The need to embrace digital innovations and the opportunities they offer is real. Agriculture is not immune to these changes as they have the ability to transform every link in the agriculture value chain. However, despite the advancements in digitalisation, the gender gaps in access to ICTs continue to widen. Women are 14% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 25 % fewer women and girls use the internet. This means female farmers, particularly in rural areas, often experience difficulties accessing relevant information, financial products and services and markets. They are also often do not participate in relevant policy-making. This lab will share digitalisation opportunities for women and by women in agriculture and discuss how they can be leveraged for improved livelihoods.
- Women have significantly less access to effective mobile technology to be more efficient farmers, mainly due to lack of available funds and lack of sharing by men.
- Bridging the digital gender gap in agriculture means greater emphasis on financial and logistical literacy requirements for rural-based women.
- Big money decisions relevant to women and agriculture will need to be made soon for the next seven-year EU budgetary period.
- Helping women in agriculture has been too piecemeal while organisations such as the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) need to focus more programmes on addressing women’s needs and skills.
There is a temptation to use high-tech possibilities like drones and big data to “connect the unconnected.” Yet many basic small business computer skills such as creating a financial spreadsheet and doing basic no-cost internet searches that tap websites for local market opportunities should also not be overlooked.
Getting it right could pay off massively: some estimates say 100-150 million people could be lifted out of poverty through a 20 % to 30 % greater productivity. Greater women’s empowerment, not needing to take one’s father to prove a woman’s creditworthiness to the local male bank manager, will need to help lead that charge.
Over EUR 50 billion has been spent on development as part of the current EU budget period. Ensuring that support is given to farmers, particularly women farmers, as part of the investments are key.
Case in point: the 79 countries that make up ACP need to do more to show they are truly gender sensitive and according to its critics, do more to get public-private partnerships to focus on women’s specific needs. It is not easy when going into rural areas is not particularly profitable because supply chains remain stretched. Not even the occasional story about rural coconut farmers getting The Body Shop to buy their oil does more than put a band-aid on the overall challenge.
One bright spot though is that as digital technologies improve, so too does the information it yields up. In Botswana, for example, the western telco Orange has played a key regional infrastructure role, enlivening commercial possibilities. Still, there needs to be more of them and more private investment because local communities and their governments are not in a position to carry the financial burden to scale up.
One sees the challenges with “Rose”, a local woman entrepreneur in Tanzania. Where on average around 43 % of the agricultural workforce are women, in Tanzania the figure is closer to 60 %. Outdated farming techniques may yield five bags of maize an acre where the average in the fully developed world is estimated as 10 times that. Rose’s model uses drone technology to better map the landscape and then uses special computer-enhanced imagery to more easily grasp where resources can be better allocated, or are simply a waste of planting space.
The precision of the drone’s return feed imagery on the Tanzanian savannah is an apt metaphor for the refined focus project managers will need to keep the development financing coming in and with it, firing the agricultural aspirations of rural women trying to hold it together with latter day technology in some very tough neighbourhoods.
Knowledge is power, but for millions of rural women in poorer areas of the world it is often marked by restricted or complete lack of access to reliable, affordable internet infrastructure and smartphones.
More needs to be done to awaken rural women’s latent interest in information technology and the potent female economic force that efficiently harnessing that interest would unleash. Greater and more targeted buy-in by the ACP group of nations would help.