Myth to Reality: The Gender-Sensitive Extension Agent
Agricultural extension was famously spurred on by Norman Borlaug’s call to action, “take it to the farmer.” With time, agricultural extension has evolved, and the role of extension agents has changed. Today, extension agents are expected to juggle multiple roles and wear many hats – agriculture information provider, crop and livestock disease expert, market connector, input supplier, change catalyzer, climate change adaptation expert and now gender integrator and nutritionist!
The critical role women farmers play in helping ensure global food security is well known. Yet it is hard to argue that integrating or mainstreaming gender and nutrition into agricultural extension services will not add more to the workloads of staff who are often overstretched and underpaid as it is. An alternative option might be to work across the different levels of commonly pluralistic extension and advisory systems, thereby ensuring a wide range of extension service providers are equipped with methods and are empowered to make changes to integrate gender into their work.
Over the past four years, The Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) project has developed multiple tools and methodologies that offer both top-down and bottom-up approaches to integrate gender issues into extension. Resources and tools are available at the leadership, mid/manager and extension worker levels to work toward gender-sensitive extension services. The development of the tools included several key steps: each tool responded to stakeholder demand and filled what had previously been a gap; the tools were developed in collaboration with the audiences for whom they were intended (institutions implementing agricultural extension services); and they elicited and incorporated stakeholder input at various stages.
If you are in the leadership level of your organization, a question you may have grappled with is “what types of skills, attitudes and behaviors are necessary to enable institutions to deliver gender- and nutrition-informed services?” The INGENAES Competency Framework helps list relevant gender and nutrition integration skills among organizations providing agricultural extension services. Through the competency framework, organizations will be able to identify and equip staff with the appropriate skills and establish practices to deliver services that lead to improved gender- and nutrition-related outcomes. The Institutional Review and Planning Framework (IRPF), developed from the Competency Framework, is a training manual that enables leadership to participate in a process of articulating and clarifying their organizational missions, analyzing if and how their extension strategy helps them accomplish their mission, and then identifying how gender equity and improved nutrition are aligned and complementary to the mission. Many of these skills relating to nutrition have also been used in the development of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS)’s New Extensionist Learning Kit (NELK) Nutrition-sensitive module.
Extension plays a critical role in technology transfer. Agricultural technologies can improve the timing of tasks, reduce drudgery, make labor efficient and improve the quality and quantity of food, feed, fiber and fuel. However, technologies are not inherently gender-neutral. As a mid-manager, how can you ensure that new technologies will benefit both men and women farmers? The INGENAES Technology Assessment toolkit will help in assessing gender sensitivity of agricultural technologies in terms of design, use and dissemination. The assessment uses principles of gender analysis and draws on market systems and value chain approaches. Using the tool, organizations and even individual extension agents can implement actions to address gender-based constraints that shape the adoption process and dissemination efforts of agricultural technologies.
Often at the intersection of mid-manager and extension worker levels, people seek practical ways to integrate gender, especially to train extension staff or farmers. INGENAES developed the introductory gender and nutrition in extension training approach that provides practical activities (some derived from Helen Keller International’s Nurturing Connections toolkit) that can be used in the field and open the dialogue on gender and nutrition challenges within communities. Using participatory adult learning principles such as role-play, small group drawing and demonstrations, the training helps participants explore complex and deep-rooted practices such as food and gender myths and power hierarchies as well as their impact at the household level. The training is implemented with a training-of-trainers focus to encourage a multiplier effect with participants sharing the knowledge and skills within their individual organizations. The training manual is complemented with handy activity sheets to help anyone implement activities. INGENAES also has job aids that are context specific for extension workers.
Additionally, there are many external resources that INGENAES has referenced and built upon. Examples include FAO’s Gender in Rural Advisory Services Assessment Tool (GRAST), which enables development organizations and private companies to assess the gender sensitivity of their advisory services. Household methodologies are highly promoted for gender work, and many resources are based off this methodology including Helen Keller International's Nurturing Connections. The Gender Action Learning System (GALS) is also a well-known household methodology originally piloted by IFAD & Oxfam.
If you or your organization have come across great tools or methodologies to help integrate gender into extension, please add them in the comments section below!
Bohn, A. (2018, 09 12). Global Good Practice – What Works in Rural Advisory Services. Retrieved from AgriLinks: https://www.agrilinks.org/post/global-good-practice-what-works-rural-advisory-services
Coles, W. (2018, 08 07). Bridging the Gender Gap in Extension Services in Pakistan. Retrieved from AgriLinks: https://www.agrilinks.org/post/bridging-gender-gap-extension-services-pakistan
INGENAES Project. (2016, 12 13). Developing the Capacity to Do and to Not Do. Retrieved from AgriLinks: https://www.agrilinks.org/blog/developing-capacity-do-and-not-do
Swanson, B. (2006). The Changing Role of Agricultural Extension in a Global Economy. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education.