Extension and advisory service delivery for women’s groups in Jordan: Assessing competencies and building social capital


It is well known that gendered constraints often prevent female farmers from having equal access, control and ownership of agricultural resources which frequently excludes them from receiving and/or benefitting from extension and advisory services (EAS). There is also a lack of research focused on how extension agents can effectively address the needs of rural women farmers (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2011). In the early 1990s the FAO conducted a survey on extension in 115 countries, which found that women, worldwide, receive only 5% of extension services (ibid, 2011). Recent studies reveal that in Ethiopia and India women’s access to EAS were 20% and 18% respectively, but were as low as 2% in Ghana (Manfre, et al., 2012). We suspect that women’s access in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is similarly very low. Among ways to reach women are farmer field schools or cooperative based organizations, though these are still problematic, especially in the Middle East where cultural norms will prevent women from attending meetings with men who are not relatives (Meinzen-Dick et al, 2011). Furthermore, since women typically have less formal education than men, it is challenging to engage them in extension activities that require reading and arithmetic when they are in mixed sex trainings whereas efforts to strengthen women’s associations and self-help groups were more effective (ibid, 2011). Al Rimawi concluded that these social norms were the reason that Jordanian women expressed preference for female extension agents (Manfre, et al., 2012). 

Extension and advisory service agents are failing to reach poor rural women. This happens for a number of reasons: women have limited time and ability to travel for meetings, they lack land tenure, they have limited or no access to credit and, of course, (in the Middle East in particular), cultural barriers loom large in accessing EAS. Additionally, since banks often require land as collateral for credit, and women’s land ownership is restricted in many parts of the world, their access to other agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticides is even more compromised. Without ownership of land, and access to these valuable inputs, women receive less EAS than male farmers, which further constrains their agricultural productivity and livelihoods (Manfre et al., 2012; Seebens, 2010). Gender bias also impacts women’s access to EAS in that many institutions do not recognize women as farmers but instead view them as additional household labor or simply housewives. Similarly, some crops are seen as ‘women’s crops’ or ‘men’s crops’, the latter of which is considered to be commercial agriculture and higher priority (ibid, 2012). A persistent assumption that members of the household freely share information, thereby giving women access to EAS data, is false but it serves to justify women’s exclusion from EAS trainings (ibid, 2012). 


Social networks are able to function more constructively when people “act collectively” towards a certain outcome (Putnam, 2000; Woolcock and Narayan 2000). A key underlying component of this theory is that social capital facilitates action (Coleman, 1988). In development literature particularly, social capital has been a useful framework for evaluating micro-finance programs (Lions and Snoxell, 2005). These studies have found that building social capital enhances trust and reciprocity, which further enhances the success of micro-finance groups. In many regions, women already have the social capacity in their communities to come together (e.g., community meetings, church groups) and then work towards developing activities, such as building a micro-credit program; thus social capital is a “by-product” of an already standing relationship (ibid, 2005; ibid, 2000). In other words, the social capital foundations are already in place and are ready to be developed further into action. Nevertheless, while conducting field work in Jordan we noticed that even within communities that share similar cultural values and socio-economic backgrounds, social networks are in different stages of development from the nonexistent to the fully formed and active. 

Our previous USAID-funded Water and Livelihoods Initiate (WLI)[1] regional project worked in Jordan this past summer (May-June 2012); this was a successful collaboration with Jordan’s National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE) Socioeconomic unit, headed up by Dr. Samia Akroush. In April 2012, Dr. Akroush visited UF to meet with Dr. Sandra Russo and a team of graduate students to set up the project. The gender research was conducted in communities located at the WLI benchmark site. The data collection and analysis was preceded by an extensive five-day training workshop on gender planning and analysis for NCARE’s socioeconomic team and students. The tools and methods discussed during the planning session were then pilot tested in three rural communities: Muharib, Majidyya and Ngera. 

The research team used focus group discussions with both men and women on the roles and contributions of women in agricultural production, livestock management, water resources management, and in the rural household. The questions were based on the domains of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) to measure women’s roles in the decision-making process, access to and control over household and production resources, control over income, leadership capability, and time management. As a part of research, the team investigated the role of social capital in the life of rural women. The team visited the thriving cooperative called the Ngera Cooperative for Social and Charitable Causes in the Badia, which is comprised of 75 women in the community and chaired by a woman. This cooperative is being proposed as a platform and model to develop best practices on cultivating social bonding among women in rural communities and providing them with full access to EAS.

Our research team conducted gender analysis fieldwork in two agroecosystems in Jordan (rangeland and crop-based). While conducting focus groups in several local communities, it became apparent that women’s opportunities for building social networks were sometimes very limited and at other times, less so. Even more puzzling, in one rather small community, the women did not even know each other. This stood in sharp contrast to our collective experiences in other countries where women collaborate and meet frequently for many reasons. In Jordan we found that, in the communities where social capital was weak, the women were not as empowered. We began to wonder, what makes the situation for women different in the Middle East, compared to other developing countries? Thus the research question was born: how can women’s social capital and agency capacity be developed in the Middle East? It is from this initial puzzle that the proposal is developed.

