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Increasing income and productivity by empowering women farmers’ access to information

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Recognising that farmers in Uganda have not fully embraced ICTs, particularly women, WOUGNET works to develop gender-targeted approaches to facilitate access to relevant and timely agricultural information and digital tools.

The agricultural sector in Uganda employs over 60% of the country’s population and contributes to over 70% of Uganda’s export earnings – providing the largest percentage of raw materials for agro-based industries. Despite the productivity of the agricultural sector in general, concerted efforts need to be put in place to overcome the gender gap: on average, only 27% of land plots and 20% of cultivated land is under sole management of women while 73% of plots and 80% of cultivated land is jointly managed by both men and women or only men (UN Women, 2015). In addition to the gender gap, there is also the technology gap. Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) notes that farmers in Uganda have not fully embraced technology, particularly advanced Information and communication technologies (ICTs), as tools that can improve on all aspects of the sector’s value chain. In addition, women farmers are at a greater disadvantage since they are also limited by various cultural beliefs and norms. 

Identifying the double gap, as such, WOUGNET works with women’s farmers’ networks – comprising of both women and men (70:30 ratio respectively) – to facilitate access to relevant and timely agricultural information to farmers, on agricultural innovations and technologies. This ranges from information on the latest varieties of crops introduced or promoted by research institutions to marketability and best agronomic practices. Yet, recognising the particular and multi-faceted challenges women face, despite their significant contribution to all the production stages in the agricultural sector, led WOUGNET to develop a gender-targeted approach in their initiatives.

The WOUGNET approach identifies the biases and constraints – limitations in terms of resource allocation including ownership of land, lack of education, limited access to finances, and limited or no access to technology; lack of access to markets and extension services – at the initial stages of the implementation design in order to actively break down harmful structures, beliefs and norms that hinder women’s progress in the sector. For example, WOUGNET Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM) is both a tool for gender evaluation and a guide that helps break down gender-related concepts for initiatives, which use various technology aided tools for Information dissemination.

The WOUGNET model fosters gender-sensitive agricultural initiatives, ensure that women who make up a larger percentage of employees in the production sector of the value chain are catered for. This is based on the understanding that access to relevant and timely agricultural information is critical to the sector. And even more critical is how this information is accessed and who is able to access it. This has led to several multi-stakeholder partnerships covering a number of products – rice and green gram, cowpea, soya bean, groundnuts and sesame – and project areas including:

  1. Partnering with agricultural research institutions not only to provide agricultural information to small-holder women farmers of Northern Uganda but also to pilot and experiment directly latest agricultural technologies, for example, new varieties of rice (Narogram 1&2) and inter-cropping with green gram.
  2. Support from the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) initiated a project on Enhancing Access to Agricultural Information using ICTs (EAAI) project, which led to the setting up of the Kubere Information Center (KIC).
  3. Partnering with Makerere University to implement a project on Strengthening University – Farming Community Engagement for Sustainable Development (SUFACE). The SUFACE project was designed to develop an operational framework where universities can work with communities to enhance productivity and competitiveness of smallholder agriculture as well as the responsiveness and impact of universities in agricultural development, to name a few.

These have all demonstrated that a strong gender component is central to these project designs and implementation strategies and can guarantee a positive long-lasting impact on both the beneficiaries and implementing institutions.

The various projects implemented by WOUGNET and partners have resulted in both increased production of improved varieties, as well as the improvement of women farmers’ ICT skills. This was evidenced in recent project evaluation findings, whereby women farmers have reported a boost in confidence in the use and application of ICT tools that link them with researchers, as well as buyers of their produce through enhanced use of Smartphone technology and applications on pricing. Additionally, women farmers are now better able to produce quality seeds on their own due to various training and capacity building on mitigating post-harvest losses amongst others. Combined, these initiatives have had a positive impact on increase household income, which has improved standards of living for many women farmer-led households and enabled them to provide other essential needs, such as paying school fees for their children.

In WOUGNET’s view, the ability of farmers, and particularly women farmers, to participate in and benefit from growth in the agricultural sector is linked to their ability to adopt new practices and knowledge, including technology, to solve problems and to set themselves dynamically in all key stages of the agricultural sector value chains. Enabling easy access to agricultural information through the use of various information and communication technologies is key, as the intended result is women empowerment and ultimately community development. For this, farmers – both men and women – need to be connected to communication channels that allow for easy and free flow of appropriate information. They also need to be encouraged to utilise these channels to share their experiences and expertise. After all, access to information and knowledge creation are key drivers of social and economic transformation, especially in the agricultural sector, where new information fuels innovation and increases productivity.

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