Why Aren't Kenyan Farmers Accessing Extension Services Effectively?

Updated on June 8, 2018
Juliendwiga profile image

Julie is a gender development professional and has worked in Kenya, at the UN and AGRA for the last 7 years

Operational Structure of the Agricultural Extension Services in Kenya

The agricultural extension system in Kenya has evolved through various stages since the colonial and post-independence eras. During colonial times, Agricultural extension services were mainly tailored to cater to settler and commercial farming systems. These were well-packaged programs that combined extension services with credit and subsidized inputs. However, the extension approach used for indigenous Africans, who were mainly engaged in subsistence farming and pastoralism, was coercive in nature and therefore not readily accepted. Agricultural extension in Kenya has been evolving in tandem with the changing theories of development. Early extension models followed an approach to new technology through state–provided extension services (McMillan et al., 2001).

Until 1965, technologies were developed and run through extension pipeline to farmers, with agricultural development being the desired product. This was a top-down approach, where information originated from the Ministry of Agriculture and filtered down to farmers through extension agents. The system was not accountable to farmers. Hence, farmers were not involved in development of the disseminated technologies. Research and extension systems were focused mainly on large-scale farms or smallholders in high and medium potential areas. Trials and demonstrations were mostly undertaken in research stations (Davis and Place, 2003).

In order to reinforce technology transfer, the Kenyan Government put in place new models in the 1960s focusing on the needs of small-scale and resource-poor farmers, leading to the introduction of the farming systems approach. The Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) model was introduces in 1965 and it operated up to 1980.

This approach was characterized by participation at farm level by farmers and extension staff through farmer input in on-farm trials, interdisciplinary linkages and a systems approach to agricultural extension services delivery (Collinson, 2000). The distinctive feature of the FSR/E model was its three-way linkage between farmers, researchers, and extension service providers.

Holistic and interdisciplinary in its focus on total systems, FSR/E took into account the multiple goals of the farm family as well as the economic and resource situation in which the farm operates. When we consider the time dimension within which the family makes decisions and plans for the future, the long-term sustainability of production and profit became central to system design (Francis and Hildebrand, 1988). The participatory nature of FSR/E enhanced the capability of research and extension organizations to incorporate farmers' goals, resources, concerns with their own future and their experience into the technology generation and diffusion process. These characteristics influenced the production environments, and the farming systems, found on different farms.

It is because of the diverse nature of these environments, including sustainability of production vs profit, and varying levels of farmer education, that technologies need also to be diverse. The FSR/E methodology recognized this need. In responding to the concerns for a more sustainable agriculture, more emphasis was placed on developing genetic materials and farming practices that fit within the biophysical and socioeconomic environments of different farming systems. This was based on a fuller understanding of these environments and in on-farm research to evaluate technology by environment interactions. This in turn depended on enhanced multidisciplinary, another of the basic facets of FSR/E methodology. The most notable success of this mentioned pioneer agricultural extension model was in the dissemination of hybrid maize technology in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

However, this extension model had some deficiencies which included a mix of ad hoc project components and an inconsistent national strategy. Overall, this model was expensive and ineffective. Additionally, despite a well-established line of command down to the frontline extension worker and staff numbers presumed to be adequate at the time, the agricultural extension services were judged to be performing below its potential (Gautam, 1999).

This model did not, in addition, pay any attention to the needs women had, although they, women, made up almost one-third of the farmers, and although most farmers, 81%, were small holders, extension services largely focused on men, who owned the large scale farms.

In addition, the FSR & E model did not take into account the unique needs, challenges and capabilities across the different gender groups and the gender concepts were not fully integrated in technology development and dissemination processes, leading to obvious gender inequalities in farmer representation in areas such as stakeholder fora, research advisory committees, field days, demonstrations and exposure tours. Women farmers were still operating under greater constraints than men as they had less access to information, technology, land, inputs and credit. Their multiple roles also constrained their time and mobility with a higher proportion of them being illiterate and engaging in subsistence agriculture without being up to date with current technologies.

