E-Agriculture

Rachel Sibande

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Rachel Sibande
Rachel SibandeAgribusines Systems InternationalMalawi

Dear all,
Dwakatha, I want to share the Malawian experience in this space of Gender and ICTs in the agricultaral arena and the lessons that we have learned.
1. When we started off deployment of Esoko,  a web to sms platform through which smallholders were receiveing market prices and extension messages; we had not thouroyghly conducted an assessment on gender and its dynamics as relates to the targeted audience i.e. rural smallholders. As we closed the initial phase it was clear this was an oversight and had to be done. Hence I recommend that such assessments on access to eqipment such as cellphones,radios and other gadgets to be used for information service delivery , mapping of gender roles e.t.c should be done prior to deployment to design initiatives that will start addressing these gaps.
2. When we did the assessment through focus group discussions, one on one interviews, database checks and observations; it was clear that:
 - Over 65% of the agricultural workforce doing the work in the fields for food crops from land preparation through postharvest handling were women. Men were more involved in marketing.
 - Most women did not have access to cellphones yet information was sent through phone. 86% of male smallholders were registered to receive market and extension information via SMS on their cellphones while women smallholders only made 14% of those registered. The gender disparity is pretty wide in terms of access to te cellphones. From focus group discussions, it was interesting to note that men did not share some of the infromation on extension with their female counterparts regardless of the fact that it was the womn that did most of the farm work hence needed the information more. Men were not willig to let their wives have ceelphones for reasons ranging from that of  women being vulnerable to communicate with other man friends to others saying they just didnt think it was necessary for a woman to have a phone anyway.

We resolved to do the following inorder to start addressing these gaps:_
1. Encourage families i.e. husband and wife to attend trainings as an item, not as individual farmers.
2. During trainings emphasise the importance of sharing information
3. Bring in smallholder family role models to share their success stories with fellow farmers. Smllholders that share information and can link this to increased production and quality or even the ability to bargain for better prices and to make informed decisions with income.

Just thought I woupd share some of the experiences we have had and how we are dealing with issues and to gauge how others have dealt with similar instances elsewhere.

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Rachel Sibande
Rachel SibandeAgribusines Systems InternationalMalawi

From the Malawian experience of using cellphones through sms to collect data and to send extension information on crops and livestock but also market price information targeting  smallholders and extension agents; the following have been our lessons:- 1. Incentives in particular airtime is needed to get them to send data
2. Most smallholders even though literate have had challenges composing text, or being able to know when their message box is full e.t.c hence training has to include basic use of a cellphones which is often overlooked.
3. Most smallholders tend to sell their simcards with the handset especially in lean months hence the need for continued subsidization on the fact that they wont access information they receive if they give up their number
4. Regardless of the fact that women smallholders do most of the farm work and have to know about extension information; their male counterparts have more access to cellphones and it has been learnt that the men do not share this information with their wives and in some group discussions it was also clear that even if a couple would easily afford a $10 phone for the woman the men didn't think it was necessary to let the woman have one.
5. Women are denied access to market price information that comes through cellphones as marketing volumes is considered a man's domain. Infact women are more involved in spot sales in low quantities that some men consider women to 'steal' grain to sell hence some men dont want to share the market info that they receive on their cellphones.
In general these deployments have to consider more than just the technology itself or the content but also other dynamics as stipulated above that relate to the target audience.
Best

Rachel Sibande
Rachel SibandeAgribusines Systems InternationalMalawi

Gerald, you bring up a very interesting point on how mobile phones have become relevant to agricultural development. I would like to delve in on two  achievements that have been key in this revolution:-

1. The increase in mobile penentration in the past 10years; has consequentially led to an increase in mobile applications specifically designed for agricultural development. According to  http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2013.pdf
 mobile penetration stands at 96% globally, 128% in developed countries and 89% in developing countries. The number of mobile platforms developed and in use on the market to bridge the digital divide with smallholder farmers has also tremendously increased. There are applications such as Esoko see http://esoko.com, icow (www.icow.ke), rural eMarket, mFisheries,FarmerLine (http://farmerline.org), mFarms (http://mfarms.org), M-Shamba (http://Mshamba.net), Mlouma...and the list is endless as more apps are being developed. This means that there is a diverse range of information sources for farmers other than the traditional radio,tv,newspaper and extension agent among others as compared to 10 years ago. This does not necessarily mean that these applications have proven to be adequate in catering for farmers needs but it is a huge step towards integrating agricluture and ICTs.

2. It is also interesting to note that much of this drive in the development of mobile applications for agricultural development has been championed by young people; e.g. Esoko, mFarms, mlouma, mkulimaleo,M-Shamba are some of the many apps developed by young people. This is vital considering the fact these applications will likely be appealing to young people as well who are key in social and economic development. Infact in places like SubSaharan Africa where the world's youngest population is based; two out of three inhabitants are under 25years of age and where young people account for 65% of the agricultural workforce (seehttp://www.fanrpan.org/projects/youth-in-agriculture/ ); it is even more relevant to see more young people involved