -- which is the lot of an immense number of women farmers throughout the world, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Why, too, is marketing quality produce considered more stressful than having to manage a multitude of daily tasks including farming, fetching fuel and water, food processing and preparation, childcare, cleaning, laundry, caring for domestic livestock and all the other needs of a household?

Breaking the myth of agriculture as a man's occupation

"Although in reality women perform agricultural duties on a regular basis, agricultural occupations are regarded as male occupations and development strategies continue to target them. Women's restriction to the subsistence sector and the definition of what they do as part of household chores are disincentives to the choice of the agricultural sector for employment.
"African men project a pragmatic approach to the gender division of labour in agriculture. The argument has been that women play dominant roles in agriculture because their duties are light and that men usually take on the heavy duties....disregarding the fact that women are now performing a wide range of tasks and are breaking down this myth of the pragmatic African male. It is not surprising then that the proportion of female graduates in rural areas is very low".
(Afonja and Olusi, 1995)
Other constraints cited were: However, 73 percent of the women students interviewed said that they encountered no problems with the programme of study. Only 3.3 percent complained that there was too much practical work. A number of female students even complained that the practical work was not thorough enough and that there was insufficient materials for the practicals. Other complaints were lack of finances for study, and transportation problems.

At the policy level, there is a gap between policy and practice in the area of female education. While the policy is to facilitate the education of girls and women at all levels, no special measures have been taken or sufficient funding allocated for this purpose. Insufficient encouragement of science studies among girls also lowers the potential number of qualified women for higher agricultural studies.

Opportunities for women agricultural graduates appear to be limited. Surveys of work prospects as perceived by women undergraduates as well as their aspirations revealed that the aspirations of the undergraduates corresponded with what they perceived to be their job prospects. Heading the list of career paths were banks and financial institutions, followed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Agro-Allied and oil companies, research institutes and the Ministry of Education. Less often cited were teaching, private practice and government farms. Most of the jobs cited were office jobs rather than work in the field.

Several factors influence these perceptions and aspirations. On the one hand, women appear to have few opportunities to benefit from their agricultural education; on the other hand, the economic crisis in Nigeria makes the financial sector very attractive because of high salaries. On the policy level, there appears to be too few women agriculturists to make any significant impact on agricultural policy, or to overcome the obstacles facing women in agriculture and rural development.

A vicious circle

The fact that a small proportion of skilled manpower in agriculture are women further makes it difficult for women farmers to derive the benefits of new technologies since women's problems and needs are usually not well understood by male policy makers and implementors.
(Afonja and Olusi, 1995)
Recommendations to improve women's access to higher agricultural education and their opportunities to use and benefit from this education include: The implementation of these recommendations should also lead towards a larger number of women policy makers and implementors in agriculture.

Higher agricultural education in the Philippines

The University of the Philippines (UPLB) was established in 1909 as a College of Agriculture. Over the years, a number of other colleges evolved from the College of Agriculture, transforming it into a full-fledged university with seven colleges. In addition to the College of Agriculture, there are at present Colleges of Forestry, Engineering and Agricultural Technology, Arts and Sciences, Human Ecology, Veterinary Medicine, and Economics and Management. Today, the University offers 25 undergraduate programmes, 49 masters, 20 doctoral and five diploma or certificate programmes. The College of Agriculture offers Bachelors of Science degrees in Agriculture, Development Communication and Food Technology as well as a Diploma in Agriculture.

Research priorities of the UPLB are:

More than half of the research projects in 1994 were conducted by women, but most of these were in fields traditionally dominated by women. Only a few women carried out research in animal sciences, forestry and environmental sciences or engineering and physical sciences.

Table 3 - Research conducted by UPLB faculty and researchers in 1994 by gender and field
Field Male Female Total Percent % Fem
Plant Sciences 345 477 822 76 58
Socio-Economics and Arts 2 66 68 6 97
Food and Nutrition 22 27 49 5 55
Farming Systems 25 20 45 4 44
Forestry & Enviro. Sciences 32 12 44 4 27
Animal Sciences 27 11 38 4 29
Engin. & Physical Sciences 14 4 18 2 22
Total 467 617 1084 100 57
Source: Mancebo et al 1995, Table 17.

The University also carries out programmes with extension components which enable faculty and staff to work directly with rural people in testing innovations, techniques, strategies and approaches before they are recommended for wider application. These extension services include training programmes, action-research projects, information dissemination and publications, university-community relations programmes, volunteer work and technical assistance.

UPLB has long had a high percentage of women on its faculty. In 1985, 43 percent of the faculty were women, and this had risen to 47 percent in 1994. Men dominate the highest ranks of the faculty, however. Women constitute two thirds of the Research, Extension and Professional staff (e.g., guidance counsellors, librarians, etc.).

The University has been implementing the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Programme (STFAP) since 1989, which is designed to democratize student admissions and provide increased subsidies for poor and disadvantaged students.

Women constituted 58 percent of the undergraduate student enrolment of some 17,000 students at UPLB in 1994-1995. Men predominated in those colleges traditionally considered the domain of males: Colleges of Engineering and Agricultural Technology, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, while women dominated the traditional female career preferences which are more related to home and family responsibilities: Human Ecology, Arts and Science and Economics and Management. Interestingly, women also predominate in the College of Agriculture, a traditionally male-dominated field.

At the graduate level, men slightly outnumbered women. While the breakdown by faculty generally reflects the traditional male-female domains, it is interesting to note that at the PhD level, there were more women than men in the Physical Sciences.

Table 4 - UPLB Graduate School enrolment by field and gender, 1994-95
Field MA/MSc Total % Female PhD Total % Female
Arts and Social Sciences 624 58 19261
Plant Sciences 253 40 21143
Animal Sciences 104 36 5137
Biological Sciences 84 65 3058
Forestry & Environmental Sciences 202 46 9821
Physical Sciences 210 43 5461
Total 1,476 48 63647
Source: UPLB Graduate School, Mancebo et al, 1995, Table 22.

A study of student profiles in the Colleges of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine showed that, regardless of gender, more than half the students came from urban areas and the majority were from developing as opposed to economically depressed parts of the country. Most of them had attended public primary schools and private secondary schools and had graduated in the top 25 percent of their class. The majority of the students also came from small families and their parents were mostly college degree holders and employed as professionals and businessmen.

Financial considerations and educational background of the families affect the opportunities of both men and women to study agricultural subjects. Much of the rural population lives in poverty and has fewer means and aspirations to take up agriculture as a career.

A survey of students revealed that most of them, regardless of gender, had made their own decisions on pursuing a career in agriculture and that they chose to study at UPLB because they believed it to be the best university in the country. Their main reasons for pursing college education were to have a better life in the future with a decent and stable job. The majority of students agreed that the university admissions test was a good method to screen the most qualified students. Some, however, felt it favoured the rich who had the means to get a higher quality secondary education than the poor. The payment policy of the university was also considered to be unfair to poorer students.

Attitudes towards gender issues were measured in a survey of 14 faculty members and 377 students. The results showed that overall both male and female faculty and students held positive attitudes about the equality of men and women. Among the faculty, while men agreed, women felt more strongly about the following propositions: 1) wives should be allowed to work; 2) women are equally capable leaders and managers as men; and 3) women should not face discrimination in entering male-dominated jobs.

The major employer of the UPLB graduates has traditionally been the government. In the past three decades, 48 percent of the women graduates and 35 percent of the men were employed in government service, particularly the Department of Agriculture, although the private sector is increasingly employing agricultural graduates. Other employers include educational institutions, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.

The division of jobs follows the typical traditional roles of men and women. The research and management jobs were dominated by men, while women were found mainly in extension services, teachings and sales. There are wide income-earning disparities between men and women. More men than women belong to the highest income earning bracket, whereas 60 percent of the women and only 34 percent of the men fall into the lowest income bracket. Overall, women earn about half of what men earn.

Women's high literacy rates and equal access to basic education, which is both guaranteed by law and culturally accepted, gives them the basic requisites for higher agricultural education. This is reflected in the high enrolment rates for women in all fields of higher agricultural education, although there is still a tendency for men and women to follow traditional male and female fields of study.

