Using gender analysis to ensure the inclusion of women in agricultural extension services

The Digital Agricultural Advisory Services (DAAS) project aims to help farmers adopt relevant customized advisories delivered via digital channels while strengthening extension systems using a combination of technology solutions and capacity building, systems change, and partnership. In order to identify and respond to the barriers that women face in accessing technology and extension services, DAAS undertook a gender analysis to generate information on gender gaps, needs, constraints, and opportunities of women and men in the access, use, and adoption of digital advisory services. The study covered eight woredas in four regions of Ethiopia. 


What did we learn from the gender analysis? 

The majority of households are headed by men. Decision-making patterns show that women make fewer household decisions compared to men, who make major decisions. Women have more diverse income sources compared to men, but men have the upper hand in determining the household budget allocation. Apart from the women-only groups, women’s participation in membership and leadership positions in other development or social groups is minimal. 

Women engage less in agriculture advisory services. Women do not adopt agricultural technologies and practices as quickly as men, citing the need to receive the approval of their husbands before proceeding. Furthermore, women are considered supporters in the productive activities and are represented by their husbands. Development Agents find many challenges in reaching women farmers, including the uneasiness of husbands when a male Development Agent provides extension support to their wives and women’s heavier workloads that mean they have less time to participate in extension activities. 


What can we do differently to include women in extension activities? 

There are numerous ways we can ensure women receive agriculture advisory services. Some examples include: 

     – Support women access and use digital technologies;

     – Ensure that agriculture advisory services align with women’s time availability;

     – Provide access to inputs to enhance agricultural production; 

     – Introduce technologies that ease women’s workload; 

     – Conduct training that considers women’s role in agriculture and society;

     – Create an enabling environment for women to develop and own assets; and

     – Provide assertiveness training for women in male headed households to boost their participation in household decision-making.  

The gender analysis is guiding programming decisions. The DAAS project is operationalizing the recommendations from the gender analysis through the development of a gender strategy. 

The Digital Agricultural Advisory Services (DAAS) project is led by Digital Green in partnership with Precision Agriculture for Development (PXD) and driven by the interests and priorities of the Ethiopian Government. The Impacting Gender and Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange in Agriculture (IGNITE) project, implemented by Tanager in partnership with Laterite and 60 Decibels, led the gender analysis, which was conducted with support from the AGILE consulting firm. DAAS is implemented with the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Foreign Cooperation Development Office. 

Advancing the livelihoods and resilience of women farmers in India

Gender Inequalities in Agriculture: A Context

“When technology reaches a man, it serves the man. When it reaches a woman, it serves the entire family and her community. There is an urgent need to engender digital connectivity and digital technology to have a snowballing impact”

Women small-scale producers across India lack the information, and agency to lead resilient and sustainable livelihoods. As compared to their male counterparts, women farmers have significantly lower literacy rates, and lesser access to resources, advisory, and competitive markets, often receiving as little as 25% of their crops’ final sales price. The divide only becomes more nuanced when tribal communities and tribal women in  particular come into the picture. 

In the country, tribal majority areas are the most poverty stricken areas and are primarily dependent on forests, agriculture and livestock as their source of livelihood. In most cases agricultural extension and agronomic advisories do not even reach the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) in India. 

Even as gender-related inequalities continue to marginalize women in agriculture, the agriculture sector in itself is going through a change. Agriculture value chains are becoming increasingly digitized by making technology more accessible and affordable for several communities to solve pressing challenges such as access to markets, readily available information about climate, soil, and crops. The strong gender digital divide with women having limited access to technology could further exclusion of women from policy and practice.


What could be a way forward?

Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) are becoming the fulcrum for improving farmers’ bargaining power in India, and can unlock the benefits of group purchases and sales in competitive markets. Women-focused groups could potentially enhance women’s agency in decision making, bringing more equity in their access to markets, reduce production costs, and increase incomes.

