FAO Investment Centre

Smartphones are boosting gender equality in Georgia and beyond

Women smallholder farmers are leveraging technology and innovation as new agricultural tools
With the increased yield she is getting after the FAO training, Malika is leveraging this opportunity and using technology to sell her products and earn more income.

Nestled in the vast plains of Georgia, in the shadows of the snow-covered Caucasus mountains, Malika Machalikashvili’s farm in Pankisi Gorge was once pretty traditional. She and her family shared the day-to-day work of caring for the livestock and poultry, gardening the vegetables and taking care of the hazelnut orchard, along with a few fruit trees and berry bushes. She used to bring the produce to the local market or sometimes even the one in the country’s capital, Tbilisi. Today, on top of the farm’s new additions, such as a greenhouse and modern irrigation, perhaps the most novel change is that she now sells her produce using a smartphone.  

For the last three years, Malika has been attending FAO trainings, which are financially supported by the European Union. These practical trainings, provided through Farmer Field Schools, teach smallholder farmers about better agricultural practices. Farmers learn by doing with practical work in demonstration plots and farms. These platforms have also proved very useful for teaching rural men and women about gender equality, gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment.

In addition, partnering with other organisations, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), FAO is also offering gender-sensitive training to communities. These trainings help smallholder women farmers feel empowered to stand up for their rights, grow their businesses and implement successful economic initiatives.

Increased yields, increased opportunity

Using the good agricultural practices she learned, Malika managed to improve soil fertility while also increasing the yields of her fruits and vegetables. With the increased yield, she recognised an opportunity to explore new channels for commerce.

Malika remembers that a Farmer Field School lead farmer from Pankisi, Nino Khakhichashvili, “always used to tell me to post about my produce on social media.”

Inspired by her colleague, Malika followed the advice during the first outbreak of COVID-19. With the help of her 14-year-old grandchild, she got accustomed to taking pictures, recording voice messages, as well as posting on social media and group messaging applications. She gradually attracted the interest of buyers. As a result, digital channels on her smartphone became new platforms for earning income.

Also during the COVID-19 pandemic, Malika joined a Pankisi women’s messaging group, where they share images of many different items for sale: cakes, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and even household items.

“I was worried that I would lose income,” Malika says. “So I started putting pictures [in the messaging group].”

During the harvest season, she still sends out updates about vegetables and fruits from her garden, and throughout the year, she shares images of her dairy products. As an active member in this digital space, Malika is a role model for other women in Pankisi.  

Smartphones for economic independence and empowerment

The use of social media is transforming people’s lives everywhere, including in small villages like Malika’s. Before, neighbours would physically visit each other to sell produce. Now, the internet and smartphones have become essential for communication within and between local communities. They are also proving to be excellent tools for smallholder farmers to market their products.

Just by scrolling in an app on their mobile phones, consumers can now find images of cottage cheese from Malika or other farmers and find out when it can be delivered. More importantly, they can read about what makes Malika’s dairy product so special, realizing the care and love that she is putting into her products.

Smartphones and other digital technologies are also making a positive impact for women farmers in rural communities. By communicating through social media and messaging applications, many women are already creating new market linkages and partnerships, making steps forward to close the gender gap and achieve economic independence.

Malika, for example, has proven that her smartphone has helped her generate more revenue for her livelihood. Her increased income covers more of her family’s expenses as well as allows her to reinvest in her farm.

In her community, Malika is an example of a woman that has leveraged these opportunities and gained economic independence through her hard work. FAO and the European Union are proud supporters of such initiatives that bolster rural communities in Georgia, reduce rural poverty and close the gender gap.

Through the support of the European Union, under its European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD), FAO continues to hold trainings for women farmers in Georgia. FAO has already shared knowledge with more than 2 500 farmers in several regions of the country. Additionally, more than 60 Farmer Field Schools have been established for women farmers who produce dairy products, vegetables and honey.

Photo credit ©FAO/David Khelashvili