Our research seeks to develop women’s empowerment in the Middle East by identifying how social capital is built in these communities so that women can take the small- but necessary- steps towards social and collective action. Previous research conducted on farmer groups in Bolivia, India, and Uganda led to the conclusion that groups with multiple skill sets build strong agency capacity, helps overcome some coordination failures, and lastly can directly contribute to empowering the rural poor to enter markets and exit from poverty (Ashby, et al., 2011). The main goals of our study include 1) formulating and testing strategies to develop social capital bonding within the group or facilitate group construction where a cohesive climate is lacking, 2) bridging connections between different groups in the community, and 3) connecting with other external service providers (EAS in the case) so that particular sets of skills which will get them ready to engage in the market are delivered and acquired by women from these communities.

Although the country is by no means food self-sufficient, Jordan produces an array of crops from staples like wheat and barley to a range of fruits, vegetables and spices. Women are involved in land preparation, planting, cultivation and harvesting, as well as raising livestock. Women are also involved in value-added productive activities such as preserving fruits and vegetables, processing and storing grains, and dairy processing, although the marketing of agricultural produce and by-products tends to be dominated by men. In other words, women are integrally involved in gender-based division of labor but are unable to articulate the goals and needs of their communities, especially around agricultural production. Throughout the region, women contribute significant labor in the agricultural sector yet their work remains unaccounted for or invisible. Thus, the task at hand remains harnessing women’s social capital so that the majority stakeholders in agricultural economic development, from male members in the family, to national, and international development experts, researchers and extension agents can more efficiently facilitate women’s visibility and engagement in the market. 

Field Partner and Research Sites

As previously stated this project will take place in Jordan. We will again collaborate with NCARE[2] and Dr. Akroush. We will also include Nidara Mohammad Al-Jawhari, the head of the Gender Unit at NCARE. Our work in the summer of 2012, carried out in partnership with the socioeconomic unit, has led to the identification of three research sites where we will create working groups for the research. The first of the three is with Ngera women’s cooperative noted above and where the women have a high level of social capital. The women in the second community, located in Majidyya, have very low levels of social capital and rarely, if ever, intermingle with other women in their village. The last research site, in Karak, is with a women’s group whose level of social capital among the individuals is unknown. Karak is the site of a climate change project run by ICARDA. We were able to participate in a community meeting there where both men and women were present, in stark contrast to the other communities with whom we worked. The varying degrees of social capital at these sites will allow us to make comparisons and more rigorously test the impact of our proposed research intervention. 

Our Approach

Given that we have prior experience in these sites and an ongoing working relationship with NCARE and ICARDA/Jordan, we can quickly mobilize and begin work immediately. After developing a questionnaire to assess the current level of social capacity, we will conduct focus group discussions with the women in these communities to administer the survey and find out the specific technical information they want. Some of the women we talked to while conducting field research on the WLI expressed an interest in learning about cultivating traditional medicines and spices, producing handicrafts, clothing production, and food processing as well as livestock health and nutrition. In addition to gaining consensus within each group we will also utilize the focus group meetings to locate women for involvement in the working groups. Based on our findings, we will then design the extension materials in the format the groups’ request, e.g., peer to peer, printed handouts, on-line resources, group trainings, etc. Alongside this material will be a schedule of the work group meetings and an approach that will utilize the Learning Cycle model developed by David Kolb. This model reveals how learning outcomes are improved when participants are active in defining their own learning outcomes based on problems they have identified. Furthermore, trainings are conducted in a participatory environment that is based on observation and reflection, an understanding of the theory and concepts involved, application and testing, and finally through firsthand experience (Action for the Rights of Children & Reach Out, 2005). We will use this model which will enable the women to teach each other, to lead the group sessions, and to work through aspects they don’t understand or difficulties that they may face. We feel strongly that this will build confidence, strengthen the social ties among women, and increase their skills sets, thereby increasing social capital and agency capacity. Refer to the workplan in Annex 1 for the five research phases. 

MEAS future development (USAID/Iraq) and USAID interests in MENA

Although MEAS does not have significant experience in the MENA region, one scoping study for the USAID/Egypt mission has been conducted. Of particular relevance, however, is the large USAID/Iraq project that is coming into play soon in which MEAS and WLI play a significant role along with the U.S. universities who have worked with WLI. This proposal, still in draft form, involves considerable training of Iraqis at all levels, from farmers to policy makers, with MEAS taking the lead on reaching farmers with agricultural information. What is not evident in the proposal but will be a significant factor in working with farmers is the role of women in agricultural production in numerous value chains and the absence of successful methods for contacting, reaching, and training these women in culturally appropriate ways. Further, the WLI Iraq team reported at the December 2011 annual meeting over 80% of the labor in protected agriculture around Baghdad was done by women, data that surprised them and led them to request assistance in how to work with these women. Finally, with respect to Jordan, the USAID mission in Jordan is turning its attention to agriculture as an engine of growth and a stabilizing sector for the rapidly expanding refugee, unemployed youth, and rural populations. Thus, although Jordan is not currently a Feed the Future country, it will soon have a large agriculture portfolio and also be the site for much of the training for the USAID/Iraq projects. 

UF capability and in country experience

The University of Florida has been involved in the WLI project since its inception. Dr. Russo is the coordinator of the U.S. universities consortium for WLI and a member of the executive steering committee. UF has provided gender training to WLI partners at a workshop in Aleppo, Syria in March 2011, followed by invitations to gender researchers from ICARDA and NCARE to UF to work on the gender research activity undertaken in May-June 2012 and described earlier. 

Reference List

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[1] http://www.icarda.org/wli

[2] http://www.ncare.gov.jo