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Enhancing access to information for women in pastoral areas – challenges and opportunities

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The current revolution in information access offers opportunities to transform and extend opportunities for women pastoralists in East Africa

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Knowledge can go a long way to ensure better livelihoods and food security for women in pastoral regions. Accurate and timely information can help facilitate access to services, and exert a positive influence on their participation in livelihood decision-making in households. As part of efforts to increase the uptake of index-based livestock insurance (IBLI) in East Africa, researchers at ILRI realised that one of the major factors constraining the quality of women’s lives is lack of information.

Asymmetry in access to information is a critical bottleneck faced by women in pastoral regions. The vastness of the areas, along with poor network connectivity and issues of security, often compel women to take a back seat, especially on market days. They may be unable to attend the main markets without the man of the house, and since markets are prime locations for information updates, women often lose out on knowledge about access to services, and processes for acquiring resources.

Methods of extension are often not gender sensitive, and extension workers who are men often end up talking exclusively to the man of the house, even on issues related to nutrition and health. This in turn cripples women’s capacity to make informed choices on the kind of services that could be critical for livelihood and household decision-making.

Emerging opportunities

The landscape of pastoral regions in the arid and the semi-arid lands is changing rapidly. In the past ten years or so, there has been considerable infrastructure improvement in the form of roads and better mobile network coverage, propelling use of social media among youth. In addition, radio – still one of the most critical means of acquiring information – is expanding bandwidth to provide more coverage in remote locations.

In most pastoral areas of Northern Kenya and Ethiopia, radio stations air tailor-made programmes targeting livestock related topics. Studies carried out by ILRI in 2016 and 2017 revealed that women are primarily interested in information related to health, child nutrition and household livestock management. Other areas of interest are market livestock prices. Most women listen to the radio during the afternoons or after 9 p.m., when they have generally completed all household chores.

Given the current information revolution, now is the time to think of innovative ways to resolve the issue of asymmetry, which damages women in pastoral regions. It is important to bear in mind that it is not always necessary to choose one method over another. The innovation lies in using a blend of different methods. Some of these include:

  • Use of mobile phones to collect and disseminate data. Innovations are already being tested where the information consumer is also the person collecting the information. Examples include KAZNET, a mobile application that collects information on livestock prices, essential food commodities and markets, and NutriNET, which collects information on mothers’ dietary patterns and the diet and health of their children, as well as use of SMS to provide extension and education services to livestock insurance agents. Phone surveys have also been done to evaluate the effect of livestock insurance on clients.
  • Using radio as a means to broadcast new methods available for accessing information, and places where such information can be obtained. The radio broadcasts would need to be broadcast multiple times, to ensure that the women are reached. These could also include information on some targeted interventions for women pastoralists through mobile phones, such as use of residues, better ways of taking care of animals, information related to nutrition for both animals and humans.
  • Face-to-face communication remains one of the most effective ways of transmitting information in a pastoral society. It is often used as a method of triangulation among community members, to authenticate the information they have received on particular topics.

In my experience working with women in pastoral areas, attention should be focused on the following:

  • Thorough understanding, identification and development of capacities, not only of women, but also of institutions working to solve the problem of asymmetry in access to information.
  • Exploring the potential of often underestimated local and community-based institutions, such as milk co-operatives, self-help groups, and even some fodder groups on the roles that they can play in strengthening access to information for women.
  • Building local and community institutional capacities with adequate incentives so that the information they are collecting and disseminating is quality data. These should be a mix of both monetary and non-monetary incentives. Examples could include appointing women champions in the community, in collecting daily nutrition data with minimum mistakes.
  • Local governments can play a critical role in designing content for radios specifically tailored for women. They should appoint more women in their extension departments, who can then reach out to groups within pastoral communities, and also help train the women in the use of digital technology.

The figure below gives a conceptual framework on the process of enhancing access to information to women in pastoral areas.

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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