At Digital Green, pairing scaleable, and high quality agricultural & post-harvest advisory and mobile coaching with our FPO strengthening and data-sharing solution Kisan Diary Enterprise could significantly improve FPO performance and support buyer discovery and aggregation of commodities for sale. This is what is taking place in the Advancing Tribal Livelihoods and Self Reliance (ATLAS) project in Odisha and Jharkhand, where tribal communities make up nearly 50% of the population. 

Digital advisories are specifically targeted towards tribal women farmers to equip them with information to meet the market demands. By building the capacities of frontline extension agents on video production and dissemination, community videos will help women get information necessary to prepare their harvests and forest products. With FPO interventions and leadership capacity building, these resilient groups of women small scale producers would also be able to confidently navigate market opportunities through collective sales.


Our Journey so far 

Since the launch of the ATLAS Project in mid-2021, Digital Green has conducted community mobilization and video production and dissemination training with Community Resource Persons (CRP) in Odisha and Jharkhand. Even at a foundational stage, the impact that these training and dissemination workshops have had on the community resource persons are commendable.

Videos that tell stories: Malati Mohanta’s Experience in Odisha

Malati Mohanta in Odisha has been a CRP under Odisha’s PVTG Empowerment and Livelihoods Improvement Program since 2019, and has majorly contributed in improving living conditions of particularly vulnerable tribal women in the field. 

Considered as one of the most competent CRPs by the block officials, her impact on the community has been extraordinary with respect to community mobilization and capacity building training of tribal women. Through conducting Self-Help Group (SHG) meetings, she educates women on relevant agricultural practices, and provides support on market linkages. In December 2021, Malati also received Digital Green’s video dissemination training.

Having previously worked on a similar project with Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), she was well versed in Digital Green’s community video approach and had already trained 200+ tribal women on videos related to vaccination and livestock farming. Then and even now, the village level communities have shown interest in the innovative approach of community videos because of how unique it is, and are eager to adopt practices that are demonstrated. 

Malati recalls a challenge she had faced – “earlier women were very hesitant and showed little interest in adopting new practices because they felt that they did not have the resources to do so.” With consistent efforts on her part, Malati has popularized the community videos within the community because this information gets shared in the form of stories which holds the interest of women.

A step towards giving decision-making power to women’s FPOs: Munita Oraon’s Experience in Jharkhand

Since 2019, Munita Oraon has been working as an ‘AKM (Ajeevika Krishak Mitra)’ in her village. This role includes mobilizing, and training her community on best agricultural practices. Until a few months ago, a major challenge was that community members did not really apply the practices they learned and there was little buy-in on technology being used for agriculture. Recently, with micro-practice-based community videos, the response has changed. “Community members now believe that what is being shown in the videos is actually applicable and possible in their settings.”

 Munita received video dissemination training in October 2021. So far, she has been able to disseminate videos, in person and via WhatsApp groups, about crop advisory, producer groups, farmer producer companies, etc. This has not just increased knowledge but has also given decision-making power to women producer group members.


Looking ahead

Over the life of the project, ATLAS will reach 50,000 women with targeted advisories and improve the participation of FPO members in group sales. Our target is also to see that at least 5,000 women participate in a transaction and get an enhanced income after selling their produce.

ATLAS is implemented with the generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Foundational and complementary approaches nutrition sensitive agriculture: UPAVAN’s legacy

Introduction to UPAVAN

Maternal and child undernutrition in tribal areas of rural India has been one of the most pressing issues in the Indian development landscape. Odisha, in particular, has 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs). Members of these PVTGs have low literacy rates and are mostly cut off from technology, with agriculture being the primary source of livelihoods. 

Across the country, there are 75 PVTGs and numerous rural tribal communities, smallholder farmers and agricultural laborers that work in the most remote and hard-to-reach areas. This is challenging for agricultural producers to gather information, not just for the purpose of maximizing their production and profits, but also for their health and nutrition. 

