EMPOWERING WOMEN IN AGRI-BUSINESS THROUGH MOBILE TECHNOLOGYMaria-Louisa Wang’ondu | September 25, 2018
In Kenya, as well as many other African countries, agri-business is a sector that drives the economy. Further to this, it has been shown that women in the rural areas depend on this as a source of livelihood. For instance in Kenya, 80 percent of the farmers are women, of which most are single parent households. Moreover in this sector, women are more self-empowered due their use of technologies such as mobile phones.
In agriculture, information is a critical factor in helping grow the sector due to the imperative need to learn and share new techniques. Usually for many farmers in low-income countries, information is obtained through a complex web of social networks. Applying modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, radios, TVs and Internet services in agriculture may offer a new way of sharing information and knowledge amongst farmers. But due to prevailing inequalities in accessing ICTs, many groups in low-income countries are often left out, especially women. The inequality experienced by women is often referred to as the “gender digital divide”, as empirical evidence shows that women have worse access to, and use ICT less, than men, both in rich and poor countries (UN Women 2015).
In Kenya, ICTs have been shown to offer new opportunities for women farmers, however, the constraints coming from social and cultural constructed gender roles and relationships have in the past created obstacles that limit their access to, usage and larger benefits from ICTs” in comparison to males. It has therefore been seen that in order to bridge the gender digital divide into a digital opportunity, improved understanding of these issues and challenges are needed.
It is discussed that the digital revolution has transformed our lives by changing the way we work. How information is gathered and shared can be a game changer in improving the lives of poor people. But women are often left out of the digital revolution in low- and middle-income countries. He suggests that previous literature on gender and ICT only sought to establish and highlight if women were excluded or included from ICTs and thus ignored the social dynamics of gender and inequality in the society more generally.
Today, ICT’s have been developed to not only help in the easier generation of income through agri-business, but, as a result of this, it has shown to increase equality between men and women. In that due to the simplified means of income, women are able to farm longer hours as well as get better wages compared to before. This has allowed women to be more informed as well as independent. For instance, “Buy from Women” project by the UN Women in Rwanda has sought to create a mobile enabled platform that will connect women farmers to information, finance and markets. Through this initiative women the farmers can have a 360 degree of the entire agri-business lifecycle.
In Kenya, there has been the effective use of mobile phones to access weather related information. IRIN recently published a video from Kenya where women farmers are using smart phones to watch weather trends. This information allows them to know when to sow their seeds, when to harvest – especially with a yield that needs to be dried. The importance of weather information to harvest decision is captured in this sentence, – “When the difference between profit and loss depends on sunshine, an accurate forecast is essential” (IRIN).
The last example is that of the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) which initiated a project to improve access to information through the use of ICTs by rural women in Apac District located in Northern Uganda. In that case, women accessed needed information on markets and improved farming methods through the use of mobile phones, internet and radios.
These example serve to demonstrate that if ICTs are extended to women in smallholder farms this can improve their farming practices and leverage the inequalities that are inherent in society.