Training equips extension staff with tools to tackle gender inequality at grassroots level

“In the family, the husband is viewed as the repository of household knowledge. By empowering women, there will be two sources of knowledge, which will enhance learning and uptake of new practice by all family members. If I can at least show five women farmers that they are good enough, that will be meaningful to make a change”, states Ms Mantegbosh Awoke, a 23-year-old agriculture extension agent in Ambeshen kebele (ward), North Achefer.

In her role as coach and mentor to farmers, the gender training imparted valuable insights and tools to Mantegbosh Awoke, including how to work around limiting social norms and practices faced by women in rural communities.

Mantegbosh is one of 20 participants – male and female horticulture experts – who attended a training designed to improve women’s participation in Farmer Field Schools (FFS). The training took place in Dangila town, North Mecha from 1-3 March.

The gender training is part of the FFS scheme co-financed by AgroBIG, undertaken in cooperation with Horti-LIFE, one of the agricultural projects run by Dutch development agency SNV. The farmers and experts that AgroBIG is supporting benefit greatly from the solid experience that Horti-LIFE staff has in facilitating FFS extension schemes on horticulture production in 27 districts across Ethiopia. 

Recognizing that successful horticulture requires the involvement of both husbands and wives, the FFS scheme has set up mixed male and female groups to foster interaction between both genders. However, ensuring equal opportunities and decision-making is a challenge for the FFS facilitators.

Women listening intently during the training.

Although women’s participation is increasing, their confidence in public speaking during the bi-monthly meetings which are a part of the FFS scheme is minimal, further hampered by limited knowledge and skills on technical matters. Similarly, their benefit from additional income earned from horticulture is not always balanced. 

Mantegbosh elaborates: “Sometimes there are disagreements between husbands and wives regarding division of labour, as some tasks are seen as gender-specific. Often women have multiple roles as care-givers and farmers. Husbands are known to come alone to meetings, resisting bringing their wives along.”

The trainer Ms Hiwot Bahru from Yardinat Consultancy demonstrating the use of visual aids in facilitation.

During the training, participants learned how to deal with such challenges. Methods include appealing to influential community members to convince farmers of the benefit of new practices and attitudes, scheduling meetings at times and places convenient to farmers, and providing services at women’s homes when necessary. Recognizing top performing women farmers as role models to share and scale up their good practices helps to encourage other women. Participants also learned how to make use of visual aids such as posters and cartoons to effectively convey their message to farmers. 

Since the cooperation between AgroBIG and SNV-Horti-LIFE was launched, 1800 farmers in North Mecha, North Achefer, Bahir Dar Zuria and Dera districts have been improving the quality and productivity of vegetables through the FFS approach.