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Why are agricultural extension services not reaching women farmers effectively?


The agricultural extension system in Kenya has evolved through various stages since the colonial and post-independence eras. During colonial times, Agricultural extension services were mainly tailored to cater for settler and commercial farming systems. These were well-packaged programs that combined extension services with credit and subsidized inputs. However, the extension approach used for indigenous Africans, who were mainly engaged in subsistence farming and pastoralism, was coercive in nature and therefore not readily accepted. Agricultural extension in Kenya has been evolving in tandem with the changing theories of development. Early extension models followed an approach to new technology through state–provided extension services (McMillan et al., 2001).

Until 1965, technologies were developed and run through extension pipeline to farmers, with agricultural development being the desired product. This was a top-down approach, where information originated from the Ministry of Agriculture and filtered down to farmers through extension agents. The system was not accountable to farmers. Hence, farmers were not involved in development of the disseminated technologies. Research and extension systems were focused mainly on large-scale farms or smallholders in high and medium potential areas. Trials and demonstrations were mostly undertaken in research stations (Davis and Place, 2003).

In order to reinforce technology transfer, the Kenyan Government put in place new models in the 1960s focusing on the needs of small-scale and resource-poor farmers, leading to the introduction of the farming systems approach. The Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) model was introduces in 1965 and it operated up to 1980.

This approach was characterized by participation at farm level by farmers and extension staff through farmer input in on-farm trials, interdisciplinary linkages and a systems approach to agricultural extension services delivery (Collinson, 2000). The distinctive feature of the FSR/E model was its three-way linkage between farmers, researchers, and extension service providers.

Holistic and interdisciplinary in its focus on total systems, FSR/E took into account the multiple goals of the farm family as well as the economic and resource situation in which the farm operates. When we consider the time dimension within which the family makes decisions and plans for the future, the long-term sustainability of production and profit became central to system design (Francis and Hildebrand, 1988). The participatory nature of FSR/E enhanced the capability of research and extension organizations to incorporate farmers' goals, resources, concerns with their own future and their experience into the technology generation and diffusion process. These characteristics influenced the production environments, and the farming systems, found on different farms.

It is because of the diverse nature of these environments, including sustainability of production vs profit, and varying levels of farmer education, that technologies need also to be diverse. The FSR/E methodology recognized this need. In responding to the concerns for a more sustainable agriculture, more emphasis was placed on developing genetic materials and farming practices that fit within the biophysical and socioeconomic environments of different farming systems. This was based on a fuller understanding of these environments and in on-farm research to evaluate technology by environment interactions. This in turn depended on enhanced multidisciplinary, another of the basic facets of FSR/E methodology. The most notable success of this mentioned pioneer agricultural extension model was in the dissemination of hybrid maize technology in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

However, this extension model had some deficiencies which included a mix of ad hoc project components and an inconsistent national strategy. Overall, this model was expensive and ineffective. Additionally, despite a well-established line of command down to the frontline extension worker and staff numbers presumed to be adequate at the time, the agricultural extension services were judged to be performing below its potential (Gautam, 1999).

This model did not, in addition, pay any attention to the needs women had, although they, women, made up almost one-third of the farmers, and although most farmers, 81%, were small holders, extension services largely focused on men, who owned the large scale farms.

In addition, the FSR & E model did not take into account the unique needs, challenges and capabilities across the different gender groups and the gender concepts were not fully integrated in technology development and dissemination processes, leading to obvious gender inequalities in farmer representation in areas such as stakeholder fora, research advisory committees, field days, demonstrations and exposure tours. Women farmers were still operating under greater constraints than men as they had less access to information, technology, land, inputs and credit. Their multiple roles also constrained their time and mobility with a higher proportion of them being illiterate and engaging in subsistence agriculture without being up to date with current technologies.

Traditionally, agricultural extension strategies in Embu have been similar to those offered in Kenya, generally. They have focused on increasing production of cash crops by providing men with training, information, and access to inputs and services. This male bias has been demonstrated in farmer training centres, which are established to provide residential training on technical subjects. Like most other locations where farmer training is conducted, they do not provide separate washing and sleeping accommodations for men and women, which has prevented women from attending many trainings at the centres.  Further, extension services from the Government were and still are staffed predominantly by men as there are probably not enough qualified women who are able to take up these positions at the field level.

