Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be powerful tools to overcome limited access to information, boosting productivity and facilitating outsourcing, resource sharing and networking. But gender disparities in the use of ICTs across value chain prevent many women from achieving their full potential in the agriculture sector.
Globally, the Internet gender gap is about 25% in developing countries overall, but higher in sub-Saharan Africa (40%), according to the International Telecommunication Union. Further, women are 23% less likely than men to own a mobile phone in Africa (IFC, 2016). Such disparities mean that women have more limited access to the mobile phone enabled services that are helping farmers to stay informed, receive financial support and reach higher-value markets.
Lack of sufficient infrastructure and mobile networks in rural areas exacerbates the gender-based digital divide in Africa, not least because most agricultural activity is at subsistence level, and production primarily involves women. This infrastructure includes access to affordable energy. Globally, 1 billion people still lack access to electricity – and more than half of these are women.
Two other critical aspects linked to digitalisation dividends are the affordability of infrastructure access, and the skills to use or leverage digital tools, with women particularly poorly served. According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and the World Web Foundation, the gender gap between men and women’s use of the internet is especially large in Africa (25%) and Asia (17%). The shortage of digital skills among women closely mirrors education gender gaps. Global figures on education reveal that two-thirds of the world’s 758 million illiterate adults are women.
ICTs can address gender gaps in agribusiness
Broadly speaking, there are three types of ICT for agriculture (ICT4Ag) solutions, all of which can do much to improve prospects for women engaged in agricultural value chains. These are ICTs for production systems management, ICTs for market access services, and ICTs for financial inclusion.
In terms of productivity, ICT enabled platforms can provide data to help farmers improve their yields and profitability, due to increased productivity and better knowledge of the market options. Market access ICT services include linking small-scale producers to information on pricing of agricultural products – both inputs and outputs. Given that women significantly contribute to agricultural labour and the majority of women in developing countries rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, it is imperative that the opportunities for ICT enabled platforms are geared towards supporting women farmers – taking into account existing gender gaps in ICT use.
Such ICT4Ag services can also help users to find and connect to suppliers, buyers or logistics providers, including storage facilities and transport companies. In Uganda, m-Omulimisa provides smallholder farmers with real-time farming information and solutions in local languages via mobile phone. More than 13,000 registered farmers also regularly receive location-based information on weather, markets and best farming practice. Highly subsidised agricultural insurance, supplied through the m-Omulimisa network of agents, increases the eligibility for credit to farmers who adopt it, since microfinance institutions consider them to be lower risk.
ICTs can be used to improve women farmers' access to the right inputs, in turn strengthening production processes, while opening up new markets for input sellers and marketers. In Northern Uganda, the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) is working with women farmers to enhance rice-greengram productivity. Using ICTs, farmers are being trained to profile their details, as well as to map their gardens, so as to engage with technical experts and search for markets.
The digitalisation dividend
ICT solutions can also support transport, marketing and sales, including buying from and paying women directly; building on women’s strengths in indigenous, local, and organic crops due to better access to premium markets; facilitating certification processes; and using ICT enabled solutions to manage delivery chain logistics. For example, using ICTs to aggregate sales through farmers’ organisations can help to overcome a key barrier in sourcing from small-scale and marginalised farmers. The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), a founding member of the Southern Africa Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), runs an SMS-based service that allows farmers to coordinate their delivery times and organise a single location for traders to pick up goods in bulk.
Given the scope for ICT4Ag, closing the digital gender gap in agribusiness is critical. Adopting a gender-based approach is therefore paramount to deliver rich digitalisation dividends. This includes addressing:
- Affordable access to ICT tools and services, as well as to associated infrastructure, including affordable energy;
- A systematic approach to applying ICTs across the value chain; and
- Enhancing skills for women and youth to be both users and producers of ICT solutions for agribusiness.
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.