Women seeding and applying fertilizer in a farm in Ethiopia. Photo: ILRI \ Bethlehem Alemu

Community conversations increase women’s access to farming information in the Ethiopian highlands

Blog post

Like in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, family members usually operate small-scale farms that are the mainstay of agricultural production in Ethiopia. But women in these smallholder households, which are often headed by men, have limited access to agricultural information and advisory services. Through the CGIAR Program on Livestock, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) have been engaging community members in Ethiopia in conversations to better understand and address women’s challenges in accessing agricultural information.

The goal of this exercise is to contribute to the improvement of livestock and human health, as well as health service delivery in the country.

In October 2019 facilitators from the Areka and Debre Birhan research centres coordinated community conversations that brought together 134 male and 78 female participants in four community meetings in Doyogena and Menz districts in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP), and Amhara regions, respectively.

During the community conversations, community members explored constraints to, and opportunities for, women’s access to information. A woman participant in Menz Mama District noted that ‘when advisors visit our home, they often talk to my husband’. She added that extension advisors rarely invite women to join their husbands during these discussions.

The men in the meetings acknowledged that they were also contributing to the problem. A male participant in Doyogena District said that he does not invite his wife for discussions about the farm when advisors visit their home. An elderly man advised that men and women in the household must interact and share information in order to boost their agricultural enterprises. He called on men to provide support for women to attend community meetings. A woman participant in Menz agreed, saying that women would find it easier to join or attend farming advisory meetings ‘if the men supported the women.’

Community conversations facilitate information sharing and social learning among community groups. With a targeted selection, women’s participation increases but it is fostered if married women are supported by their husbands. Through these meetings, communities in SNNP and Amhara have recognized the importance of giving women access to farming information and having them participate in farming advisory meetings. A male participant in Menz Gera District explained that his wife is now playing a key role on the farm after participating in community meetings. He added that giving women access to information creates understanding, appreciation and collaboration among couples.

Many participants said that couples’ participation in community conversations also fosters communication and sharing of information between household members. A woman who had participated in community conversations with her husband said that the experience had improved their household discussions and decision-making, as both had a shared understanding and made a commitment to implement actions during the conversations. She also said that her ability to share information within the household and with neighbours had improved.

Community conversations help community groups recognize the value of giving women access to information through a self-reflection and learning process. In both districts, community members committed to support women to attend future community meetings. In addition, men in Menz Gera District agreed to share domestic activities to give women time to participate in community gatherings. Similarly, men in Doyogena committed to engage in household discussions and share information with women. On their part, the women participants agreed to engage with other women and share information in their neighborhoods.

Download the full report: Community conversations on social structures and institutions that shape women’s control over livestock, group membership and access to information in Menz and Doyogena: Feild activity report