Agricultural Extension for Women in Zimbabwe

In 1991, a group of rural Zimbabwean women defined what it means to be a woman as:

Assistant and

for the home, family, community and the nation. [1]

In the words of one woman, "yes, we have been liberated from the bondage of colonialism, but have we been liberated as women?"[2] More than a decade after independance in 1980, the role of rural women is still linked with providing for the family.

The Zimbabwe Women's Bureau (ZWB) helps women in rural areas to fulfill their self-defined role in the area of food production and resource management. ZWB is a non-governmental member of the Natural Farming Network (NFN), a coalition of 10 national NGOs and government agencies that promotes improved agricultural practices and natural resource management. The work of ZWB is an example of how the network relates to its members and supports the extension needs of women.

Women Training Women

ZWB functions through 13 field workers in 13 different districts. ZWB focuses on skills training related to community group projects. Each field worker works with 10 to 12 community groups. Each group defines its goals with respect to literacy, skills training, gender awareness, credit and project management and natural resource management. About half of the projects assisted by ZWB are agricultural.

Field workers attend three to four in-service training workshops per year. Field workers are expected to follow these courses with appropriate workshops for the community groups. In-service training for field workers is usually designed to meet the needs of the community groups.

In 1990 and 1991, three ZWB field workers participated in a South/South exchange program. They traveled to Kenya to visit farmer training and research centers, to generate awareness of organic farming methods used in Kenya and to observe the types of projects implemented by the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming. They then hosted Kenyan farmers in Zimbabwe.

Following the exchange, ZWB scheduled an intensive two-week course in Permaculture for their field workers. After the training, field workers conducted community workshops with technical assistance from NFN. Further in-service training for field workers was given about nine months later.

An ongoing relationship exists between NFN and ZWB. If a ZWB field worker conducts a series of workshops or develops a pilot organic working farm, NFN provides technical assistance.

NFN training focuses on soil regeneration, water management, biodiversity conservation, biocontrol of pests and integration of livestock into farm systems.

Farmers, especially women farmers, are aware of the need for alternatives to chemical inputs. Most women cannot afford chemical inputs and avoid taking out loans due to the high risk of drought. Women farmers have less access to cash and to credit than their male counterparts.

The implementation of new farming techniques with the support of NFN has some drawbacks, which include the following:

  • Field workers, rather than community groups, determine the skills a community group will learn.

  • Organizational support may be insufficient to produce working demonstrations.

  • Staff may have minimal training in the skills they are introducing.

  • Financial assistance provided by network members may be inadequate.

    Despite the problems the NFN faces, working with an active advisory of member organizations is creating a web of examples and a cadre of farmer trainers able to teach sustainable agricultural techniques. The program aims not only to assist women in their role as providers but to encourage their economic liberation by reducing their heavy work load.

    1. H. L. Vukasin. 1992. We Carry a Heavy Load. Zimbabwe Women's Bureau. Harare, Zimbabwe. p. 3 2. Ibid., p. 3.


    Zimbabwe Women's Bureau
    43 Hillside Road
    Harare, Zimbabwe.
    Fax: 263-4-734295