March 6, 2014. The number of women farmers feeding their households, communities, countries, and regions is increasingly on the rise. But even though we are seeing more women take on roles such as planting, managing, harvesting, and processing household crops, we aren’t seeing them getting the same finance, extension, or decision-making power as men. These access gaps have real consequences: women farmers typically achieve yields that are 20-30 percent lower than men. The FAO estimates that total agricultural output in developing countries could increase by as much as 4 percent if women received equal access to resources. In honor of International Women’s Day, this blog explores two critical technologies for women farmers, including constraints and potential impact on women all over the world.
The drip irrigation difference: Drip irrigation helps farmers get more out of their land by increasing frequency of harvest, improving yields, and building better climate resiliency.
What’s holding women smallholders back? One primary constraint women face in accessing the necessary equipment is cost. Few smallholders can afford to buy irrigation kits upfront; most require some sort of external financing. Because women have historically had limited access to financial services, their ability to invest in equipment, such as drip irrigation, is limited. According to Feed the Future’s Rwanda 2010 Implementation Plan, for example, the majority of women in Rwanda (56 percent) have no access to formal or informal financial services.
What can be done? In Kenya, Netafim Ltd. is working with Partnering for Innovation to market drip irrigation kits for smallholders through an innovative financing program with Family Bank and K-Rep Bank. The financing component specifically targets women clients (50 percent) and offers a lower down payment and fewer collateral restrictions than ever before. In addition, the local extension provided by Amiran helps mitigate risk of crop failure.
How women are affected: Studies from 45 developing countries show that women are responsible for water collection in 76 percent of households, which frequently takes more than an hour each day (WHO/UNICEF). Efficient use of water through drip irrigation can drastically cut down on the time they typically spend simply transporting water. In addition to quality improvement, saved time, and climate resilience, drip kits can increase yields for crops like red onions up to 150 percent, offering women farmers a five-year return on investment of 750 – 1,000 percent. Over 100,000 ha of unirrigated cropland in Africa alone presents a significant market opportunity to extend financing for and access to irrigation equipment (Source: International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage).
Information Communication Technology (ICT) Extension
The ICT extension difference: Access to extension is widely regarded as essential for farmers to learn good agricultural practices (GAPs) and technologies that enhance productivity, providing immediate
returns to household income and food security.
What’s holding women smallholders back? In 2010, the World Bank found that extension agents are not serving 80 to 98 percent of women farmers across three developing countries: Ghana, India, and Ethiopia. Women have been underserved by traditional extension due to their childcare responsibilities, limited representation of women among extension agents, and scarcity of free time.
What can be done? ICT is beginning to supplement traditional extension to mitigate some of these
challenges. ICT applications and SMS programs can send seasonal push reminders regarding best practices for weeding, planting, or harvesting. Call centers can field (pun intended) questions about new pests or farm ‘myths,’ and use their question data to target warnings about pest and disease outbreaks to affected regions. Applications can even use photos of pests to help farmers identify their affliction with less guesswork. Some of our partners have already been active addressing constraints for women with ICT extension. Programs like World Cocoa Foundation’s CocoaLink in Ghana use voice messaging to break down literacy barriers for women farmers. In Uganda, the Grameen Foundation provides childcare during residential training for women to learn how to use phones for agriculture and provide extension to their neighbors.
How women are affected: Women are “time poor” compared to men—the World Bank found that rural women are three times more likely than men to work 70+ hours a week. Because of duties in the home and on the farm, they are also not able to travel to trainings. ICT brings training directly to women—they can read or listen to training messages at times convenient to them, and no travel is required. More than half of women using mobile phones say that ICT has opened up economic opportunities, and women who are not yet subscribers present a $13 billion market opportunity, based on a recent survey by GSMA.
To see these and other agricultural technologies that can affect women in agriculture, stay tuned for our upcoming webinars and technical resources.
Written by Liz Caselli-Mechael, Technical Analyst, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation