Reflective of the topicality of gender issues, for some participants, men in particular, they would cook only in unspecified emergencies or only by the force of cultural or ceremonial situation. Cooking is an important process in food security and nutrition. Yet, women who make a huge contribution to food security, the workshop heard, are not well served by agriculture extension services for them to do better as food producers, processors as marketers.
Workshop convenor, Kathleen Colverson, who is also the team leader for poverty, gender and impact at ILRI sat down and Nafisa Ahmed, a participant and Extension pathologist at the Agricultural Research Corporation in Sudan sat down with Busani Bafana to discuss why rural advisory services should cater for women.
Why gender in extension?
KC: the question is why not gender in agriculture extension because women and men are both involved in agriculture activities all the way from production through the value chain, marketing as well as consumers. The issue is basically looking at conversation of access and control of not only the products that are made but who does the work, who benefits from the work, who gains the resources and has control over the resources. In many instances, it is male dominated particularly if you look at certain value chains either related to livestock or crop production. Women very often are involved in the lower ends of the value chain where they do the production, they do the hard labour but they are not necessarily involved in controlling the benefits that come from the labour. It is recognised within the donors community and the larger community that why have we not seen impact related to poverty and hunger. It is because women have not been considered in the equation and this is of major concern.
Why are they not in the equation?
There are many different issues, some of which were discussed at this workshop. Culture, particularly traditional cultures are an issue. Religious overtones are also a major issue. People just do not consider it important that women's work is visible and given the credibility and concern it should.
Extension, rather advisory services seem rather a dull calling, how do you attract women into this field?
Excellent question. Unfortunately what we see worldwide increasingly is decreasing services associated with extension and it is not because we do not have women farmers or women extensionists. It is because we do not have people increasingly who want to go into agriculture. Many see it as a dirty profession, low paying, hard work and long hours profession. To attract women in particularly young women, into this profession we have to recognise it as appealing and one that is lucrative with incentives for them to participate in. There must be modifications in both policies at government and employment level to accommodate some of the roles women have to play in addition to being extension workers.
Where has this worked?
There are places around the world where they have looked at providing incentives like the AWARD programme under the CGIAR which basically targets women scientists, particularly women in agriculture to stay in the profession and encourage other women to participate.
So then, why are we still clamouring for gender in RAS?
Yes this goes back to the conservation around slow change is fast. In other words, we are looking at changing cultures and traditions, long stand behavioural patterns. This takes a slow and long time. We are seeing changes but these are small in some places around the world. For example, we have heard that in the Philippines, tremendous strides have been made in engaging women extension workers. Yes ago we looked at veterinary which was predominantly male dominated now it's a female dominated field.
Do we need women-centric extension services then?
I do not know if I will call it women centric but I think we need to be considerate of the women's multiple roles and this has been one of the issues we fault extension in the past. They did not consider women's reproductive roles in particular that they are predominately the care takers of the children, the elderly and the sick and also participate in other community activities. It is incumbent upon extension to recognise that women, particularly in sub Saharan Africa are primary food producers and primary actors along the value chain until get to the point where they control resources, when the men take over.
How is the MEAS project addressing this challenge of a few women in extension services?
Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) is a project working with different government ministries in different parts of the world to look at extension services such as the gender implications of working with extension workers and how we train extension workers who are predominately male to be more sensitized about gender issues and engage them more actively so that women can benefit from extension services?
Now turning to Nafisa Ahmed; what has been your experience as female extension worker in Sudan?
We are not only doing extension with women but with men as well. In Sudan male farmers accept to be trained by me and women too. Working with women farmers is an attractive area there is as lot to be done in terms of farming systems to household systems. It is not difficult for a female to be an extension worker in Sudan.
Do female farmers have particular needs compared to the male farmers?
Yes. Female farmers always do not have access to inputs generally but males do. When you work with rural women farmers you need to avail them inputs and we always face difficulties in getting them inputs. Usually the agro chemical and seed companies are very far from rural communities and it very difficult for women to get those inputs but it is easy for men to walk the long distances to do so.
Also women farmers have concerns on income generating activities. They are interested I household business that rather then farming itself even though they are farmers. If they are growing sorghum they want to know what to do with it after harvest instead of just selling it as grain. They need value addition and are interested in learning how to make biscuits and cake out of sorghum. Hence our extension service courses are not solely about growing crops but about processing and storing of products which is an important task of women farmers in contributing to food security.