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Focus on Gender: Farming app is out of touch with reality
  • Focus on Gender: Farming app is out of touch with reality

Copyright: G.M.B. Akash / Panos

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  • Nepali women are becoming more involved in farming, but there is a mobile phone gender gap

  • Nepal’s mountains and a lack of electricity also hinder mobile phone initiatives

  • Tech projects targeting women in remote areas must first tackle access barriers

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A smartphone app called IFA Krishi Nepal has been designed to inform Nepali farmers about agricultural techniques, livestock disease, the weather and market prices, SciDev.Net reported earlier this month. I cannot help wondering, as I often do when I hear about new mobile technology initiatives, what this means for women.
 
Women make up 62 per cent of Nepal’s agricultural workforce. [1] And as more men migrate in search of employment, women are increasingly taking on more agricultural responsibilities and decision-making — a process which many researchers refer to as ‘the feminisation of agriculture’.
 
Presumably, then, it is mainly these women who are the target for the smartphone app; and this is where I find a disconnect with the reality on the ground.
 
In low- and middle-income countries, a woman is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. [2] One survey asking participants their opinions on how to prioritise development interventions collected data via mobile phones, and found that more than three-quarters of the phone votes in Nepal came from men. [3] In Nepal, a research paper from 2007 noted that less than 20 per cent of internet users were women (there is no recent data broken down by gender). [4]
 
Reasons for what some development reports call a ‘mobile phone gender gap’ are linked to the poverty, limited mobility and cultural barriers women face, and their lower literacy rates.

“Before women can use a smartphone, they have to own one, be able to use it, know how to read, have internet access and have the electricity to recharge it when it runs out of power.”

Henrietta Miers

The barriers are not specific to women. Since most Nepali farmers do not own a smartphone, the app’s developers have admitted it is a challenge to reach the larger farming community.
 
Mahabir Pun, a teacher who is well-known in Nepal for bringing wireless technologies to remote areas of the Himalayas, agrees with the developers. An internet connection is needed to access some of the information provided by the app, such as weather forecasts, and Pun says that intermittent internet access means “the app is not yet suitable for rural farmers”.
 
This is unsurprising. Less than 30 per cent of Nepal’s rural population have electricity, and the barriers of the mountains mean that internet access is predominantly urban. [5]
 
Unlikely then as it is that this app will reach the rural farmers for whom it is designed, it is even less likely that it will reach women.
 
Mobile technology initiatives that target women in remote areas should progress one step at a time. Before women can use a smartphone, they have to own one, be able to use it, know how to read, have internet access and have the electricity to recharge it when it runs out of power.
 
Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 20 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting economic opportunities for poor women.

References

[1] Empowering women farmers in Nepal to make changes that bring progress for all (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 6 March 2014)
[2] Women & mobile: a global opportunity (GSMA Development Fund, the Cherie Blair Foundation and Vital Wave Consulting, 2010)
[3] Claire Melamed Where are the women? Gender imbalance in MY World mobile phone voting (Global Dashboard, 6 October 2013)
[4] Nancy J. Hafkin and Sophia Huyer Women and gender in ICT statistics and indicators for development (Information Technologies & International Development, 2007)
[5] Sudeshna Ghosh Banerjee and others Power and people: the benefits of renewable energy in Nepal (The World Bank, 2011)
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