Upscaling Participatory Action and Videos for Agriculture and Nutrition (UPAVAN) was a randomized controlled trial that sought to address the systemic problem of maternal and child undernutrition in a tribal area of rural Odisha, in India, by testing a novel and potentially scalable intervention. The UPAVAN team aimed to assess the nutrition and agricultural impact and cost-effectiveness of technology-enabled, participatory agriculture extension intervention, compared with a control group, in Keonjhar district, Odisha. 


Learnings from UPAVAN

Learnings gathered from UPAVAN were both foundational and complementary to Digital Green’s work and approaches across other initiatives. 

Formative research that was a critical component of UPAVAN for one had helped in understanding and analyzing community behavioral patterns. Digital Green has adopted this formative research approach as a basic component of project implementation. Under the ATLAS Project for instance, which aims to empower tribal farming communities by strengthening the capacities of women farmer producer organizations (FPOs), formative research was conducted to understand the current status of FPOs, women’s knowledge, their ability to support their farmer members, and gender roles. Similarly, in Project Samvad, formative research was used to hyper-localize messages disseminated to communities through hybrid digital approaches.

Given that making Agriculture Work for Nutrition has been a top policy priority in India, at the beginning of UPAVAN, nutrition sensitive agriculture (NSA) was identified as a key concept to disseminate and engage with the community. Field level agents, training staff, and mediators were trained on video production, dissemination and home visits which resulted in a higher uptake. Now Digital Green works to ensure that nutrition-related videos are included in training modules across different programs.

UPAVAN’s approach involving local family and community members as actors in videos to impact faster comprehension and uptake has been integrated into Digital Green’s approach to social behavioral change communications (SBCC). Over the years, we have found that featuring local community members within videos has increased familiarity and has gone a long way in sensitizing and driving influence within communities. 

The emphasis on reaching women during the 1000 day period (from the time of conception to when a child is two years old) in UPAVAN was also applied to other programs implemented by Digital Green such as Project . This was also a project that engaged with women in the 1000 day period to share information on maternal and child health nutrition. By engaging frontline workers, both male and female to share these messages, discussions around these topics openly broke gender stereotypes.

One key takeaway across all our work at Digital Green has been the hybrid approach which builds on the success of the proven community video approach, and complements it with other digital channels such as WhatsApp and IVR to rapidly scale impact across rural communities. This can be applied to any context, sector, and geography, and we have found that using technology builds an intrinsic strength at horizontal as well as vertical levels – not only do they facilitate dialogues and joint learning within the community, they also serve as an interface between health system structures and the women beneficiaries.


Further Reading

We have gathered extensive insights, and disseminated information about UPAVAN: 

Digital Green’s website has an evidence page containing reports and journal articles including the following UPAVAN documents: 

Effect of nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions with participatory videos and women’s group meetings on maternal and child nutritional outcomes in rural Odisha, India (UPAVAN trial): a four-arm, observer-blind, cluster-randomised controlled trial, published in Lancet Planetary Health

How to design a complex behaviour change intervention: experiences from a nutrition-sensitive agriculture trial in rural India, published in BMJ Global Health;

Agricultural and empowerment pathways from land ownership to women’s nutrition in India, published in Maternal and Child Nutrition; and 

Upscaling Participatory Action and Videos for Agriculture and Nutrition (UPAVAN) trial comparing three variants of a nutrition-sensitive agricultural extension intervention to improve maternal and child nutritional outcomes in rural Odisha, India: study protocol for a cluster randomised controlled trial, published in Trials.

Digital Green produced a short video to showcase how women are playing a role in nutrition in Odisha. This video highlights the importance of collective action of women and their journey in enhancing livelihood by producing nutritious crops. The video has over 700 views. 

Digital Green’s video library ( contains hundreds of videos, including video produced as part of the UPAVAN project on nutrition, agriculture-nutrition nexus, and videos about maintaining crops showcasing practices such as seed treatment, fertilizer preparation, and growing of nutritions crops like spinach.

