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Off-farm income generation for women

In many regions of the world, commercial agriculture is a male-dominated activity. Women frequently lack the assets needed to engage in commercial farming, or are employed as unpaid labour force on their household fields. Cultural and traditional patterns holding back the economic empowerment of women take time to break.

At the same time, women invest a lot of their resources to improve the food security and nutrition of their families. While cash crop production might not be possible for women, opportunities for income generation can be found in off-farm activities. Women often purchase, process, and trade in local food products. However, they may operate outdated technologies, resulting in high labour intensity, low profits, poor quality, and low marketability of their produce.

To improve women’s incomes, EAS can identify additional income sources and promote technical and technology improvements that decrease costs and workloads while increasing revenues. 

Technical advice is one part of this; another part relates to the business models within which women operate. Women may be entangled in exploitative business relations, or may lack negotiation power on price setting. Extension advisory services can use cost–profit calculations to identify profits and losses, and determinants of costs and revenues. Once understood, such issues can be addressed by promoting innovative business models or introducing quality improvements that give women an edge on the market. 

Capacities required

Core expertise in EAS rests in the production of traditional export crops and staples that are in the spotlight of government promotion policies. Technical know-how on good practices for the production of nutrient-rich crops may need mainstreaming, especially for crops that are new to a region (e.g. orange-fleshed sweet potatoes) or where advisory services are underdeveloped (e.g. animal husbandry and fisheries). 

To address smallholders and their households not only as producers but also as consumers, EAS need to be aware of factors that influence food consumption, such as culturally and agroecologically determined eating preferences, cooking and hygienic practices, and inter-household decision-making processes. 

The scope of EAS needs to be broadened from technical to business advisory. Business skills such as cost–revenue calculations need to be embedded in EAS and/or newly developed, particularly for activities undertaken by women. 

Facilitation/community animation and participatory methodologies of EAS should be preserved and strengthened as they are more effective adult learning methods than top-down training and technology transfer.

Coordination and supervisory skills are critical to achieve delivery at large scale. Coordination efforts will be required at managerial level to ensure the systematic inclusion of nutrition-sensitive messages in the work of EAS and to guarantee that extension delivery is timed according to relevant cropping seasons (e.g. for nutrition-rich crops) and the availability of male and female household members.