Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap

Information and extension

Good and timely information on new technologies and techniques is essential for farmers when deciding whether or not to adopt an innovation, and agricultural extension can lead to significant yield increases.  Yet, extension provision in developing economies remains low for both women and men, and women tend to make less use than men of extension services.1

Extension service agents tend to approach male farmers more often than female farmers because of the general misperception that women do not farm and that extension advice will eventually “trickle down” from the male household head to other members. Time and transportation constraints and cultural reservations can hinder women from participating in extension activities, and in some social contexts where meetings between women and men from outside the family nucleus are restricted, a lack of female extension agents effectively bars women from participating. 

The way in which extension services are delivered can also constrain women farmers in receiving information on innovations. Women tend to have lower levels of education than men, which may limit their participation in some kinds of training. And extension services are often directed towards farmers who are more likely to adopt modern innovations, for example farmers with sufficient resources in well-established areas. As women are less likely to access resources, they may therefore be bypassed by extension service providers.2

Policy recommendations

Ensure that women are empowered and trained to exercise their rights and participate

There is a need for effective empowerment of women among the membership and leadership positions in producer organizations, cooperatives, workers’ unions, and outgrower schemes to ensure that rural women have a stronger voice and decision-making power. At the same time, it is necessary to promote gender sensitivity within representative bodies through the training of both men and women representatives, as this does not derive automatically from women’s participation. 

Improve extension services

Extension services are important for diffusing technology and good practices, but reaching female farmers requires careful consideration. In some contexts, it is culturally more acceptable for female farmers to interact with female extension agents, and hiring female extension agents can be an effective means of reaching female farmers. This preference is not universal, however, so in many cases properly trained male extension agents may be able to provide equally effective services.  Whether male or female, extension agents must be sensitive to the realities, needs and constraints of rural women. Extension services for women must consider all the roles of women; women’s needs as farmers are often neglected in favour of programmes aimed at household responsibilities. Extension systems will also have to be more innovative and flexible to account for social and cultural obstacles and for time and mobility constraints.

Scale up farmer field schools

Farmer field schools (FFS) have proved to be a participatory and effective way of empowering and transferring knowledge to women farmers.

Key facts

Women are much less likely to use purchased inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds or to make use of mechanical tools and equipment. In many countries women are only half as likely as men to use fertilizers.

Extension provision in developing economies remains low for both women and men, and women tend to make less use than men of extension services.3

According to a 1988–89 FAO survey of extension organizations covering 97 countries with sex disaggregated data (the most comprehensive study available) only 5 percent of all extension resources were directed at women. Moreover, only 15 percent of the extension personnel were female.


  1. R. Meinzen-Dick., A. Quisumbing, J. Behrman, P. Biermayr-Jenzano, V. Wilde, M. Noordeloos, C. Ragasa, & N. Beintema. 2010. Engendering agricultural research. IFPRI Discussion Paper No. 973. Washington, DC, IFPRI.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
SOFA 2010-2011


FAO Gender Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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