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Closing the gender digital divide, opening opportunities for women in agriculture

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In Ethiopia and Kenya, an innovative insurance scheme for livestock has attracted wide interest from women pastoralists

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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are promoted as an equaliser of opportunities – but this is not always the case for women. Several African initiatives are demonstrating the critical contribution that information and knowledge can make to increase agricultural productivity and run a profitable agribusiness.

Women make up just 25% of the global population with access to the internet. Africa has the widest gap in internet use between men and women, and only 22% of the overall population is online, according to the World Wide Web Foundation. African governments need to boost investments in programmes to reduce the growing gender digital divide, says the Foundation.

Thanks to digital innovation however, some women entrepreneurs in Africa are already transforming agriculture and agribusiness through knowledge sharing, skills training and access to effective markets.

“Agriculture is the future and ICTs are a key platform to including women in agribusiness through skills training, mentorship and access to markets,” says agripreneur and director of the African Women Agribusiness Network (AWAN) Beatrice Gakuba, who runs a successful flower export business.

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, AWAN supports women in agriculture in entering global markets through leadership and management training and networking opportunities. The network has more than 300 members across Eastern and Southern Africa. “We empower our members with information to access effective markets. We get women in agribusiness together physically and online,” says Gakuba. “Virtual platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have helped us to network and share information and knowledge exchange on trade opportunities.”

Extending innovation

In Ethiopia and Kenya, an innovative insurance scheme for livestock has attracted wide interest from women pastoralists. Index Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI), considered the world’s first insurance for African pastoralists, has empowered women to insure their animals against drought.

Lack of information has been a major constraint on the livelihoods of women in pastoral regions, but ICTs can help to address the challenge, according to Rupsha Banerjee, who works on the IBLI project for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

IBLI uses satellite imagery and remote sensing data to monitor forage every ten days. Based on a minimum threshold, payouts are triggered when forage falls below certain levels. Studies by ILRI have shown that women are particularly interested in information on livestock and are disproportionally interested in livestock insurance. Banerjee says IBLI is a business model for scaling technology focusing on gender and policy dimensions for innovation in agriculture.

“Something that still remains to be investigated is that over years, we have seen that IBLI is being taken up between 40 and 45% by women,” says Banerjee, noting that anecdotal evidence indicates that women’s access to micro-loans disposes them to IBLI, and that many own small ruminants and the insure livestock they control.

Leaving no woman behind

In Uganda, women farmers are claiming their rights to productive resources like land by using online legal services, says Hellen Mukasa, co-founder and executive director of Lawyers for Farmers (LFF), a legal services and social justice advocacy organisation. Through a SMS, women can access a lawyer for advice and representation, easily and without leaving their homes.

“The online platform has enabled us to increase awareness of women’s rights, because it is impossible to enforce a right if you do not know it exists,” says Mukasa. “Through our SMS platform we are able to find the most pressing needs and rights-based information about the law, and how it can be used to protect those rights. Women are now more aware of what is due to them…and are more apt to prevent a problem before it happens.”

However, for the full benefits of digitalisation to be felt, women in agriculture not only need access to ICTs, they must also know how to use them effectively, says Dorothy Okello, founder and coordinator of the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

WOUGNET is helping women farmers to be technology savvy, through information sharing on best agronomic practices, advocacy and training in using community radio, SMS-based applications and the internet.

More women farmers have been empowered to make decisions and act on them because they have information on farming and management. This has led to increased productivity, says Okello.

“It is important to build the capacity and urgency for farmers themselves to take charge of the technology, because they know what they want to do … then they appreciate the need for a mobile phone to get information,” she observes.

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.

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