Digital technologies have the potential to revolutionise agri-food systems in emerging markets by scaling the activities of value chain actors. Digital technology can promote activities, processes, and benefit stakeholders at multiple levels and create a variety of value propositions. Digital technologies and solutions can be categorized into the following:
● Digital networking-based solutions and mobile applications,
● Remote sensing-driven solutions,
● Big data, cloud, analytics, and crop modeling,
● Artificial intelligence (AI)applications,
● Internet of things (IoT),
● Robotics, drones, and intelligent automation,
● Quantum computing, and distributed ledger technologies, including blockchain.
In the last ten years, there has been significant growth in information and Communication technologies (ICT) and digitalization for agriculture (D4Ag) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), despite this progress, it has been slow in serving African Smallholders, particularly women. The degree to which various rural women and men are able to use and benefit from these new technologies is influenced by gender inequalities, which connect with and is amplified by other social divisions such as class, color, age,(dis)ability, etc. Therefore, there is need to understand and address the existing gender digital gap by means of Gender and intersectionality analyses. Through this, we can leverage the potential of digitalization to advance gender equality and women empowerment.
Benefits of digitization
Digitalization can help to improve the effectiveness and functionality of food systems, which in turn may have a positive impact on the livelihoods of farmers and agripreneurs through the development of digital job opportunities for young women and men in rural regions. The use of specific digital technologies at the farm level has the potential to increase productivity, boost farmers' incomes and quality of life, and increase farmers' resilience to the effects of climate change.
Digitalization through mobile technology can link Farmers directly to markets, service providers, and supply chains to maximize revenue. Yet, small-scale producers are still lagging in the adoption of digital solutions, particularly among women, which may be a factor in their marginalization.
The use of digital technologies in mobile financial services has also grown Considerably, allowing governments and startups to perform significant volumes of digital Transactions. However digital financial services remain a challenge for many, especially for poor and illiterate women.
Digital procurement solutions can generate farmers’ production data that enable the creation of economic identities and help them access finance. For instance, the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) is using digital technology to provide credit guarantees to farmers. NIRSAL also provides a platform for farmers to access finance from banks and other financial institutions.
Mobile apps are being developed to help farmers access information and manage their farms more efficiently. For example, the app “WeFarm” a social networking platform that enables farmers to connect, ask and answer questions about farming, share knowledge and connect with other farmers in their community, with no it limited access to the internet. Another example is FarmGrid, an application developed by FutuX Agri-consult Limited aimed at at digitizing the Agricultural Extension delivery in Africa. It is a web and mobile application with capabilities of monitoring extension agents, tracking and managing farmer’s production activities and capture and management of agricultural data.
Digitalization has also improved supply chain management in the agricultural sector. For instance blockchain technology can be used to create transparent and secure supply chains, enabling farmers to track their products from farm to market. This can help to reduce waste, improve food safety, and increase profits for farmers. For example, Walmart in the United States is using blockchain technology to trace the source of produce sold in their stores, ensuring food safety and quality. Similarly, the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) is also using digital technology to track the movement of agricultural products. This helps to reduce waste, improve food safety, and ensure that products reach their intended destinations.
How Government can intervene
Governments could assist women by deploying digital tools for important Tasks, such as distributing subsidies to farmers or Managing the inventories of farm resources in government storage facilities. Incorporating digital technology into national agricultural-transformation Program, digital tools could help raise the incomes of smallholder farmers, increase crop output, and Support food security. An example of digital innovation for farmers is an e-wallet. This can help increase the affordability of inputs by efficiently Distributing subsidies to farmers.
Challenges of digitization in Africa
More than 400 digital agribusiness solutions are in use in sub-Saharan Africa alone which includes financial services, market linkages, supply-chain management, advisory and information services, and business analytics. Despite their widespread availability, many digital solutions struggle to scale and and fail to improve the lives of Farmers and other end users.
The structural obstacles to digitalization in Africa include access to electricity, internet connectivity, inadequate or poor infrastructure, the environmental policies and regulations and people's limited ability to use digital solutions. According to European Investment Bank, 2020, It is estimated that 3.6 billion Individuals are not connected to the Internet across the globe, including 900 million in Africa. In Africa, only 27% of women have access to the Internet, and only 15% of them can afford to use it. SSA is the region with the fastest Internet connectivity growth, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6 percent and an additional 167 million projected subscribers. It was projected that over 600million people, or almost half of the world's population, will be subscribers by 2025. Likewise, the gender difference in mobile population is among the largest in the world in SSA. In 2019, it was recorded that men and women used the Internet at different rates, with men using it at 33.8% and women using it at 22.6%. In 2013, there were 20.7% fewer women online than men; by 2019, that difference had grown to 37%. The gender gap in mobile ownership was 13 percent, a reduction from 14 percent in 2018, but it is still significant in low- and middle-income nations where fewer women than men use mobile devices to access the Internet. Moreover, women tend to use different mobile services than males and are less likely than men to use digital services or mobile Internet.
Barriers for women
The primary barriers for women includes;
● High cost of digital devices: The average income of women farmers is lower than that of those male counterparts. Therefore, they are less likely to afford mobile devices expenses such as data plans, transaction fees etc. Women often spend their money to cater for family expenses thereby limiting their financial capacity to run the expenses of a mobile device.
● Illiteracy and lack of digital skills: Women are also less likely educated than men. This further makes them have more challenges in operating complex platforms such as the use of USSD codes, and mobile applications.
● Lack of awareness of mobile Internet.
● Lack of digital data availability, ownership gaps, insufficient collection, analysis, and use capabilities, a lack of digital data harmonization (integration and disaggregation), and a lack of adequate guidance tools and methodologies for agrifood systems data.
● Cultural and social norms that prioritize boys when it comes to use of technology at Home.
● Online gender-based violence: Women are vulnerable to threats on the internet which includes fraud, misuse of personal images or exposure to explicit images, and this in certain areas is perceived to put a family’s reputation at risk. In addition to this, some women feel uncomfortable speaking with other men who are not their husbands, thereby reducing their presence online.
● Lack of relevant content to enable women’s participation in sectoral decision-Making.
Increasing women’s participation in digitalized value chain
● Improve agribusiness labour by investing in women’s employment and increasing their representation at management levels.
● Increase visibility of women in the agricultural value chain by applying gender lens to data collection, research and evaluation. This would enable their voices to be heard.
● Solution providers should tailor digital products to address women’s needs from ideation to prototyping and iteration. For instance, GRID Impact, a UX consulting firm in Pakistan worked on a mobile money app to increase the financial inclusion of women (farmers and non-farmers). They had co-creation and proto typing sessions with women which helped them identify several design tweaks. GRID Impact found that adding audio instructions to the service boosted the confidence of women who used the app.
Factors to consider in empowering rural women through ICTs
- Adapt content in local languages to suit their needs.
- Digital literacy should be incorporated in rural institutions and communities .This should be developed and enhanced while taking into consideration local needs and constraints by providing appropriate learning opportunities.
- Be gender-sensitive through bridging gender inequalities gap and gaps between urban and rural populations.
- Rural women have less access to ICTs –phone, laptop, Wi-Fi which could be as a result of limitation from Social norms. They also live in unconnected areas, and are usually poor. Therefore, it is important to enable their access.
- Build partnerships
- Provision of different blend of technologies that are gender-sensitive and suited to Local needs is critical to increasing farm efficiency and revenues such as a combination of radio and telephone.
- Promote an inclusive approach that targets both women and men and the community to ensure Awareness, recognition and support of the importance of women’s use of ICTs.