Digital Green’s YouTube channel, with over 300,000 subscribers, contains more than 100 videos on nutrition sensitive agriculture, kitchen gardens, crop planning for nutrition, the importance of dietary diversity, and other nutrition related topics, produced by various projects, including UPAVAN.

Reaching more women farmers via empowering extension agents

Addressing gender inequality in Ethiopia is essential to achieve sustainability in agriculture as women perform a large share of agricultural labor (40-60%), and high levels of inequality make it harder to increase productivity and reduce poverty. However, women face specific constraints that reduce their productivity and limit their contributions, one of which is a lack of agriculture extension service. Extension agents, including Subject Matter Specialists and Development Agents, receive training from Agricultural Technical Vocational Education and Training (ATVET) colleges but the training emphasizes technical subjects, with inadequate focus on gender issues. Moreover, extension agents are predominantly male and direct their advisory services to male farmers. Further, women face limited mobility in certain communities and geographies as well as cultural sensitivities about (male) extension agents providing advice to women farmers. Due to these factors, female farmers produce 23% less per hectare than their male counterparts – negatively impacting the efficiency, effectiveness, and overall economic progress of the country.

Digital Green recognizes that engaging institutions in change processes is critical to removing structural barriers that reinforce gender norms. We are committed to support government partners in implementing strategies that advance women’s access to agricultural extension services by acknowledging the power of incentives and informal systems that reinforce norms. Such initiatives transcend Digital Green’s project activities and have the capability to make the whole agriculture extension service more gender intentional. One of the mechanisms of supporting the government to reach more women farmers in accessing agriculture extension service is by enhancing extension agents’ knowledge on gender. We empower Development Agents to start challenging the different gender stereotypes while producing agricultural extension videos. By creating awareness among extension agents who closely work with Digital Green, and by casting women farmers in our videos, we are challenging such stereotypes for the better.

Digital Green has included gender content in video production and video dissemination training manuals to enhance extension agents’ knowledge on gender. Among the content included in the manual are: what do we mean by gender, how to take the issues of gender into consideration when producing and disseminating videos, how to facilitate video dissemination sessions in a gender-sensitive manner, and more. From the feedback we received from Development Agents, the inclusion of gender-sensitive training content has helped them to understand why gender is important in their daily work and even generated additional demand for gender-focused training.




A Hope for a Healthier Tomorrow in India

Each Story Brings Change

Munnawar is a 42 year old ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist)  worker hailing from a Muslim family in Banera which is one of the Muslim dominant villages of Naarsan block, in Uttarakhand state in North India. She has four daughters and four sons, and her husband works as an agricultural laborer – they both work hard to ensure that their children obtain formal education which they were not able to as they did not have the means. Despite this, Munnawar has gone on to become one of the most well-known ASHA workers in her community, catering to more than 1400 families, because of how well she connects with mothers and their families. 

Prior to becoming an ASHA worker, she worked under a private doctor as a birth attendant, and assisted an ASHA worker in her village in carrying out scheduled health activities. By virtue of this engagement, she learned more about the role that an ASHA worker plays.

Noticing her work, in 2012, the village head Mr. Salim recommended Munawwar for the position of an ASHA worker in the village despite not being literate. Her limited exposure to formal education posed a barrier to being able to maintain records and reporting work, but her coworkers were supportive. In return, Munawwar assisted her coworkers by accompanying them for home visits especially for counseling families who were adamant on their traditional beliefs about mother and child care.

Over the years, Munawwar has gained the confidence to be able to support families within their communities and change their beliefs about ill-informed maternal and child health practices. She has worked diligently with families and has counseled mothers so that they can go for safer health and nutrition practices. By using digital methods that she learned about through Digital Green’s capacity building workshops on video production, training and dissemination, she has been able to share knowledge about institutional delivery, immunization, and modern family planning methods.

