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Chapter 9 - Improving women farmers' access to extension services

Janice Jiggins, R. K. Samanta, and Janice E. Olawoye

Janice Jiggins is a consultant in Andelst, Netherlands, and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Rural Extension Studies, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. R. K. Samanta is a faculty member and the Head of the TOT Systems and Policies Unit, National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, India. Janice E. Olawoye is a rural sociologist and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Extension Services, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.

The need for gender analysis
Constraints and opportunities: Rural women and extension strategies
Recommendations for more effective extension systems for rural women

Over the last several decades, considerable effort has been made throughout the world to provide women farmers and women on the farm with efficient, effective, and appropriate technology, training, and information. The positive effects are beginning to show in agricultural production statistics and in indices of family welfare. Yet these successes still fall far short of what is needed at a time when public sector investments in agricultural research and extension are under pressure, when ever-greater demands are being placed on rural women in the face of rapid social transformation, and, in an increasing number of areas, when evidence of environmental degradation is mounting.

This chapter begins with a brief review of the need for gender analysis as the basis for agricultural sector policy making, extension programming, and agricultural project design and execution. The middle section examines some of the difficulties in providing women with extension services and what is being done to resolve them. Finally, the lessons of experience as the basis of an outline agenda for the coming decade are briefly considered.

The need for gender analysis

The term gender describes the socially determined attributes of men and women, including male and female roles. (In comparison, sex denotes the physical and biological differences between males and females.) Gender has proven to be an essential variable for analysing the roles, responsibilities, constraints, opportunities, incentives, costs, and benefits in agriculture. Innumerable development projects, government programmes, research studies, and theoretical models have demonstrated that the improvement of women's access to agricultural research and extension services must begin with an analysis of men's and women's participation in the agricultural production process along two related dimensions: their role in agriculture and their role in the household.

Gender Analysis in Agriculture

It is now widely demonstrated that rural women, as well as men, throughout the world are engaged in a range of productive activities essential to household welfare, agricultural productivity, and economic growth. Yet women's substantial contribution continues to be systematically marginalized and undervalued in conventional agricultural and economic analyses and policies, while men's contribution remains the central, often the sole, focus of attention.

Women are typically, and wrongly, still characterized as "economically inactive" in statistical surveys of agriculture, a result that tells us more about survey methodology than about reality (Janelid, 1975). Agricultural extension services still do not attach much importance to reaching women farmers or women on the farm. Policy makers and administrators typically still assume (in the face of the empirical data) that men are the farmers and women play only a "supportive role" as farmers' wives (Samanta, 1994).

The official definition of a farmer in Nigeria in 1965, for example, was given as "an adult male... who has the right to the produce of a farm... women are not classified as farmers" (FOS, 1966, p. 3). Yet among many studies of rural women in Nigeria (WORDOC, 1988), Akor (1990) found that 92 per cent of the surveyed northern rural women gave farming as their primary or secondary occupation. Of these, 74 per cent owned or worked their own separate plots. While the official definition of a farmer in Nigeria has been corrected to be gender neutral, as in most other countries, gender bias is prevalent in official agricultural circles and among field professionals. Similar investigations conducted in selected states in India show that more than 60 per cent of agricultural operations are performed by women farmers, yet the fact that "most farmers in India are women" (Shiva, 1991) is simply not reflected in extension provision or training.

Gender Analysis at the Household Level

The rural household typically is conceptualized in extension programmes and agricultural policies as a unit made up of individuals working in similar ways to meet common goals under the direction of a male head. In reality, the household is a more complex and dynamic social entity which may change its composition and goals over time as family members and dependents of varying age groups and sexes engage in various activities to meet the specific responsibilities assigned to each. However, while it is useful to draw attention to the fact that the division of labour along gender lines is a social constant and has profound implications for the organization of agriculture, men's and women's responsibilities and privileges vary along sociocultural and socioeconomic lines specific to a particular time and place. It is thus misleading to make assumptions about the particular patterns in gender relationships to be found in any one household on the basis of data from elsewhere. Even within one country, sweeping generalizations are not advisable. Studies in Nigeria have revealed differences in gender relationships even in ethnically similar rural Nigerian communities just kilometres apart (Olawoye, 1985).