Higher agricultural education, however, attracts fewer students than other fields of study, probably due to perceptions of agriculture as a less prestigious and profitable profession. These attitudes are more prevalent in rural areas where farming has been the mainstay of the population and where much of the population still lives in poverty.

Women's equal access to education does not guarantee them equal opportunity to use and benefit from their education. Women still remain concentrated in farm, sales, service and production work. Even in government service where women dominate the "feeders" to the top, only one-third of the top level positions are filled by women.

A number of important measures and legislative acts have been passed to encourage the greater participation of women in public life and to guarantee them equality before the law. These include:

In spite of these measures, a situation of inequality of opportunity persists, particularly in decision-making and policy-level positions, in employment and in public life. This is not to disparage the importance of positive measures and laws to promote equal opportunities for women. Undoubtedly these measures are helping to gradually break down the social and structural barriers to the empowerment of women. It takes time, however, to change long-engrained attitudes and habits, as well as the political will to ensure that laws are enforced and other measures are effectively implemented.

Male-dominated social structure

"There are still factors that limit women to rise to the top positions and to develop their full potentials. Despite their large numbers in some fields such as agriculture, they are unrecognized and thus do not enjoy the benefits of their training and their acquired technology. This could probably be traced to the centuries-old discriminatory attitudes, laws and traditions which, consciously or unconsciously, still prevail in the male-dominated social structure".
(Mancebo, et al, 1995)
Given the already positive legislation and measures to promote women, as well as the excellent access to education enjoyed by women, the recommendations of the case study focus mainly on improving access to higher agricultural education of women from the disadvantaged regions of the country, improving career advancement, and changing the socio-cultural climate which maintains a male-dominated social structure. These recommendations, addressed mainly to government but also to NGOs, are: International organizations could support these measures through the provision of technical assistance in the overall process of capacity building and global networking in resource exchange and utilization. Specifically, international organizations could:

Higher agricultural education in the Caribbean Community

The University of the West Indies is a regional university serving 14 Caribbean territories, members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM): Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Its three semi-autonomous campuses are located in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Founded in 1948 in Jamaica as the University College of the West Indies, it incorporated the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago in 1960, while a third campus in Barbados was opened in 1963. In addition, the University has a Centre of Hotel and Tourism management in the Bahamas and university centres in 11 Caribbean countries. The system is served by a network of satellite communications: The University of the West Indies Distance Education Facility (UWIDITE).

Most of the students come from the CARICOM countries and in the total registration of the University females outnumber males. At the St. Augustine campus, there are nearly equal numbers of men and women in all the diploma and degree programmes, although men outnumber women to some extent at the higher degree level.

Table 5 - Student registration, University of the West Indies, 1993/94
Males Females % Female
Entire University 6211 8775 58
St. Augustine Campus 2699 2562 49
Undergraduate degrees 1943 1914 49
Higher degrees 486 359 42
Diplomas 52 72 58
Advanced diplomas 17 18 51
Source: Reddock and Deare, 1996.

The Centre for Gender and Development Studies was established in 1993 with units on each of the three campuses and a regional coordinating unit in Jamaica. This Centre was established as a result of eleven years of efforts on the part of women staff on all three campuses through the Women and Development Studies Group. Its undergraduate courses include a course in Gender Issues in Agriculture.

The Faculty of Agriculture emerged from the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in 1960. In 1975, most of the research staff moved to the newly formed Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Unit (CARDI). Today, CARDI is engaged in applied research and development while the Faculty of Agriculture is responsible for teaching and training agricultural scientists and technicians with a view to addressing the problems of agricultural and rural development in the Caribbean region. The Faculty offers undergraduate training, post-graduate training, continuing education training, and international exchanges. It also undertakes research and development, outreach activities, and conferences and publications.

At the undergraduate level, the Faculty offers BSc degrees in Agronomy, Crop Production, Agribusiness Management, Livestock Production and Human Ecology (Home Economics, Nutrition and Dietetics). The graduate programme offers MSc degrees in Agricultural Economics, Crop Protection, Tropical Commodity Utilization, and Livestock Science and Production. The M. Phil and PhD degrees are awarded for two to three years of research.