Even after all this time, she still ensures that she goes for daily home visits and that all necessary support is given to families at any point of time. Her level of care towards mothers has extended to the point where once a mother had a delivery complication, she even donated her blood to save her life. Her dedication has cemented her position as an influencer within her community. During the pandemic, she kept at it by sharing videos via Whatsapp, and continuing to support families for anything that they needed.

Frontline workers like Munnawar are the agents of change, and serve as the interface between health systems and structures, and community members to ensure their health and wellbeing. They have been integral to the overall success of Project Samvad. Similar to Munnawar’s story of perseverance and dedication, Project Samvad has been able to work with over 5,000 ASHA and Anganwadi workers across six states in India, to build their capacities on using digital approaches to share knowledge and connect with their respective communities. Resilient frontline workers at the grassroots level reflect all the more on the effectiveness of health system structures in being able to reach and impact communities in rural and remote areas. Project Samvad has significantly contributed to our learnings on gender and resilience.

What made Project Samvad so unique?

 Health is never just physical, it is also about growing up in a healthy household that allows a child to feel loved, secure, and physically healthy. In our society, more than anyone else, mothers are responsible for caring for the wellbeing of their children, and raising them in a healthy household, and so they must be educated and made aware of optimal health and nutrition practices. To build a truly equitable society, women must be allowed to have agency on how they plan out their families and futures.

When we say that information is power today, what we mean is not the bulk or abundance of information, but how the needed information reaches a person in the remotest area of a poor, developing, and yet a hopeful country that enables him or her to make an informed choice which has the power to transform lives.

Similarly, Project Samvad has not just been about sharing information through digital approaches, but how this method of sharing information, and the knowledge in itself can transform the communities that we have worked in for the past six years, and give them the hope for a better and healthier tomorrow. For example, by simply sharing an instructional video with targeted women in the community via Whatsapp, it is not just the availability of the content but the fact that at any given moment, it will only take a click of a button to access information that can change the quality of life of these women and children.

“We never let go of the hope, the heart, and the pulse of the community” is what Dr Sangita Patel, Health Director of USAID shared in the last dissemination workshop that was held by the Project Samvad team on 9th February. Community-centered approaches with the value-addition of digital technologies have always rung true for Digital Green across interventions in Health, Nutrition, Gender, and Agriculture. Collective learnings from Samvad continue to inform our approach towards community engagement, social-behavioral change communication, and hybrid digital approaches that have transformative potential.

Impact in Numbers

Project Samvad had a massive impact across six states in India, namely Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Assam. Looking back, the Project has reached over 700,000 women directly, and 360,000 women have been using digital channels.

During the project implementation period, the exposure of women to digital dissemination channels gradually increased from 32% in July 2018 to 96% by December 2018. From the first survey conducted in September 2018 to the latest one in January 2020, the percentage of women and men who knew at least three different modern family planning methods grew from 39.1% to 76.3%.

A Phone Survey that was conducted during Project Samvad found that 9 out of 10 respondents would watch videos that they received via Whatsapp during the pandemic.

What have we learned?

Project Samvad has generated a lot of interest and insights in its duration. Our key takeaways are that the proven community video approach complemented by other digital channels such as Whatsapp and IVRS has rapidly scaled up impact amongst local communities and can be applied to any context, sector, and geography. We have found that using technology builds an intrinsic strength at horizontal as well as vertical levels – not only do they facilitate dialogues and joint learning within the community, they also serve as an interface between health system structures and the women beneficiaries.

From the standpoint of influencing behavior change within people, local and contextualized information that they are familiar with, plus the delivery of information in a human-mediated, participatory approach establishes and strengthens the link between service providers and the community. This is of paramount importance to improve the uptake of any best practices shared whether it be in the health domain or even agriculture.

The data that we have gathered and the lessons that we have learned are important and will continue to enormously contribute to future opportunities in strengthening national and subnational policy actions on health, nutrition, and family planning.

Here are relevant links to Project Samvad Learnings:

For more resources on Project Samvad, please visit

Watch the Samvad Playlist that dramatizes the human impact of Project Samvad here: