By Gift Briton

Enrolling women farmers in capacity-building, extension services and dissemination programs can significantly increase the overall adoption of agricultural innovations.

This is according to the latest research by International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) focusing on how to reduce the gap between small and wealthier landholders regarding access to technology and innovation in Tunisia, with specific focus on women farmers.

Dr. Boubaker Dhehibi, ICARDA agricultural economist and lead paper author, noted that agricultural innovations and extension services are key levers to lift people out of poverty, in Tunisia and across Africa, however, accessibility and adoption of these technologies still remain very low.

According to the study, low and slow adoption of innovative technologies among smallholder farmers in Tunisia and in many developing countries, is a key agricultural development problem partly related to the existing technology transfer approach used.

“Technology adoption by smallholder farmers is crucial for agricultural modernization, productivity enhancement and economic prosperity in less developed countries,” the report notes, adding that improving agricultural productivity plays a key role in maintaining livelihoods and ensuring a robust food supply to sustain national development and growth.

“However, despite the potential of agricultural technologies to increase productivity, incomes and food security, technology adoption rates by smallholder farmers in Tunisia and in many other developing countries, the adoption remain very low,” the report reads.

To discover how different dissemination strategies would influence the adoption of Kounouz (a drought-resistant barley variety well adapted to dry conditions) by small farmers, the ICARDA scientists designed a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) framework in which 700 households from 70 different villages in central Tunisia were randomly assigned to one of four treatment study groups and a control group.

“We were especially interested in studying the impact that female farmer training would have on technology adoption since women are often not included in extension and capacity-building programs,” Dr. Dhehibi pointed out.

The first treatment group received a technical training on Kounouz, the second group also received the Kounouz technical training in addition to an economic and organizational training, the third group received the same training as group number two, plus a female empowerment module while the last group was offered the technical training as well as the female empowerment one.

According to the results, farmers who were offered only technical training were 23.9 percent more likely to plant Kounouz than those in the control group. For farmers who were offered the technical training and the economic and organizational training, the likelihood of planting Kounouz was only 11.4 percent higher than those in the control group.

Farmers who followed all training (technical, economic, organizational and female empowerment) were 36.2 percent more likely to plant Kounouz than those in the control group while farmers in treatment group four, who were offered technical training and female empowerment training, the likelihood of planting Kounouz was 26.3 percent higher compared to farmers in the control group.

“Based on this randomized controlled trial (RCT), treatments number three and four which featured a female empowerment module, had the highest impact on technology adoption out of the four capacity-building combinations we tested,” said Dr. Dhehibi.

Therefore, the study revealed that offering a female empowerment training module in addition to other technical training drove the highest rate of adoption of Kounouz.

Moreover, Dr. Dhehibi explained that involving women and offering a female empowerment component to any dissemination strategy is the best way to enhance technology adoption, adding that the study’s results add to the growing evidence that agricultural development is swifter when women’s key roles in agriculture are better acknowledged.

“This study suggests that future agricultural extension programmes need to be inclusive in terms of gender to improve technology adoption, increase productivity and enhance income-generating opportunities for rural households. A participatory method of training, including all key actors and at all levels, research, private and extension is strongly recommended to both improve the access of farmers to various trainings in a cost-effective way and for effective content delivery,” the report reads.

The authors also noted that special attention should be given to women because gender-sensitive training can enhance women’s business skills so they can be more effective in solving problems and become successful entrepreneurs.