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To effectively reach women farmers in developing countries, the best first step is often to contact ministries of agriculture to help increase their awareness about gender differences in agriculture. As a next step, agricultural extension services in the countries need to retool to address these differences by training and employing more women as extension agents, as well as facilitating and increasing interaction between male extension agents and women farmers.

Because male agents outnumber female, training these men to work with women farmers is a particularly important strategy. At the same time, the quality of extension services must be improved as explained below.

A. Introduce gender awareness in the Ministry of Agriculture

Introducing gender as an analytical concept in agricultural extension at the ministry level is necessary if officials are unaware of gender issues in agricultural production. Several strategies have been tried successfully, including:

  • discussions, workshops, and agenda items on gender
  • studies on farming systems
  • study tours and training courses in other countries.

B. Increase contact with women farmers, by:

1) Targeting rural women as extension clients
  • Adapt selection criteria for contact farmers or contact group members--for example, by changing from heads of households to active farmers, so that women are also included.
  • Facilitate women's attendance at extension meetings:
    • advertise meetings of particular interest to women
    • hold meetings at times and in locations convenient and accessible to all
    • arrange for child care (perhaps among the women themselves) during extension meetings or training sessions.
  • Because women have less time available for extension activities than men, set the time, location, and day of activities to suit women's schedules as much as possible. For example, where women do certain work on set days of the week, liaise with women and with male elders to schedule around this work, that is, by holding evening meetings or training sessions.
  • Provide separate facilities for women as necessary at training centers, in markets, or other public places.
  • Where women are unable to attend residential training, provide training in one-day modules or provide a mobile training unit to visit central villages and transport women in from nearby villages.
  • Where women cannot leave their homes for project activities, hold meetings in women's compounds or use other accessible means of communication, such as videos, cassettes, TV, and radio.
  • Produce messages in written, oral, and visual media, targeted to women farmers and presented by women announcers and performers to supplement face-to-face extension efforts.
  • Provide for informal social interaction at extension meetings to strengthen women's attendance.
2) Targeting the extension service
  • Set targets for both men's and women's participation in extension activities:
    • break national targets down to regional or smaller targets to take account of local variations and opportunities
    • include such targets in extension agents' annual evaluations
  • Include brief agricultural and livestock production messages in home economics, handicrafts, and nutrition extension activities for women
  • Establish a network of female para-extension agents or village group technicians who:
    • are trained by the extension service in standard agricultural messages and in women's other economic activities
    • act as a liaison between the extension agent and the group/village and in turn train group members
    • are accountable to and paid by the village group (with perhaps some reimbursement from public funds).
3) Targeting male extension agents
  • Train men extension agents in culturally acceptable methods of delivering extension to women
  • Engage a woman agent to start extension activities with a group to overcome initial resistance and hand it over to a male agent when the group is established and running.
4) Targeting women agents
  • Recruit more women agents, and provide them with transport and other necessary resources. For example, the World Bank-supported Tunisia NW Mountain Areas Project appoints women extension agents at each extension development center to identify women's needs, develop contacts between the project and women, and ensure that the project responds to women's needs.
  • Retrain home economics extension workers to convey key agricultural extension messages.
  • Appoint coordinators at regional or national level to:
    • ensure that training of extension agents includes analysis of gender roles and activities
    • liaise with NGOs, other projects, and agencies so that the best use is made of the human, financial, technological, and information resources available for rural women.

C. Improve the quality of extension

  • Conduct gender analysis of the farming system and use findings in:
    • conducting training sessions
    • adjusting research agenda
    • planning extension messages and activities.
  • Include rural women in planning future extension programs. They should prioritize their own extension needs. They may, for example, prefer extension on activities that give them some income to extension on traditional commodities or on commodities produced by both them and their husbands.
  • Improve the relevance of the messages by the following:
    • broaden the research agenda to cover men's and women's enterprises and tasks, resources, and use of end products.
    • recruit or train research and development staff in enterprises that women tend to carry out, such as horticulture, livestock, and agroprocessing.
    • enroll the extension or research services in networks such as Women in Rice Farming Systems (WIRFS) or the Information Center for Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture.
    • increase the proportion of adaptive trials on women's fields and activities. For example, on-farm testing and extension activities under the Lebanese Irrigation Rehabilitation Project concentrate on small animal husbandry, agroprocessing, and handicrafts.
    • enable training and study teams of research and extension staff to visit successful farmer-focused research in other countries.
  • Fund communications units to produce radio dramas or videos targeting women's farming activities.
  • Attempt moving from individual to group extension to increase the number and proportion of women clients and to help overcome cultural restrictions on women's contact with men outside the household.
  • Make special efforts to obtain women's opinions and active participation to the same extent as men's in extension and planning meetings.
  • Consider separate groups for women farmers. Women in many societies are not expected to express their views (particularly opposing views) in mixed meetings, especially in front of husbands or older men.
  • Identify and use quantifiable key indicators on attendance to monitor gender balance in extension.

Information needs

In designing projects for agricultural extension, it is helpful to address the following issues by interviewing stakeholders through a series of direct and, more often, indirect questions suited to each circumstance.

Information Possible sources Actions or implications
Gender roles in farming systems
Current roles and trends
Gender differences in participation in extension
Assess gender differences in participation in extension activities by estimating one or more of the following:
  • women as percentage of participants in extension activities (percent) *
  • percentage of all farmers in contact with extension services:
  • women farmers (percentage); men farmers (percentage)
  • women household heads (percentage); men household heads (percentage)
  • M&E data, studies or surveys
  • annual reports of extension offices at various levels.
  • If gender differences exist--for example, if women's participation is low compared to men's or compared to their farming activities--ask the next set of questions to ascertain why and identify actions to increase women's participation.
If possible break these participation percentages down by gender for:
  • different extension subjects (crops, livestock, and other activities)
  • different extension methods (individual meetings, group meetings, visits to farmers, agricultural fairs, research planning, and so on)
  • If no data exist, try to get an indication from discussions with extension staff.
  • If no data are available, establish mechanisms to collect gender-disaggregated M&E data or mount informal survey.
Gender differences in staffing
  • Are there restrictions on men agents meeting with women farmers on one-to-one basis? How does this affect group meetings?
  • Have men agents been trained in appropriate methods of approaching the community and interacting with women in this setting? Have they been trained in suitable extension/communication methodologies?
  • Discuss with focus groups and extension staff; review the list of in-service courses and curricula from training department and agricultural college.
  • Identify recruitment and training needs and alternative solutions (such as use of other rural agents or para-extension agents).
Evaluating the quality of extension
  • Do any of the following affect outcomes differently by gender?
    • criteria used to select contact farmers
    • criteria for membership of groups or cooperatives receiving extension
    • media used in extension
    • location and timing of activities
    • type of extension activities (one-day, residential, open meetings, meetings with individual farmers, and so on)
    • content/subjects covered
    • relevance of the messages
    • other criteria
  • Does the work program of men and women agents differ:
    • in the subjects covered?
    • by the sex of their farmer clients?
    • by methods of extension?
    • in working conditions?
    • in resources available?
  • Do women agents work more on nutrition and home economics than on agriculture?
  • Is home economics or agriculture the extension priority of rural women?
  • Does any of this work on nutrition/home economics/agricul-tural extension duplicate the work of other women rural agents?
  • Could other rural women agents supplement the few women agriculture agents by having in-service training in agriculture and perhaps being "attached" to the Ministry of Agriculture?
  • Is the use of para-extension agents selected by group members a possible strategy?
  • Judge based on participation data from M&E; review messages and media output; discuss with focus groups and extension staff.
  • Discuss with men and women extension staff, review work programs.
  • Discuss with rural women.
  • Discuss with extension staff, agents from other ministries, and officials of ministries concerned
  • Discuss with rural women and extension officials.
  • Select components or actions that will help solve the problems identified.
  • Using men and women farmers' expressed/ identified extension needs, decide on best combination of men and women agricultural agents, other rural agents, and para-extension agents.
  • Identify resources and training needed for this combination to provide appropriate extension services for rural men and women.
Feedback mechanisms
  • Are the priority problems of men and women identified and fed back to research or other services?
  • Discuss with focus groups, extension and research staff and review of research agenda.
  • If priority problems are not identified and fed back, train staff in diagnosis and put in place a mechanism for feedback.
Communications Unit
  • Does the overall output of the Communications Unit for both men and women farmers adequately:
    • address activities and interests?
    • use suitable languages?
    • use suitable media (words or pictures)?
  • How suitable for men and women farmers are:
    • radio programs?
    • videos?
    • posters?
    • leaflets and written material?
    • traditional music, plays, and so on?
  • Do women announcers, actors, and participants feature in the products?
  • Women members as percentage of all members of radio (or similar) groups (percent)
  • Review the output of the Communications Unit; discuss with focus groups, and extension staff.
  • Based on judgment of suitability of content and media for men and women, decide if interventions to improve quality of products are needed.

* Percentage of participants is the preferred unit of measurement. The percentage of farmers is of little value without comparable data for male farmers.



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