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Gender-Sensitive Agricultural Extension

Why Agricultural Extension has to be Gender Sensitive?



The need for incorporating gender concerns in agricultural extension became apparent during the early 80s. This came about, as there has been an increasing realization that:

  • women play a major role in agriculture and agriculture continues to remain as an important source of livelihood for women;
  • women lack access to extension services as extension programmes rarely identify women as an integral part of its target audience;
  • extension needs of women and men vary considerably as often they are involved in different activities;
  • men and women have differential access to assets, information, markets, credits and other services; and
  • extension personnel are often unaware of these “gender issues”. So, there is a need to sensitize them through training in “gender analysis” and “gender-sensitive agricultural planning” methods. 

The most common approaches adopted to bring about greater gender sensitization in extension organizations are as follows:

  • Organize training programmes for staff on gender difference in agriculture and gender analysis tools
  • Employ more women extension staff, preferably female para-extension agents to work closely with women groups
  • Target women as clients for extension and organize separate programmes (trainings, demonstrations, exposure visits) for them
  • Form groups of women farmers (common interest groups or thrift-and-credit groups); and provide them with the micro-capital assistance for enterprise development
  • Provide ergonomically designed farm implements and other inputs (mini-kits for farm women groups).

Extension during the initial gender-sensitive years (from early 80s to mid-90s) have focused on women who are involved in agriculture and improving their capacity to do farming better. However, during the last two decades, it has become apparent that the above approaches, though necessary, are not sufficient to address gender inequalities.

First, extension has to deal with a new set of challenges such as deterioration of natural resources, fragmentation of farm holdings, threats and opportunities related to opening up of agricultural markets and introduction of new standards for production and marketing. These challenges have made agricultural development more complex.

Second, to address the new challenges, extension should expand its agenda beyond transferring new technology. The expanded agenda should include the following:

  • Link more effectively and responsively to domestic and international markets where globalisation is increasing competition
  • Reduce the vulnerability and enhance the voice of the rural poor (Farrington et al., 2002; Berdegue and Escobar, 2001)
  • Promote environmental conservation (Alex et al., 2002)
  • View agriculture as part of a wider set of rural development processes that include enterprise development and non-farm employment (Rivera et al., 2001)
  • Couple technology transfer with other services relating to both the input and output markets (Neuchatel Group, 2002; APO, 2006).

Third, to be successful, farmers (both men and women) require a wide range of knowledge from different sources and support to integrate these different bits of knowledge into their production context. Extension should therefore play a capacity development role that includes training, strengthening innovation process, building linkages between farmers and other agencies, as well as institutional and organisational development to support the bargaining position of farmers (Sulaiman and Hall, 2004).

Fourth, extension should explicitly address poverty. Improving opportunities for rural employment is critical for equitable growth and rural poverty reduction and women comprise a significant portion of the working poor in rural areas. The clientele for gender-sensitive extension should therefore include the following:

  • Farmers, fishers, forest users, pastoralists, and those performing domestic work
  • Temporary, casual, piece-rate, own-account, migrant, and home-based workers (vegetable market vendors, day labourers, artisans etc) in the informal sector
  • Part- or full-time contract workers, farmers, share-croppers, and tenants
  • Small-, medium- and large-farm food processing, and off-farm enterprises
  • Unionized and unorganized workers.

Operationalising gender-sensitive agricultural extension: Key shifts





Increasing production /productivity

Improved income and more productive employment opportunities 


Training on technologies

Training on managing value chains, enterprise management 

Forming SHGs

Forming common activity groups

Distribution of inputs

Development of local capacity for sustained availability of inputs and services

Selection of interventions

Selection of interventions based on PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal)

Demand-led and based on analysis of client data, matched with opportunities and availability of complementary support and services


Centrally designed ideas

Client aspirations carefully analysed with local and external knowledge and support




Working with


Working in partnership with all actors who could support rural women

Monitoring and evaluation

Input and output targets

Behavioural and livelihood changes in clients and related organisations

Subjective evaluations

Objective evaluations on a scientifically validated benchmark data

Targeting the poor

Inclusion by accident

Inclusion by design

These key shifts should be the guiding principles for initiating gender sensitive agricultural extension reforms. However to do this, extension has to embrace a learning–based approach.


Alex G, Zijp W and Byerelee D. 2002. Rural Extension and Advisory Services - New Directions. Rural Development Strategy Background Paper No.9, Agriculture and Rural Development Department, The World Bank, Washington, DC.

APO. 2006. Enhancement of Extension System in Agriculture, Sharma, VP (ed.). Report of the APO Seminar on Enhancement of Extension System in Agriculture, Pakistan, 15-20 December 2003.

Berdegue JA and German Escobar. 2001. Agricultural Knowledge and Information System and Poverty Reduction, AKIS Discussion Paper (Jan 2001), The World Bank, Washington DC.
(Available at http://www.rimisp.org/FCKeditor/UserFiles/File/documentos/docs/pdf/0115-000824-akisandpovertyrevisedfinal.pdf).

Farrington J, Christoplus I, Kidd AD and Beckman M. 2002. Extension, Poverty and Vulnerability: The Scope for Policy Reform (Final Report of a study for the Neuchatel Initiative), Working Paper, 155, Overseas Development Institute, UK.

Neuchatel Group. 2002. Common framework on Financing Agricultural and Rural Extension, Neuchatel Group, Swiss Centre for Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, Lindau.

Rivera WM, Qamar MK and Crowder LV. 2001. Agricultural and Rural Extension Worldwide: Options for Institutional Reform in the Developing Countries. Extension, Education and Communication Service, Research, Extension and Training Division, Sustainable Development Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. (Available at http://www.comminit.com/redirect. cgi?r=ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/004/y2709e/y2709e.pdf).

Sulaiman VR and Hall AJ. 2004. Towards Extension plus: Opportunities and Challenges for Reform. NCAP Policy Brief No. 17, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi, India. 4 pp.

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