Men officers have assumed that farmers are men and so they reach out to only men farmers and on other occasions, these men officers are not allowed to come close to women, which has left out the women farmers from accessing the AES being offered. In channeling Extension Agricultural Services in a manner that is more likely to address the needs of both men and women farmers, groups have been one of the best channels to reach women farmers. The definition of membership criteria for admission to many of these organizations has limited women’s ability to reach the extension services availed.

Largely, membership criteria relies on reserving access to land owners or heads of households and women have largely not been eligible for admission to these organizations. Other criteria, such as age, education, or civil status, have also excluded women from becoming members

The few times women are able to participate in groups, gender norms have impeded them from voicing their opinions and needs in the presence of men. In addition, most extension service providers, as guided by the Government’s curriculum, have assumed that home economics services can substitute for agricultural training and information for women. From research carried out, where home economics services have been provided, female home economists work almost exclusively with rural women, thus reinforcing the institutionalization of gender bias. Home economics services are far from universal and have poorly been resourced, although some have struggled against the odds to provide farm women with technical information and training. (Aidoo, 1988).

This assumption that women do not require technical information of agriculture and only need home economics, has thus, led to the AES reaching out majority of men and ignoring the AES needs of women farmers. Many models put in place by the Government after 1980 to reach farmers, such as the T&V 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, largely excluded women's involvement and they were therefore, not able to access the available AES (Aammink & Kingma, 1991). The general criteria laid down for selecting contact farmers and adapted by  most extension providers in Embu for transfer of agriculture extension includes a farmer should represent the local range of farm size, cropping pattern, socioeconomic condition; be regarded by other farmers as worthy of imitation; be a practicing/ an active farmer; 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.

In practice, extension services have commonly been added other criteria such as a minimum landholding size, literacy and ability to purchase inputs. Village chiefs and other formal leaders, are typically men and field extension agents, are almost always men, usually make the selection, which introduces other potential biases against women, excluding a majority of women from accessing the Agricultural Extension Services available.The adjustments to selection criteria and the selection process that have proven to be useful in Kenya in increasing the percentage of women selected and are also currently practiced in Embu. They include encouraging chiefs 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 and emphasizing selection on merit from among those who are actually doing the work (Saito & Weidemann, 2000). Other obstacles that have limited women’s access to AES have been as a result of many EAS not accounting for women’s lack of time by identifying strategies for disseminating agricultural information at times and in places convenient to women.

Extension officers are rarely conscious of the times when women are available for meetings to schedule training at those times. When this has been done, trainings have not been divided into short modules to accommodate women’s schedules and provide women with the ability to attend meetings and still manage their day-to-day tasks. Strategies such as working with women on their own plots or on plots close to their homes to reduce time spent traveling as well as subsidizing the cost of taking transportation to training, have been proven to facilitate women’s ability to participate in such events. In Kenya the gender gap in adult literacy ranges from 7 to 24%. Roughly 70 percent of young women and 79 percent of young men are literate in Kenya.

One of the strategies developed to reach farmers in Kenya with extension services is Information and communication technologies (ICTs), which is a major contributor to extending the reach of extension services into diverse populations. Women lack adequate control and access to financing to pay for ICTs such as mobile phones, which is worsened by their higher levels of technology and language illiteracy, these norms discourage women from using technology.

Agricultural Extension Policies in Kenya

Research has showed that agricultural policies affect men and women differently due to gender inequalities in access to and control of economic and social resources, information and decision-making. Despite the fact that women grow half of Kenya’s food, a survey conducted by Food and Agriculture (FAO) indicates that 95 percent of agricultural extension services in the country are beneficial to men, and this biasness has been encouraged by policies in place that have not been keen on gender equity in agricultural extension services.

The main policies that have been developed to guide extension service delivery in Kenya include NEP, NALEP and NASEP.

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