This study considers the gender constraints in our knowledge on the roles and impacts of female agricultural extension officers in Papua New Guinea. There has been some work in oil palm showing very large gains for women in income and status when women’s needs were met and addressed through extension. However, to date there is very little detailed information about women’s roles in export commodity crops such as coffee and cocoa given their significant contributions to cash crop production.
The study investigated the roles and impacts of female extension officers on the participation of smallholder women farmers in the production of the major export commodity crops of coffee, oil palm and cocoa. The study was conducted in three provinces of Papua New Guinea: coffee in Eastern Highlands; oil palm in West New Britain; and cocoa in East New Britain. A mixed method approach was used involving both quantitative and qualitative techniques through the use of standardised questionnaires and a multiple case study approach. The study found that female extension officers in the 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. 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.