Initiated in 1989, the Continuing Education Programme in Agricultural Technology (CEPAT) offers short courses of one to three weeks that aim to meet the training needs of farmers, managers, agro-processors, extensionists, traders and associated technical and managerial staff. More recently, the External Programme in Agriculture (EPA) was established in 1994 with a post-graduate programme for advanced training in Agricultural and Rural Development in collaboration with Wye College, University of London. This distance learning programme offers a post-graduate diploma, course certificates and MSc degrees.

The International Student Exchange between the Faculty of Agriculture and the University of Wisconsin began in 1987 and offers students from each university the opportunity to spend a semester of study at the other.

Table 6 - Enrolment in the Faculty of Agriculture, University of the West Indies, 1995/1996
Male Female % Female
Undergraduate Programme 140 156 52
Masters Degrees 70 50 41
PhD 20 5 25
External Programme in Agriculture 47 15 24
Exchange Programme 5 3 60
Source: Reddock and Deare, 1996.

As the University has no gender policy on admissions in the Faculty of Agriculture, the high intake of females is probably related to the large number of qualified women graduates at the secondary level. The percentage of women drops to 25 percent at the PhD level, however, and 24 percent in the External Programme in Agriculture. The latter situation is a matter of serious concern since women constitute the majority of food producers in the region. More study is needed to explore the reasons for this low participation of women and to formulate policy to correct it.

Problems reported by women students included sexual harassment. No services exist to deal with complaints of harassment or to assist women victims of violence. The lack of support facilities and child care centres were also cited as problems for parents of young children.

Although the University Charter explicitly prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, men far outnumber women in senior academic and administrative positions. In the Faculty of Agriculture there were 35 men on the staff and 6 women in 1992/93. All professors, readers and senior lecturers were male.

Women graduates do not face any legally sanctioned discrimination, as the constitutions of all the CARICOM countries prohibit discrimination against women. However, more male graduates than female graduates are employed in the public sector with Ministries of Agriculture and national and regional agricultural research and development institutions. A general decline in agriculture in the Caribbean has lessened the demand for agricultural graduates in many countries. Jamaica is an exception where the demand for agricultural graduates is still high. Unlike other countries in the region, Jamaica has a significant number of women in key management positions. Grenada is also exceptional in having two women in positions of permanent secretaries in agriculture. In a 1990 survey of women graduates in managerial positions, many women indicated that managerial training courses and internship programmes during the degree programme would have prepared them more adequately for their jobs. Additional training to upgrade skills was also seen to be important.

The survey noted that only 29 percent of the women graduates were involved in policy or decision making at the organizational level and only 2 percent at national level. Nevertheless, the majority of women respondents felt that they did not encounter unequal treatment in the workplace. They did, however, perceive a lack of support for working mothers and pregnant women.

Women's organizations can play a role

"Despite the recognition by the government of the obstacles to the progress of women, women's organizations play a key role in making women's issues public and lobbying for the government to implement necessary changes. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago there is no maternity leave law....
"Rural women in particular are least reached by the activities of women's organizations although women's groups organize outreach programmes to rural communities. Some women farmers' groups have been formed to assist women in their productive work. Such groups include the Paramin Women's Group, the Arena Women's Group and the organization of Women in Rice. Professional women agriculturists have also formed themselves into an organization --The Organizations of Professional Women in Agriculture (OPWA)".
(Reddock and Deare, 1996)


Afonja and Omolara Olusi, 1995. "Enrolment figures and causal factors of women in agricultural studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria". Country case study. Rome, FAO

Rhoda Reddock and Fredericka Deare, 1996. "Enrolment patterns of women in higher agricultural education: the case of the University of the West Indies". Country case study. Rome, FAO

Samuel T. Mancebo, Evangeline C. Sulabo, Lorna P. Domingo and Francisca O. Tan, 1995. "Women in higher education in agriculture in the Philippines: the case of the University of the Philippines, Los Banos". Country case study. Rome, FAO

  • This article is an extract from "Higher agricultural education and opportunities in rural development for women" (FAO, 1997). The full publication can be downloaded here in Word 6.0 for Windows, zipped (66K).

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