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Reaching Rural Women

Multi-Country Comparative Assessment of Extension/Advisory Methods to Reach Rural Women

by Tahseen Jafry, Glasgow Caledonia University and Rasheed Sulaiman, 


Agriculture in developing countries provides some of the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable communities with, not just their main source of food, but a means to create livelihoods and generate income. These communities, which are generally made up of small-scale subsistence farmers, now face added pressures brought about by climate change and a shifting global economy. The need for agricultural growth is more pressing than ever.

Recent data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO, 2010-11) shows that 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries is made up of women. However, despite carrying out all activities related to agriculture, including crop production and livestock rearing, rural women’s voices are rarely heard. For reasons such as social and economic structures or a lack of education, they are effectively disempowered and unable to articulate their needs and aspirations.

There is now a growing realization that tackling gender inequality and the various barriers that rural women face will result in increased efficiency and productivity in the agricultural sector, which in turn will contribute to agricultural growth, poverty reduction, better nutrition and food security (World Bank 2007, Christoplos 2010, World Bank et al 2008).

Agricultural extension and rural advisory services play an important role in transferring knowledge of new approaches and technologies to farmers. However, these services tend to engage more with male farmers, and there is little evidence that the needs and requirements of women farmers are being met.  Some countries have made efforts to increase the number of women extension and advisory service agents and enhance their ability through training on improved production technologies. However, although this ensures better coverage of extension support for women, it is not a guarantee that the women’s demands for information and support will lead to effective and timely provision of services (GCU et al 2009). Recent years have witnessed increasing interest in marketing extension and the role of gender in agricultural value chains (Coles and Mitchel, 2011; USAID, 2009).

Given the recognition of the critical link between the improved capacity of women as agricultural producers and a reduction in rural poverty and food insecurity, national governments and the donor community need to find, as matter of urgency, ways to redesign rural development projects with specific attention to the needs of women farmers, and the effects of climate variability and globalization. This means an overhaul of current systems in order to overcome gender bias and provide an equitable form of extension provision.


Given this backdrop, this research project will provide an assessment of a range of different types of approaches that are currently being used to reach rural women. This assessment will provide new knowledge and understanding of the approaches that are working, those that are not and those that are not working as well as they might.  This research will also provide an analysis of the findings to provide reasoning and explanations for success and failure of these approaches and to determine what the best approaches are in reaching rural women in different contexts.

This specific research will be conducted in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, and Malawi.  These countries have been chosen because they have culturally and socially contrasting situations which should provide an insight into the complexities.  


The specific objectives of this research will be:

  1. A meta comparison of existing women focused agricultural extension engagement methods identifying those common elements across the methods as well as unique features.
  2. A cursory exploration of the scale in use and of the achievements of the approaches.
  3. Creation of a hybrid model combining the important and successful core features and unique elements identified. (Postponed, see explanation below)
  4. Field testing of the approach with local partners. (Postponed, see explanation below)


Objectives 1 & 2:  Meta comparison of existing extension engagement methods and evidence of impact

The specific research question being studied here is what are the existing women focused extension engagement methods being used to reach rural women in India and Bangladesh?

Sub questions are:

  • What comprises/are the common elements/unique across the methods being used?
  • What is the evidence of scale in use/impact/achievement/benefits to women of the methods used?

1.1  Desk based literature search
(peer reviewed and grey literature (project/program documents, evaluation reports, review reports, conference proceedings etc).

The research method adopted for the desk based review will follow the principles laid out by the PRISMA statement (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses) as described by Moher[1] et al.  Although this approach is adopted by the medical profession for conducting systematic reviews, the principles can be applied more widely in other academic disciplines and will comprise: 

  • setting research parameters and scope,
  • identifying and analyzing relevant studies,
  • quality assessment,
  • data extraction,
  • data synthesis,
  • data interpretation
  • valuation and discussion


The approach to methods for searching the literature, inclusion criteria, criteria for appraising study quality and proposed synthesis methods will be clearly defined in a study protocol. 

This will be as follows:

a) Scoping study to define/formulate key research question/s.

b) Search strategy: 

  • · earch of primary data bases for peer reviewed and other academic, published literature (academic journals & books) and grey literature
  • ·   Identify key databases for search e.g. ABI inform, Google Scholar, Science Direct, Web of Knowledge, specialist data bases) 

c)  Identify key search terms used for the literature search

1.2  Discussions with sector specific key stakeholders/relevant programs/projects/communities via focused group discussions and semi-structured interviews to explore and identify the scale in use, impacts, uptake, adoption, success, constraints of the extension approaches used. 

This will be done by using carefully designed templates and compiled as case studies.

1.3  Produce a synthesis report of the data extracted from the literature and discussions and collate in terms of key themes and issues, patterns, common threads, core features associated with the different approaches.



The outputs of this research will be a critical contribution in consideration for donors such as USAID and World Bank of what should be the goals for investment in extension and advisory service provision. Can investment in gender and extension/advisory provision be justified? These questions cannot be answered unless we learn more about the existing approaches to reaching rural women and identifying where the research gaps are on gender and extension/advisory provision.  Further to this, lessons of good practice that will be generated by this project could be used to inform/underpin the development of training modules and technical notes for the MEAS project.



Christoplos (2010), “Mobilising the potential of rural and agricultural extension”, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, accessed at

Coles, C and Mitchel,J (2011) Gender and agricultural value chains; A review of current knowledge and practices and their policy implications, ESA Working Paper No. 11-05, March 2011, Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, accessed at

FAO (2010-11) The State of Food and Agriculture, Women in Agriculture, Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.

GCU, CRISP, CMS (2009) Reaching Rural Women: Designing Programmes that meet their needs through a consultative design process,

USAID (2009) Promoting Gender Equitable Opportunities Why it matters for agricultural value chains, US Agency for International Development, Available at

World Bank (2007) World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development. World Bank, Geneva.

World Bank, FAO and IFAD (2009), “Gender in Agriculture-Source Book”, accessed at


[1] Moher D., A. Liberati, J. Tetzlaff, D.G. Altmanet (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement, BMJ, 339:b2535