Empowering women for access to agriculture extension services

January 21st, 2015

Urgent call for action

Bangladesh has tremendous achievements in some indicators of MDGs like poverty, maternal and child mortality reduction. It has done better even other social indices like reducing gender gaps in primary and secondary schools. However there are still big gaps in women’s employment in the formal sector but in informal sectors they participate significantly.

According to Health Bulletin 2012 Bangladesh total population is around 150 million as per population census 2011 and the male female ratio is 100.3:100. So the number of male and female population in Bangladesh is quite similar.

Bangladesh has one of the highest mobile penetrations in the developing world, around 90% people have that access. However there is lacked of available data regarding male and female owners of mobile phones. It is perceived that in urban areas more women have access than rural areas.  Our labour force data shows that among the employed population 37.9% male and 16.2% are female. Globally a large number of women in developing countries participate in the agricultural sector directly. However they participate actively in farming production but not in the decision making process, product marketing and major ownership of the profits of production. This might be due to their lower access to information and knowledge services.

Bangladesh is envisioning becoming a middle income country by giving more emphasis to a knowledge based economy. One of the strategies of Practical Action’s Knowledge Services is to make the services diversified so that people will have more access to those services. Our agriculture focused Krishi Call Centre -short code number 16123 – is now blooming very rapidly among the targeted people following promotional activities. It reached 10,000 calls in December 2014 which was only around 50% of call from the queue.

From these calls over the last three months, we manually recorded 5,489 Technical Enquiries (TES) in our database (October 2014 to December 2014). Revealing data of Krishi Call Centre it has found (Table: 1) only 100 women enquired out of the 5,489 total that is only 1.8% of female enquirers asked for enquiry service! Similarly Technical Enquiries collected from knowledge centres during this period shows that only 33 women enquired from the total enquirers of 1375.  So there were only 133 women enquirers both from Krishi Call Centre and Knowledge Centres during October to December 2014 out of 6,864 enquiries.

Table 1: Gender and subject enquiries from Krishi Call Centre

 Subject of enquiry Total Gender
Female Male
Agriculture 3557 49 3508
Livestock 1154 44 1110
Fisheries 778 7 771
 Total 5489 100 5389

When we classified the women enquirers regarding subject sectors then it has found that Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries enquirers are followed by 1.3%, 3.8% and 0.8%, respectively. Here Livestock enquiries are higher than Agriculture and Fisheries sectors.

Woman providing irrigation for cultivating sweet gourd in the sand bar

Woman providing irrigation for cultivating sweet gourd in the sand bar

Do not Bangladeshi women talk? If they talk then what is their interest? How much access do they have to ICT devices? Around 90% of people have a mobile phone but can we say that truly women have the entitlement to call a Krishi Call Centre for agriculture support? It might be not. They might be entitled to call only their husbands and other household members. It might be that their husband would not allow them to call outside as Krishi Call Centre is a public entity.  Our women are less entitled to go outside to market places, tea stalls and village fairs as predominantly males have access into those rural knowledge hubs for seeking information and knowledge.

The knowledge seeking behaviour of women and access to participation of women in planning and marketing of farming production is different from men. They depend on their elderly women relatives and husbands.  If they do not have access to the decision making process and control over resources for what they grows then why do they feel concern for that production? Therefore we see that there is near about double TES rate in the livestock enquirers echoed that more women still in Bangladesh are engaged with rearing domestic animals like poultry, cows, goats and ducks in their houses what they used to do traditionally. This might be still they have control over those resources both in the management and earning over sales.  But for fish farming it is fully depend on male person’s activity.

The overall goal of the Practical Answer’s program is to facilitate knowledge services among all stakeholders in poverty alleviation efforts–development practitioners, extension workers, government officers, researchers, and people’s representatives.

We need to think how we can engage our huge number of female population to this enquiry stream. They must have enquiries and they need the answers. All development practitioners need to create an enabling environment for women who make up 50% of our population into the different channels of extension services like Krishi Call Centre to answers their enquiries. By promoting  in the entitlements of ICT based knowledge devices to women workers in agriculture and on farms we can achieve a positive impact on our economy as well as social development.

Authors: Md. Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan, Sr. Knowledge Officer (M&E) and Md. A. Halim Miah, Coordinator- Operations, Knowledge Management, Practical Action, Bangladesh.  


6 responses to “Empowering women for access to agriculture extension services”

  1. Mokhlesur Rahman Says:

    Hi Kamrul Bhai
    Thanks for the piece.
    I have enjoyed reading it. There are number of issues that you have brought out nicely. I have also some queries and suggestions.
    • Firstly, I am not sure how can we say ICT penetration is 90% in Bangladesh. Is it BRTC- who says it? I have been working in this field since last 2009. There are number of concerns associated with this penetration issue like single access, shared access, public access. Most importantly, BTRC collects data from mobile operators who tend to tell high figure for their business promotion and always consider the number of SIM card sold- which cannot tell the real number of mobile penetration. Share with me, if you have any further information or ideas.
    • Secondly, number of women enquirer is really less (1.8% as date indicated). This number is statistically insignificant for further distribution. However, I would like to ask what measures are you taking to facilitate more women having access to Krishi Call Centre?
    • Thirdly, I do not agree with your point identified for having less call from women. This is not an issue of entitlement. This is more of issue of felling comfort to talk to a stranger, purpose, available information and trust to getting of getting benefit. Above all, we should keep in mind, how agriculture has been feminized over the years. If you just look at the pattern and importance we give in cash crop production versus crops (including fruits, veg etc) for domestic consumption. You will there significant differences.

    Finally, my works (upcoming) also indicate that men and women have different priorities, pattern and usage and access. That’s why across the globe, many interventions are being taken to minimise the digital divide/gap. However, I will be expecting more write up covering issues of information demand dynamics as well as information application by them. Thanks for your efforts.

  2. Margaret Gardner Says:

    Really interesting blog and comment. Great that so early on in the life of the Krishi call centre – only open a few months – we already have the stats and can start to think about what we can do differently in order to reach and meet the needs of more poor women.

    Looking forward to hearing more.


  3. Md. A. Halim Miah Says:

    Thanks to you all for nice and encouraging comments. Yesterday in our national parliament it has reported that in 31st December 2014 total mobile phone subscribers are more than 120 million in Bangladesh. Yes it is a matter of review- are all the SIM that sold equivalent to number of people used mobile phone? Answers may be or may be not! But the number shows how it is penetrating in our social and daily life. In Bangladesh total number of House Hold will be around 34 million. So the size of SIM holder ( Operators sale SIM not mobile phone) is more than three times of our total households. Therefore when we have used the term mobile penetration and rate has been used as 90% then we should say that it is more than correct!

  4. Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan Says:

    We said Bangladesh has one of the highest mobile penetrations in the developing world, around 90% people have that access. Actually if a 5 numbered people household have 3 mobile phones, the rest of the two members are also able to talk with their phone though rest two do not have mobile phone. The sense is mobile phone is available and the users are increasing day by day but the enquiries from female is comparably too low. We assumed some reasons why female ringed less in the call centre but that is not all. We need to search the reasons and find the way to engage them to our development stream.

  5. Kevin Chisholm Says:

    Do the Women realize that with a bit of knowledge, they can solve their problems? Do they feel that only men can solve problems?

    What about a promotion showing a picture of a woman holding a phone, with the number below it, and a caption
    “If YOU call us, we can help YOU solve YOUR problems.
    We can’t help if YOU don’t call.”

  6. Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan Says:

    Thank you Kevin, now there is a promotion showing picture with the number 16123 and also the caption you mentioned.

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