It is thus a mistake to view "rural women" as a homogeneous social classification or to derive policies and services for "women in agriculture" that are not based on empirical research which captures the diversity. As we will see later in the chapter, the consequence is that extension services need to be adapted to circumstance rather than designed on the basis of a single universal model. There is no one packaged extension model which can work for all women in all places (Olawoye, 1989; Berger, DeLancey, & Mellencamp, 1984).

The Changing Social Structure in Agriculture

As the composition and structure of rural households change (Snyder, 1990), gender responsibilities are under-going rapid change, typically with rural women becoming more responsible for household food security and children's welfare. One powerful indicator of these changes is the incidence of female-headed rural households, which is on the increase in most developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, women head an estimated 45 per cent of rural households in Kenya, 35 per cent in Malawi, 30 to 40 per cent in Zambia, and 15 per cent in Nigeria (ECA, 1973; Keller, 1986; World Bank, 1992a; FAO, 1993).

Typically, female-headed households are among the poorest, with the lowest level of food security (Heyzer, 1992), but in areas where female headship is the norm, as in the Caribbean, female headship can be a poor predictor of agricultural output, household welfare, or income status (Jiggins, 1994). In other cases, where women have had access to agricultural resources and services in their own right, as in parts of the Kenyan Highlands, women farming alone or with only sporadic assistance from migrant husbands have proved themselves more than capable of increasing farm productivity, efficiency, and profit (Jiggins, 1994; Saito & Weidemann, 1990).

Data summarized by the FAO (1993, Tables 3 and 4) serve as gross indicators of the potential overall size of extension's female clientele (covering female farm operators and female-operated farms) and their distribution among large, medium, and small farms. Case study data from twelve countries (Burkina Paso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Senegal, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, Yemen) indicate the following in the study areas:

· 25 per cent of large farms were operated by women.

· 19 per cent of medium-sized farms were operated by women.

· China and Indonesia both had an exceptionally high proportion of women operators of large and medium-sized farms.

· The numbers and percentage of women operators were greatest on small farms.

· Except for Indonesia, Philippines, Senegal, and Yemen, the percentage of female-headed farms was above 15 per cent, and in Mexico (61.46 per cent), Egypt (28.10 per cent), and Kenya (27.09 per cent), they accounted for a quarter to two thirds of all farms studied.

Numerous instruments exist to guide agricultural professionals and policy makers in gender analysis relevant to research and extension programming. The instruments range from simple checklists and guidelines (FAO, 1982; Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1988), to more detailed methodological handbooks (Feldstein & Jiggins, 1994; Thomas-Slayter, Esser, & Dale Shields, 1994; World Bank, 1992a) and analysis of gender-sensitive agricultural programming (OIL, 1988; IFAD, 1985). Increasingly, both the donor community and national governments require gender analysis before making agricultural sector investments.

Constraints and opportunities: Rural women and extension strategies

The constraints affecting rural women's ability to improve yield, profit, and efficiency in agriculture include (1) women's legal and cultural status, which affects the degree of control women have over productive resources, inputs such as credit, and the benefits which flow from them (Olawoye, 1989); (2) property rights and inheritance laws, which govern access to and use of land and other natural resources (Jiggins, 1989a); (3) the relationship among ecological factors such as the seasonality of rainfall and availability of fuelwood, economic factors such as product market failures, and gender-determined responsibilities such as feeding the family, which trade off basic household self-provisioning goals and care of the family against production for the market (Jiggins, 1989b; Horenstein, 1989); and (4) the way that agricultural services are staffed, managed, and designed (FAO, 1993; Saito & Weidemann, 1990; Gittinger et al, 1990).

Improving Women's Access to Extension

Agricultural extension strategies traditionally have focussed on increasing production of cash crops by providing men with training, information, and access to inputs and services. This male bias is illustrated in farmer training centres, which have been established to provide residential training on technical subjects. Most do not provide separate washing and sleeping accommodations for men and women and do not provide facilities for the care of babies or young children, factors which may prevent women from attending the centres. Second, women's daily workloads do not usually allow them to be absent from home for residential training; even attending short courses may cause insuperable problems in arranging substitute care for children or the home. And third, even where attendance of women is quite high as a proportion of the total, women are given instruction mainly in home economics and craft subjects, not technical agriculture (Staudt, 1973; Perraton, Jamison, & Orival 1983).

Further, in the overwhelming majority of countries, extension services have been staffed predominantly by men. Only in countries such as the Philippines have women field staff been deployed in sufficient numbers and with sufficient resources to become effective agents of change among women farmers.

On the other hand, it is typical of ministries to assume that home economics services can substitute for agricultural training and information for women. Home economics and agriculture are both important, but they are not substitutes. Where home economics services have been provided, as Aidoo (1988) notes, female home economists worked almost exclusively with rural women, thus reinforcing the institutionalization of gender bias. Still, home economics services are far from universal and are poorly resourced, although some have struggled against the odds to provide farm women with technical information and training and with access to resources.

The introduction of the training and visit system emphasized the selection of contact farmers as a mechanism for passing on information to other ("follower") farmers in their area. The recommended selection criteria, such as title to land, literacy, or cooperative membership, as well as male extension staff's assumptions about women's roles in farming, have largely excluded women's involvement (see Aammink & Kingma, 1991 for a Tanzanian case study). In only a handful of countries (including China, Mexico, and Brazil) have women formed any significant percentage of contact farmers or follower farmers (Box 1).

In some countries, individual contact has been complemented by group contact, especially, but not only, where it may be difficult for male change agents to have any type of contact with individual women other than their own relatives. In many cultural settings, group extension significantly increases women's access (Berger, DeLancey, & Mellencamp, 1984; Ashby, 1981), because the group context calms the fears of male extension agents, husbands, and women about transgressing norms of approved social contact.

This may be particularly true in Islamic areas where women are in partial or total seclusion. Furthermore, in Islamic societies, there are probably not enough qualified adult females who are able to take up the post of change agent at the field level. However, in countries such as Bangladesh, the pioneering efforts of large-scale, non-government, rural development agencies such as BRAC and the Grameen Bank have demonstrated that religion and custom are not necessarily barriers to the hiring and field deployment of female staff, to the mobilization of women's groups and training of women leaders at the group and village levels by male staff, or to the development of efficient savings and credit services for rural women (Jiggins, 1994). Women-dominated and managed agroindustries, notably in poultry and silk, based on individual effort and rewards but mobilized through group mechanisms are becoming sizeable integrated enterprises backed by women's own savings and investments.

The group concept is being deepened and expanded in a number of ways, as agroindustry development opens up opportunities for developing functional linkages between women's groups and centralized processing facilities. The production and processing of herbs, medicinal plants, or perfume plants, for example, organized by TATA Industries in the private sector and BAIF in the nongovernment sector, provide examples from India of information and training linkages between women's groups and the agroindustry. The development of women-only cooperatives in the Dairy Development Movement in south India is a notable case (Chen et al., 1986; Jamal, 1994), but numerous other studies document the potential of this approach (Berger, DeLancey, & Mellencamp, 1984).

Other agencies have demonstrated innovative group approaches to overcoming women's illiteracy, which is a barrier to effective mass communication through written materials, and a restraint on women's ability to demand appropriate services. The rural wing of SEWA (the Self-Employed Women's Association, based in Ahmedabad, India), for example, has pioneered the use of video as the means by which groups of largely illiterate rural women can record and edit short films about their own farm and household environment, needs, problems, and solutions. Armed with these testimonials, they are demanding and receiving attention from district and provincial agricultural extension services, input supply agencies, and rural banks. They are also using videos as tools for mobilizing and communicating their experiences with women in neighbouring villages.

