The role and impact of female extension officers on the participation of women in export crop production in Papua New Guinea – Student Series – #3 Matilda Hamago

In this series we will be posing a number of questions to our past students about their research projects.

Matilda Hamago  works as the Training Course Coordinator with the Papua New Guinea Coffee Industry Corporation Limited (CICL). Matilda commenced her Masters by Research in Philosophy at Curtin University in August 2017. Her study is focused at the institutional level looking into roles and impact of female extension officers on the participation of women in export crop production in Papua New Guinea.

Matilda completed her Masters in 2019. The title of her dissertation is The role and impact of female extension officers on the participation of women in export crop production in Papua New Guinea.

1) WHAT WERE THE MAIN FINDINGS OF YOUR THESIS?

The study found that female extension officers in different commodity crops experienced different struggles, but all had to cope with a male dominated culture instilled in many agricultural extension organisations in PNG. Furthermore, smallholder women farmers faced many difficulties and challenges, and women’s empowerment initiatives through extension organisations were relatively successful in empowering women to participate fully as development partners in building stronger economies and improving quality of life.

2) WHAT ARE THE BARRIERS FACED BY FEMALE AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION OFFICERS IN PNG?

There were many constraints and challenges faced by female extension officers.  These included, lack of funding and management support for female extension officers, difficultly working with male colleagues and cultural perceptions about the role of women in society.

3) HOW CAN THESE BARRIERS BE OVERCOME?

Lack of funding and management support to carry out their work

The lack of institutional support in terms of funding and resource allocation have impeded the effectiveness of extension delivery in all commodity sectors in PNG, but the problems appear to be greater in cocoa and coffee than in oil palm. The problem of severe organisational funding constraints is faced by both female and male extension officers in all the agricultural extension organisations in PNG, but is particularly acute for female extension officers.

Men usually receive priority in funding and therefore receive more resource allocation for their extension activities than women receive. So, even though the proportions of female extension officers have increased through time, their capacity to undertake extension for female farmers remains severely constrained. Without adequate funding to perform their duties, then additional recruitment of female extension officers will be unlikely to fully achieve institutional goals to raise the productivity and status of women farmers.

Difficulty working with males

It is often very challenging and difficult for female extension officers to perform effectively in male-dominated work environments. The attitudes of men to their female colleagues can cause discontent and unrest in the workplace which can result in poor work performance. The generally male dominated culture of PNG also permeates the workplace, which can marginalise women and certainly makes it much more difficult for them to perform their extension roles. Furthermore, it is also not culturally acceptable for a woman to seek assistance from male colleagues or for female officers to assert their authority over their male colleagues, nor give advice to male farmers.

Male extension officers often did not recognise that their female colleagues were having difficulties performing their roles effectively, and this was partly due to the attitudes of the men themselves. Men reported that they had good working relationships with their female colleagues, but their female colleagues spoke otherwise.

Women tended to be passed over for promotion and priority given to men. This suggests that the competitive culture amongst men in the workplace might make it more difficult for women to advance their careers in these organisations. 

Cultural barriers

Patriarchal attitudes are widespread and entrenched in PNG and extremely resistant to change. Culturally, men are perceived to be more knowledgeable than women and therefore male farmers are reluctant to listen to female extension officers and will dismiss or discount the value of information given to them by women. This makes the task of communicating extension information to farmers very difficult for female extension officers, especially in male dominated cash crops such as coffee.  Interestingly, there has been little change in these attitudes since the 1970s.

Female extension officers were comfortable working with female farmers.  Female extension officers now direct their attention to working with female farmers through established women’s groups to train and disseminate information in the hope that women will inform or share with their husbands what they have learnt. While this approach has had a positive impact on training of women farmers, it remains to be seen how much of this information will be transferred by women farmers to their husbands and other family members.

4) WHAT ARE THE POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR RESEARCH?

The study recommends that agricultural extension organisations should be encouraged to strengthen female extension programs by improving the status of female extension officers at the institutional level and by expanding smallholder women’s empowerment programs.
More detailed recommendations are listed in my thesis which can be found at: https://espace.curtin.edu.au/handle/20.500.11937/76109

5) PLEASE LIST ANY RESEARCH ORGANISATIONS THAT YOUR WORK HAS BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH.

PNG Coffee Industry Corporation Limited.
PNG Oil Palm Research Association.
Oil Palm Industry Corporation.
Cocoa Board of PNG (CCI).

REFERENCES

Hamago, M. (2019). The role and impact of female extension officers on the participation of women in export crop production in Papua New Guinea (Masters’ thesis). Retrieved from https://espace.curtin.edu.au/handle/20.500.11937/76109

Photo Credit: Matilda Hamago

Matilda received financial support for her research from the Australian Centre of International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) through the John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) Programme.