Traditionally, agricultural extension strategies in Embu have been similar to those offered in Kenya, generally. They have focused on increasing production of cash crops by providing men with training, information, and access to inputs and services. This male bias has been demonstrated in farmer training centres, which are established to provide residential training on technical subjects. Like most other locations where farmer training is conducted, they do not provide separate washing and sleeping accommodations for men and women, which has prevented women from attending many trainings at the centres. Further, extension services from the Government were and still are staffed predominantly by men as there are probably not enough qualified women who are able to take up these positions at the field level.

Men officers have assumed that farmers are men and so they reach out to only men farmers and on other occasions, these men officers are not allowed to come close to women, which has left out the women farmers from accessing the AES being offered. In channeling Extension Agricultural Services in a manner that is more likely to address the needs of both men and women farmers, groups have been one of the best channels to reach women farmers. The definition of membership criteria for admission to many of these organizations has limited women’s ability to reach the extension services availed.

Largely, membership criteria relies on reserving access to land owners or heads of households and women have largely not been eligible for admission to these organizations. Other criteria, such as age, education, or civil status, have also excluded women from becoming members.

The few times women are able to participate in groups, gender norms have impeded them from voicing their opinions and needs in the presence of men. In addition, most extension service providers, as guided by the Government’s curriculum, have assumed that home economics services can substitute for agricultural training and information for women. From research carried out, where home economics services have been provided, female home economists work almost exclusively with rural women, thus reinforcing the institutionalization of gender bias. Home economics services are far from universal and have poorly been resourced, although some have struggled against the odds to provide farm women with technical information and training. (Aidoo, 1988).

This assumption that women do not require technical information of agriculture and only need home economics, has thus, led to the AES reaching out majority of men and ignoring the AES needs of women farmers. Many models put in place by the Government after 1980 to reach farmers, such as the T&V System, emphasized the selection of contact farmers as a mechanism for passing on information to other ("follower") farmers in their area.

The recommended selection criteria, such as title to land, literacy, or cooperative membership, as well as male extension staff's assumptions about women's roles in farming, largely excluded women's involvement and they were therefore, not able to access the available AES (Aammink & Kingma, 1991). The general criteria laid down for selecting contact farmers and adapted by most extension providers in Embu for transfer of agriculture extension includes a farmer should represent the local range of farm size, cropping pattern, socioeconomic condition; be regarded by other farmers as worthy of imitation; be a practicing/ an active farmer; be willing to adopt extension recommendations on at least part of their land, allow other farmers to observe the new practices and be willing to explain these to other farmers.

In practice, extension services have commonly been added other criteria such as a minimum landholding size, literacy and ability to purchase inputs. Village chiefs and other formal leaders, are typically men and field extension agents, are almost always men, usually make the selection, which introduces other potential biases against women, excluding a majority of women from accessing the Agricultural Extension Services available.

The adjustments to selection criteria and the selection process that have proven to be useful in Kenya in increasing the percentage of women selected and are also currently practiced in Embu. They include encouraging chiefs and other leaders to promote women's selection at local meetings and in the media, stressing the importance of selecting women farmers in extension training courses and emphasizing selection on merit from among those who are actually doing the work (Saito & Weidemann, 2000). Other obstacles that have limited women’s access to AES have been as a result of many EAS not accounting for women’s lack of time by identifying strategies for disseminating agricultural information at times and in places convenient to women.

Extension officers are rarely conscious of the times when women are available for meetings to schedule training at those times. When this has been done, trainings have not been divided into short modules to accommodate women’s schedules and provide women with the ability to attend meetings and still manage their day-to-day tasks. Strategies such as working with women on their own plots or on plots close to their homes to reduce time spent traveling as well as subsidizing the cost of taking transportation to training, have been proven to facilitate women’s ability to participate in such events. In Kenya the gender gap in adult literacy ranges from 7 to 24%. Roughly 70 percent of young women and 79 percent of young men are literate in Kenya.

One of the strategies developed to reach farmers in Kenya with extension services is Information and communication technologies (ICTs), which is a major contributor to extending the reach of extension services into diverse populations. Women lack adequate control and access to financing to pay for ICTs such as mobile phones, which is worsened by their higher levels of technology and language illiteracy, these norms discourage women from using technology.