Box 1. Changing the Selection Criteria for Contact Farmers in Kenya.

The criteria laid down by the World Bank for selecting contact farmers specify that they should (1) represent the local range of farm size, cropping pattern, socioeconomic condition; (2) be regarded by other farmers as worthy of imitation; (3) be active, practising farmers; (4) be willing to adopt extension recommendations on at least part of their land, allow other farmers to observe the new practices, and be willing to explain these to other farmers; (5) to the extent possible, come from different families; and (6) be from geographically dispersed farms.

In practice, extension services commonly add other criteria such as a minimum landholding size, literacy, and ability to purchase inputs. Village chiefs and other formal leaders, who are typically men, and field extension agents, who are almost always men, usually make the selection, thus introducing other potential biases against women.

Three adjustments to selection criteria and the selection process have proven to be useful in Kenya in increasing the percentage of women selected:

· Encouraging chiefs, ministers, and other leaders to promote women's selection at local meetings and in the media

· Stressing the importance of selecting women farmers in extension training courses

· Emphasizing selection on merit from among those who are actually doing the work

A trial in three areas of Muranga District, Kenya, showed that in Makuyu, where selection criteria stressed active involvement in fanning and the ability to meet face to face with the field agents, more than half of the contact farmers are women. In two other areas, where land ownership remained a criterion, about two fifths of the agents' selections resulted in only a quarter to a half of all contact farmers being women, m the two cases where the field agents were women, two thirds to 90 per cent of the contact farmers were women. In Meru District, where chiefs habitually select the contact farmers, far fewer women are selected.

(Source: Saito & Weidemann, 1990).

Others are experimenting with the complementary methods of participatory rural appraisal (PRA), digital video, and picture-processing technology to explore further the possibilities for interactive dialogue between groups of women farmers and those more removed from agricultural reality, including male extension workers. Applications in agricultural research and technology development, as well as in environmental assessment and management, for example, are being developed in Tanzania with SIDA assistance. Other agencies such as ICLARM (International Centre for Living Aquatic Resource Management) are developing computer software that enables farmers and researchers to compare and contrast GIS information and maps with farmer-generated natural resource and on-farm resource maps as the basis for improved resource management and technological innovation.

Finally, we should mention the links between commercial extension and individual women as agricultural entre eneurs, particularly in emerging agroindustrial sectors such as ornamental plant and exotic flower production in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Kenya. Where women do have access to land (homestead, family, or rented), they are as well placed as any small entrepreneur to take advantage of the input packages and marketing facilities offered by commercial companies in high-value agroindustries. Indeed, such companies often target women farmers as preferred clients because of the high standards of care and attention women bring to the management of the plants.

Changing Attitudes and Institutions

Experience has also shown that complementary strategies to bring about changes in attitude and behaviour within institutions are required (Poats, 1991). Gender sensitization training has been developed to initiate the task of attitude change within male-dominated extension and research bureaucracies and donor agencies (Rao et al., 1994). Training materials and methods for gender analysis in agriculture (Paris & Frio, 1994; Feldstein, 1994) have also been developed and are now in widespread use. Specialist material for training of trainers (Rao et al., 1994) has also been developed and is beginning to spread through agriculture training institutes, colleges, and universities.

But training needs to be complemented by other strategies to bring about change in institutional behaviours. Spring (1985, 1986) demonstrated in Malawi the range of often minor but critical adjustments which can increase women's access to and the relevance of extension significantly, even where most field agents are male.

Box 2. Farmer-to-Farmer Extension: Women's Participation in Networking among Farmer Groups in Tanzania.

