May 18, 2022

GSMA Report Explores How to Reach and Empower Women in Digital Solutions in the Agriculture Last Mile

"In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the digitization of agricultural value chains is enabling access to markets, assets and services for smallholder farmers," the GSMA says in a report that examines "the limited participation of women in digitized agricultural value chains by identifying the main barriers for women in D4Ag [digital agriculture] initiatives and shedding light on best practices to increase women's participation and empowerment in these value chains."

The report further notes that D4Ag "solutions, such as digital payments and digital procurement, create efficiencies for both agribusinesses and farmers in the last mile. Digital procurement solutions can generate a range of records, including farmers' production data that enable the creation of economic identities and help them access finance. Digital procurement solutions can also be bundled with digital advisory services that provide farmers with vital information on new farming techniques, weather forecasts and crop production."

"Yet," according to the GSMA, "women farmers are being left behind. Although they represent 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, women face social and structural barriers that typically relegate them to traditional, low-value and labor-intensive activities, such as plowing, sowing and harvesting." What is more, "Restrictive social norms, lack of access to resources and the mobile gender gap all make it more challenging for women to participate fully in agricultural value chains and embrace the digital agriculture solutions that can connect them to markets and services and strengthen their decision-making power."

The report identifies the following digital solutions in the agricultural last mile:
  1. Digital profiles: Mobile for authentication and verification, and a tool to create economic identities/digital profiles
  2. Track-and-trace systems, farm management systems: Product verification services, accountability tools
  3. Information services: Agricultural extension, education, certification standards, skills development
  4. Digital financial services: Mobile money-enabled transfers, payments and financial service
  5. IoT applications for agriculture: Equipment logistics, crop, soil and weather monitoring, smart warehousing
  6. Agribusiness analytics: Predictive analytics, precision agriculture

With respect the barriers facing women in digitized agricultural value chains, the report looks at the social norms, lack of access to resources, and mobile gender gap that contribute to these barriers. It also presents steps to increase women's participation in digitized value chains including defining a gender strategy to guide gender-inclusive interventions, creating a gender-inclusive environment through foundational interventions, and addressing women's barriers through gender-inclusive interventions.

The report produces the following conclusions:
  • "Women's low participation in digitized agricultural value chains can only be addressed through approaches that purposely consider women as well as men."
  • "The early impact of gender-inclusive last-mile digital solutions on women farmers' participation and decision-making power is promising." through the efforts of organizations creating digital agriculture solutions that has "increased yields and incomes, as well as increased decision-making power in the household."
  • "A deeper understanding of women's agency and the social norms shaping their lives is needed to bridge the gap in commercial agriculture value chains."
  • "Donors and impact investors are uniquely positioned to push gender inclusive interventions forward. They can inject capital in initiatives that purposely include and target women, and ultimately help to create a level playing field in which women smallholder farmers have equitable access to digital solutions."
  • "Donors and investors should first apply a gender lens to their own investment strategies to identify and reward new D4Ag investees that already apply, and want to test, approaches that reach both women and men."
  • "Donors and investors should also leverage their ongoing investments to encourage investees to adopt best practices, such as consistently collecting and using sex-disaggregated data, or involving women in human-centric design research to inform the design of solutions. Investors can also make investments that strengthen the resilience of women farmers to climate change since they are disproportionately affected as a result of lower input use or weaker safety nets."

Lastly, I support the report's assertion that "By incentivizing and rewarding D4Ag providers, donors and impact investors can guide them towards gender-inclusive approaches that aim to improve women's influence, leadership roles and decision-making power, and promote sensitive and equal gender norms at all levels. Without this, gender inequalities are not only likely to remain, but become exacerbated."

What are your recommendations for increasing women's participation in digitized value chains? Which digital solutions are you creating in the agricultural last mile?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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