2.3 Agricultural Extension Policies in Kenya

Research has showed that agricultural policies affect men and women differently due to gender inequalities in access to and control of economic and social resources, information and decision-making. Despite the fact that women grow half of Kenya’s food, a survey conducted by Food and Agriculture (FAO) indicates that 95 percent of agricultural extension services in the country are beneficial to men, and this biasness has been encouraged by policies in place that have not been keen on gender equity in agricultural extension services.

The main policies that have been developed to guide extension service delivery in Kenya include NEP, NALEP and NASEP.

2.3.1 National Extension Program I and II (NEP I and II)

This Policy was operational from 1982 to 1998 with the objective of developing institutional arrangements that would facilitate delivery of agricultural extension services to smallholder farmers efficiently and effectively, through development of a cadre of well-informed, village-level extension workers who would visit farmers frequently and regularly. The role of the extension officers was to provide relevant technical messages, and bring farmers’ problems to the attention of researchers. (World Bank, 1999).

The extension staff were to receive regular training with much improved research extension linkages. NEP I and II led to the development of the Training and Visit (T&V) agricultural extension system. The system had been used successfully in Turkey and India, and Kenya was the first African country to apply this model (Farrington, 1998). T&V was funded in two phases, under the National Extension Program (NEP) I and NEP II. The T&V model expanded to cover about 90 % of the arable land in Kenya and used contact farmers to multiply their effects. The T&V model suffered because of poor project implementation arrangements, weak management and inadequate budgetary allocation, leading to persistence of problems experienced with earlier extension models.

The National Extension Program I and II did not have any mention of gender and all gender related dynamics and gaps were left untouched.

2.3.2 National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Program (NALEP)

The inherent weaknesses of NEP I & II led to formulation of National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Program (NALEP) by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Development and Marketing (MoALD&M) and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The positive aspects of NALEP were its wide coverage, strong staff training giving a strong frontline extension worker force, coupled with professionalism developed at the district-office level. NALEP as a policy framework was designed to assist the implementation of the National Agricultural Extension Policy (NAEP). NAEP was structured to bring on board both public and private service providers, as a way of finding means of addressing the complex, systematic issues that faces rural communities.

This shift had been agitated by the recognition of the socio-economic and agro ecological conditions of resource poor farmers as being complex, diverse and risk prone (Farrington, 1998). This strategy based on the Agriculture Sector Investment Programme (ASIP) concept, has been aimed at generating sustainable development in the agricultural sector through a more integrated and holistic approach (Kenya, 2001b).

The National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Program is built on a partnership concept that entails deliberate investments and participation of various stakeholders in the agricultural sector. For example, beneficiary communities develop Community Action Plans (CAP), Farm Specific Action Plans (FSAP), and also participate in extension improvement through Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA) and Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PME).

It also endeavors to make extension demand driven, increase efficiency in extension service provision, putting in place alternative funding apart from the exchequer, promoting gender issues and curbing environmental degradation. To be able to achieve this, NALEP has been organized around three core functions, i.e. (i) research (ii) extension and (iii) advocacy. Advocacy was to add value to the two other core functions by way of creating demand on the part of farmers for specific kinds of support, rather than technical and extension support for its own sake. The re-organization of agricultural extension services in Kenya provides an example of decentralization in a difficult context, partly due to lack of a comprehensive institutional framework to guide the process as well as the content.

NALEP considers gender issues as important in agricultural extension and has highlighted certain measures to be incorporated in extension service provision including influencing development and disseminating gender-sensitive technologies and interventions, linking extension clientele with other stakeholders on education and awareness creation on different rights as well as change of attitudes on gender relations in the community, influencing mainstreaming of gender issues in schools and training institutions curricula, targeting the youth, in and out of school, to help mould them as future farmers and agri-business entrepreneurs and identifying as well as targeting vulnerable groups among clientele such as the disabled, orphans and resource-disadvantaged in extension messages and outreach programmes.

Despite the many gender highlights of NALEP, implementation of the Program recognizing gender issues has not been carried out and these gender proposed measures have remained more on paper, than at implementation level.

2.3.3 National Agricultural Sector Extension Policy (NASEP)

The National Agricultural Sector Extension Policy (NASEP) came into place in June, 2012 with a sector-wide approach and addressed key sectoral issues in the delivery of extension services. Tis policy gives guidelines on addressing and devising funding modalities, packaging of technologies, technical capacity building and research–extension–farmer linkages, and application of ICT in general. It also offers guidance on the role of the private sector and its modalities of providing extension and other auxiliary services.

The main aim of developing NASEP included guiding providers on retaining the provision of extension services for smallholders within Government with gradual privatization to complement the retained public extension service, advising on surveillance and control of notifiable diseases and disease and pest outbreaks as part of early warning system, restructuring and reforming public extension systems to facilitate multi-stakeholder participation, facilitating the development of stakeholder-operated market information system and facilitating capacity building of Extension Service Providers. This policy offers specific guidelines stipulating Extension Service Provision and Organization including the role of Government in Extension Service, involvement of ICT development, Privatization and commercialization, financing as well as decentralizing and planning process of the same.

It also indicates that extension service delivery is affected by a number of cross-cutting issues, such as sustainable environment, gender, youth, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, human rights, water resource use, natural resource management, and conflict mitigation. With regard to this, the policy indicates that ESPs was disseminate gender sensitive technologies and interventions and influence development of gender sensitive technologies.

Despite the efforts to reach small holder holders in Kenya majority of whom are women, through the guidelines offered by the above policies, particularly NASEP which has so far been the most extensive, agricultural extension service delivery in Kenya has remained gender biased. As a result, the Centre for Governance and Development (CGD), under NASEP, through the Economic Governance Programme (EGP), developed the ‘Engendering the Provision of Agriculture and Livestock Extension Services in Kenya’ Project. One of the objectives of this project was to analyze the National Agriculture Sector Extension Policy (NASEP) and its existing and proposed implementation frameworks, to come up with policy recommendations that would promote gender sensitivity in the provision of extension services. (GOK, 2012).

The gender findings in the project detailed key challenges that constrained increased agricultural production; domination of the agriculture sector by approximately three million small scale farmers, of whom 69% were women, provision of 80% agricultural labour force by women and not giving attention in formulation, design, and implementation of agricultural development programmes, to gender issues.

The recommendations of this project led to incorporation of gender mainstreaming in the Ministry of Agriculture in 1999 after the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MOALD). (GOK, 1997).

A second study conducted under Agricultural Sector Investment Programme, (ASIP) in 1998 focused on setting up an institutional framework within the Ministry to address gender imbalances in agricultural extension programs. The study recommended a gender approach to agricultural development, through mainstreaming gender issues in the Ministry’s programmes, projects and activities.

It was out of these studies that the gender unit, currently the Gender Section in Extension Services Division was formed. Its key function is to spearhead gender mainstreaming in the Ministry’s policies, programmes/projects, procedures and systems.

Despite the many existing gender gaps many years on, through the Gender Section in the Extension Services Division, challenges women face in accessing AES in Kenya continue to be brought out, well understood and measures to address these gaps are continuously developed.


DAVIS, K. & PLACE, N. (2003). Current concepts and approaches in agricultural extension in Kenya. GAUTAM, M. (1999). Agriculture Extension: The Kenya Experience. Washington D.C. The World Bank Operations Evaluation Department. Report No. 19523, June 30, 1999.

FARRINGTON, J. (1998). Organizational Roles in Farmer Participatory Research and Extension: Lessons from Last Decade.

MCMILLAN, D. E., HUSSEIN, A. & SANDERS, J. H. (2001). What institutional model for agricultural extension in the semi-arid horn of Africa. IGAD/INTSORMIL Conference in Nairobi, November 2001. Nairobi, Kenya.

MOA. (2008). The Ministry at a Glance. Ministry of Agriculture, Republic of Kenya, Office of the Permanent Secretary, April 2008.

Mugenda, O.M. & Mugenda, A.G. (1999). Research Methods: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. Nairobi: ACTS Press.

PETER, C. B. (1996). A guide to Academic Writing. Eldoret, Kenya: Zaft chancery.

MOA. (2008). The Ministry at a Glance. Ministry of Agriculture, Republic of Kenya, Office of the Permanent Secretary, April 2008.

World Bank. (1999) Agricultural Extension the Kenya Experience. Précis World Bank Operations


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