The Farmers' Groups Network in Tanzania (MVIWATA) was formed by group representatives during a workshop hosted by Sokoine Agricultural University in 1993. The workshop was one of a series organized by farming systems researchers at Sokoine Agricultural University who have been working with farmer groups in technology development.

Researchers had learned the importance of structured, ongoing dialogue with farmers to identify priority problems, suggest and try out possible solutions, and disseminate technologies and information judged by both researchers and the farmer groups as useful. They distilled the following five principles from their experience:

· Multidisciplinarity, in recognition that farmers' problems are multifaceted

· The use of group approaches, in recognition that decision making is almost always built on group consensus

· On-farm development of technical innovations to ensure relevance

· Assistance with removal of critical production bottlenecks

· Empowerment of farmers through training, facilitation, and networking

The MVIWATA groups are very diverse. In Lushoto District, Tanga region, for example, nearly 100 women's groups are working with field officers in an agriculture and afforestation programme. In the Kilimanjaro region, small groups of five to twelve men and women members are working on activities such as rice or vegetable production to generate income. Each group member has his or her own plot, but they are trained as a group in crop production and farm management. The group also acts as the guarantor to enable members to gain access to credit.

Groups in a particular region form their own communication links to develop their own independent activities and build social solidarity, for example by composing songs about their activities and the network and passing these around local trading routes, or by holding farmer workshops on issues such as the new Cooperative Act. The national MVIWATA network publishes its own newsletter in Kiswahili and is linked to the newly created pan-Africa network, FAM-Africa (Farmers, Agriculture and Modernization in Africa).

(Source: Mattee & Lassalle, 1994).

For example, male extension agents were encouraged to ask their male farmer contacts to include their wives during visits, demonstrations, or farmers' meetings. Village leaders (typically male) asked to men identify women needing extension services. Field agents were required to devote a greater percentage of their time to working with women's groups. Women farmers' seminars were organized for women to share with researchers and field staff their solutions to the technical problems specific to women farmers' production systems, and women's field days were organized to celebrate and legitimate women farmers' successes and to promote farmer-to-farmer exchange among women (Box 2).

Participatory action learning (PAL) also has proved to be a powerful approach to institutional change. The Centre for International Agricultural Development (CIAD) at the University of Beijing and the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) adopted a participatory learning approach to their work with farm women in Ningjin County (Huang Xiushen, 1995). They reversed the existing approach of "learning skills, implementing projects, and getting benefits" and started with "implementing projects" as the occasion and location for learning skills and ensuring that participants really did secure benefits that are meaningful to themselves and achievable in their locality. PAL began with joint diagnosis conducted by officers of ACWF-Ningjin County, men and women farmers, and members of CIAD. This phase included a case analysis about gender functions, a local workshop about gender-sensitive problem analysis to which local development agencies were invited, and a participatory appraisal of women's needs in the county. The next phase began with identification and prioritization of action plans based on the investigations, dialogue, and analyses. The plans enabled the swift approval of government and technical authorities and ready access to funding and technology. The Women's Federation (WF) formed a "socialized service network" to provide the backup training, drawing on the training expertise identified in earlier phases. For example, in Weijiazhuang, the WF selected a representative from each ten women and a group leader from among each three representatives selected. A scientific and technical team was then formed of the WF director and twelve group leaders. It is their responsibility to form a link with each participating household and with technical training resources for the purpose of training women to teach other women. At the end of the "learning skills" phase in Weijiazhuang, 80 per cent of 400 women have learned two practical skills from among such skills as preventing epidemics among pigs and chickens, trimming fruit trees, and ten other techniques. Over the following two years, WF cooperated with county, township, and village leaders to train 30,000 women in one of the practical skills.

Where other strategies are not possible, at least in the near term, it might also be useful to initiate extension services targeted specifically to and staffed by women field agents. The Tamil Nadu Women in Agriculture (TANWA) project, India, has been implemented by the state Department of Agriculture with DANIDA assistance since 1986 (Box 3). The project aims to provide small and marginal farm women with improved technical skills and technology through a training-cum-extension program. Over a seven-year period, a core team of thirty qualified women agricultural officers (AOs) has been recruited, and more than 14,000 women have received training, with significant improvements in food security, income, and productivity. The training is village based, given at times suited to women's workload to groups of twenty-five women, and focusses on practical skills and technologies selected and prioritized by the women in consultation with the AOs. The basic training stretches over a two-year schedule and is backed up by two-day training for the group leaders and short courses on special topics. In addition, farm women's conferences allow the women to interact with (male) research and extension officers and with groups from neighbouring villages. The appointment of the women AOs is a breakthrough in Tamil Nadu and follows the earlier success of appointing women dairy development officers in the dairy development movement. The success of women-to-women extension has built confidence among male AOs that farm women are worth contacting, while the group mechanism provides a culturally appropriate means for followup contact by male extension staff.

Box 3. Integrated Pest Management: The Farm Women's Field School, Kolumanivakkam, Tamil Nadu.

Since 1994, women farmers have been included in field training on integrated pest management (IPM) in Tamil Nadu. Of the thirty farmers' field schools (FFS) conducted in the 1994-95 rice season in Chengalpattu MGR District, for instance, four have been for women. The FFS runs one half-day a week for thirteen weeks for thirty farmers. They are taught by female agricultural officers to identify the pest and predator insects in rice, to monitor the number of each to ensure that predators are keeping the pests in check, and to observe the life cycles of the key insects and the fluctuations in populations through the production season. Weekly recording and analysis of the agroecosystem form an important part of the training.

The principles and practices of organic fanning, integrated nutrient management, and the use of biofertilizers are included. Cultural, mechanical, and biological pest controls are practised, and participants are trained in the use of biopesticides and chemicals as a last resort if predator populations are insufficient to keep pest numbers within economic limits.

The women of Kolumanivakkam have composed a mantra to express their commitment to becoming experts in their own fields: "I can't lose. Why? I will tell you why... because I have Knowledge, Courage, and Enthusiasm." Prior to the introduction of IPM, farmers in the village regularly used pesticides, accounting for up to 20 per cent of the costs of cultivation. The women would work in the fields after the spraying and reported a range of symptoms such as nausea, headaches, eye troubles, skin rashes, and difficulties in breathing attributable to the chemicals. Now they have stopped spraying their homestead vegetables as well and have begun to monitor pests and predators in their home gardens. The men in the village are equally enthusiastic. They had heard about IPM from farmers in a neighbouring village who received training, and they encouraged their wives to attend the women's FFS when it was offered to them. IPM techniques save money, protect the family's health, and, through better crop management, also improve yields.

(Source: Farm Women Field School, Kolumanivakkam, Visit of Delegates, February 9, 1995, Directorate of Agriculture, Chengalpattu MGR District, Tamil Nadu).

Scaling Up

Many of the examples cited in this chapter are relatively small scale. The challenge is to achieve impact on a scale that makes a difference. Three recent initiatives illustrate the ways in which this challenge is being addressed.

The Academy for Educational Development (based in Washington, D.C.), the government extension service, and relevant private sector agencies collaborated together in Honduras in adapting social marketing techniques to extension communication (UNIFEM & IWTC, 1990). They developed a model for communication for technology transfer in agriculture (CTTA), which is based on three principles: market research in order to identify user categories and needs, user participation in technology development and dissemination, and strong feedback mechanisms. Women farmers and farm women in various socioeconomic and spatial categories were identified explicitly as "users." The CTTA design focussed on the "four Ps" of social marketing - price, product, place, and promotion - as well as on two contextual factors - policy and politics - in devising more effective ways to involve users in the development, dissemination, and feedback of extension communications. During the pilot phase, the CTTA increased the outreach of extension services in Honduras from 3,000 to 16,000 farmers.

Recent roundtable discussions of the position of women agricultural professionals in Africa (Doss, 1991) not only identified the all too familiar constraints and gaps, but moved to identify ways of promoting advocacy at both the popular and highest policy-making levels. Strategies for lobbying for changes in agricultural education and training provisions, for example, are beginning to be implemented, as well as strategies for changes in the legal status of women. In Benin, the Council of Ministries has instructed the Ministry of Rural Development to develop a policy for the advancement of rural women, to create quotas for the number of women offered professional positions in agriculture and rural development, and to establish a national network of women in the agricultural sector to keep track of policy implementation. A complementary initiative among women secretaries and ministers of education, vice-chancellors, and other leading educationalists has led to the formation of FAWE (Forum for African Women's Education). The promotion of girls' and women's education in science at all levels, especially the agricultural sciences, is a core part of FAWE's agenda.

The third example also comes from Africa. Over the last three decades, Nigeria has experimented with different agricultural development strategies with varying implications for rural women. In the 1970s, World Bank-supported Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) were established in a number of Nigerian states. By the mid-1980s, ADPs were found in every state; technology development and extension were major components of their programmes. Toward the end of the decade, it became apparent that, while rural women had an important role in production, they were largely excluded from the ADP agenda. A Women in Agriculture (WIA) unit, with female extension staff, was established in every ADP throughout the country, with the goals of identifying the technical and information needs of rural women, assisting them to become more productive through training and technology dissemination, and meeting those needs through trained and qualified female agents working with women's groups. The WIA units today are fully integrated into the ADPs.

Despite gaps in the skills of many female agents, inaccessibility of women in many areas, and limited involvement of women in the selection and design of technology, the WIA experiment in Nigeria has integrated women's needs successfully into a national agricultural development strategy. To further improve the system in Nigeria, the following suggestions have been made:

1. Conduct additional gender-sensitizing programmes for policy makers and project implementers.

2. Collect gender-disaggregated data on rural and agricultural activities.

3. Encourage a more participatory approach, particularly involving more rural women.

4. Ensure equitable access to productive resources and extension services.

5. Design situation-specific implementation strategies, taking into account the unique sociocultural and ecological variations of each locality (Olawoye, 1994).

Recommendations for more effective extension systems for rural women

Building on Present Potentials

It is a mistake to believe that rural women in developing countries do not possess skills and techniques which are an asset to the development process. Where groups already exist, capacity building of existing groups can be more successful than forming a new group to which members are less likely to be committed. Similarly, rural people are less likely to resist adoption of an innovation when the new technique is based upon a concept or procedure they are already familiar with or are currently using.

It is important for change agents to acquaint themselves with the organizations and knowledge systems available at the local level to determine how they can be improved, rather than assuming that nothing of significance is currently available. For example, instead of forming entirely new groups for women, local informal work exchange or savings groups could be strengthened through short training exercises on farm bookkeeping and record-keeping, leadership, and democratic procedures.

While groups have proven to be a highly successful mechanism, they are not a universal panacea or appropriate for meeting all women's needs in agriculture. The poorest women in particular can find the costs of participation (of time, for example) too high at times of seasonal stress or greatest need. Care is also needed to sort out situations where collective effort by groups is effective and where individual activity structured or accessed through group membership is more effective and efficient.

Institution Strengthening

Several aspects of institution, strengthening, including project integration and gender-sensitization of officials, have been presented. These efforts need to be pursued vigorously and extended. The World Bank (1992b) summarizes four organizational principles which might serve as broader guidelines to institutional development: (1) situation specificity, (2) project flexibility, (3) farmer participation, and (4) mainstreaming women's programmes. By incorporating these principles with the other factors considered earlier, agencies concerned with women's projects will be more likely to have a meaningful and sustainable impact (Box 4).

Interagency Cooperation

Many agencies currently focus on the integration of women in mainstream development efforts. Unfortunately, there seems to be little cooperation between projects administered by the same agency or between agencies, even where these agencies are under the umbrella of the same national government or development policy. In addition, international agencies and NGOs are attempting to achieve similar goals in the same localities, yet typically without any form of coordination or cooperation. The use of human and material resources could be managed more efficiently and with greater impact if development agencies would cooperate with each other (Olawoye, 1991).

Training Programmes

The following suggestions are made for improving and redesigning training programmes for farm women:

1. Adapt programmes to women's needs and skills.

2. Allow sufficient time to enable women to acquire new skills and adjust schedules to fit women's existing workloads.

3. Provide training in agricultural and other productive activities, not just home and family welfare topics.

4. Emphasize activities for which there is an actual income-generation potential.

5. Ensure the involvement and full participation of women from poorer and less educated backgrounds.

6. Use trainers who are not only technically competent and up-to-date, but who empathize with the needs and aspirations of rural women.

7. Provide practical field experience in the use of innovations.

8. Shift more resources to village-based training rather than residential training.

Box 4. Women, Agricultural Development, and Conservation in Honduras.

Many organizations are increasingly concerned with maintaining the productivity of the natural resources on which all agriculture ultimately depends. Yet once again institutions and structures are being created which either ignore women's natural resource management roles, or treat activities for women as "add-ons," outside the mainstream effort.

PRODESAI (Choluteca Integrated Agriculture Development Agency, a local world neighbours organization) in the Linaca region of Honduras is an exception. PRODESAI trains and incorporates local men and women as active agents of change in their communities. It has nurtured the formation and growth of a local organization, UCAMNE (Union Campesina en March, Nueva Esperanza - Peasants' Union on the Move, New Hope), which took over PRODESAI's work when it withdrew in mid-1993.

One of the founding members of UCAMNE is Dona Moncha, who first worked two mornings a week in four communities as a health promoter for community women's groups, receiving a small salary from PRODESAI. She and her husband and five children demonstrate in her own backyard garden the techniques she has learned. They have constructed stone walls and small contoured terraces to hold the land, conserve moisture, and prevent erosion and have planted live barriers of lemon grass and valeriana, which are used for medicine. They practise minimum tillage to grow maize, tomatoes, green peppers, local squash, basil, and other herbs and have planted leguminous trees to help maintain fertility and provide fuelwood.

(Source: Urban & Rojas, 1994).

Retaining Benefits

Rural women seldom have autonomous control over the opportunities that may come their way or the benefits which flow from them. Many advantages won for rural women through development programmes are later lost, as illustrated in the following quotation: "When technological innovations do address women's tasks and make them more profitable, men often take them over. This was exactly what happened when pump irrigation was introduced for rice production in West Africa" (Gittinger et al., 1990, p. 10). For sustainable improvements, not only must benefits be targeted to rural women, but mechanisms must also be put into place to ensure that these benefits can be retained by the intended beneficiaries.

The Role of the NGOs and the Private Sector

NGOs have pioneered many of the initiatives subsequently incorporated in public sector extension services. NGOs continue to play a lead role in ensuring that women farmers and women on the farm receive training, information, and improved technologies. Their services often are increasing in scope and scale, either as complementary support to government efforts or to fill the gaps created as government expenditures and capabilities decline. An important emphasis which recently has been highlighted in NGO programmes is their support for membership-based community and farmer organizations. Women as well as men benefit from the expanding opportunities to develop farmer-to-farmer extension and training networks and to form partnerships with agricultural researchers and development agencies.


Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding gender issues in agriculture and the countless research projects and "women's studies," the important question to be considered is: Have women benefited from these efforts? As Obermaier aptly concludes: "In the final analysis, women in developing countries are only interested in concrete actions - whether more and better projects for women are actually implemented and whether more women are supported in their efforts to solve their problems on the road to self determination" (1990, p. 7).

Women farmers' access to extension services must lead to concrete improvements for rural women themselves, as well as enhance the productivity of the agricultural sector and national food security through increasing marketed output.


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