This special issue of the Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension focuses on the issue of gender inequality and agricultural extension. Agriculture in developing countries provides some of the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable commu-nities not only with their main source of food, but a means to create livelihoods and generate income. These communities, which are generally made up of small-scale subsistence farmers, now face added pressures brought about by climate change and a shifting global economy. The need for agricultural growth is more pressing than ever. Recent data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO 2011) show that 43% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries is made up of women. This ranges from approximately 20% in Latin America to approximately 50% in Asia and Africa. However, despite carrying out a significant number of activities related to agriculture, including crop production and livestock rearing as well as being engaged as wage labourers and in small-scale income-generating activities, rural women rarely have their voices heard, and their productive potential remains low (World Bank, FAO and IFAD 2008).

With advances in agricultural science, technology and development, why is this problem of gender inequality so persistent in the agricultural sector? Traditionally agricultural production has been supported by a policy of subsidised inputs which has benefitted large farmers and an extension system that is male-dominated and male farmer focussed, thereby rarely reaching women farmers with new information, knowledge or technology. In addition to these are the deeply rooted social and cultural constraints that women face which manifest themselves in a number of ways. For instance, property and land rights issues in many countries leave women farmers without ownership and control over productive assets, leaving them marginalised and disincentivised. Another major constraint is women’s lack of access to education in general and in training (for example, in relation to knowledge on food production), which effectively leaves them disempowered, unable to make decisions and articulate their needs and aspirations. Gender inequality thus has significant impacts not only on the agricultural economy vis-a`-vis lack of productivity but also on family livelihoods vis-a`-vis health and nutrition.