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Unlocking Women’s Potential in Smallholder Farming Through Mobile Phone Technology

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Unlocking Women’s Potential in Smallholder Farming Through Mobile Phone Technology


By Pascal Muromba

Unlocking Women’s Potential in Smallholder Farming Through Mobile Phone Technology
There is an urgent need to reconsider the use of mobile phones to increase the involvement of women in smallholder farming. In Zimbabwe, women comprise the majority of smallholder farmers and are most affected by challenges such as food shortages, climate change, and poverty. Despite this, gender disparities in smallholder communities across Zimbabwe limit women’s ability to address these challenges. One clear example of gender inequality is evident in farm decision-making. In rural communities, men typically take on leadership roles at the household level and extend their influence to make farmhold decision-makers. In contrast, women are often relegated to supporting roles with limited control over critical farm decisions. This imbalance impacts the quality of decisions and hinders effective responses to climate change, diminishing the potential for smallholder farming to be a viable source of livelihood in rural Zimbabwe.
Urgent action is needed to ensure women play a more significant role in smallholder farming decisions. One promising approach is to leverage the widespread use of mobile phones in Zimbabwe. According to the first-quarter report of 2021 by POTRAZ, the telecommunications regulator in Zimbabwe, there were an estimated 13 million mobile phone users in Zimbabwe out of a population of 15.99 million, indicating that 81.3% of the population had mobile phones in 2021.
Mobile phones, including non-smartphones and smartphones, are commonly used by women in smallholder communities. These devices come with various features, such as text messaging, voice calling, internet connectivity, and application compatibility, which can be harnessed to strengthen social networks among women and improve their access to financial services and markets.
Mobile phone technology can strengthen social networks through text messaging and application compatibility functions. Women can use these features to create messaging directories, WhatsApp, and Facebook groups, transforming existing non-digital social networks like church groups, social clubs, and farmer support groups into digitally connected social groups. These platforms can facilitate real-time information sharing on seasonal farming updates, promote inter-generational knowledge sharing, and increase networking opportunities with diverse groups. Such digital social networks can empower women to develop climate change adaptation strategies at the household and community levels, making them critical participants in smallholder farm decision-making processes.
Furthermore, all forms of communication, such as messages, videos, voice notes, and pictures stored in mobile devices over time, become micro databases that can serve as referral points when making complex farm decisions and developing household-level climate change mitigation strategies. Since women will be critical participants in these digital social networks, they will have direct access and control over these created micro databases, which will be a valuable resource in farmhold decision-making, making them an integral part of all decision-making processes and reducing the chances of them being excluded.
Over the past decade, Zimbabwe has witnessed significant growth in the development and utilization of mobile money services, which hold great potential for advancing financial inclusion among marginalized groups such as women and smallholder farmers. Women in

smallholder farming communities face numerous challenges that limit their access to and participation in traditional banking systems. Complex paperwork requirements, household chores, farm work, child-rearing, and physical bank branches located far away, among other challenges, lead to their limited participation in traditional banking systems.
Mobile money services offer a solution to these challenges by enabling women to conduct financial transactions directly from their mobile phones, reducing the need to travel long distances to access banking services, and improving their participation in financial services. Mobile money wallets function similarly to bank accounts, allowing women to save earnings from selling farm produce and other activities. Transactions made through mobile wallets also establish a credit history for these women, increasing their credibility and improving their chances of securing loans from financial institutions that typically overlook smallholder farmers due to their lack of credit history. With mobile wallets and established credit history, women can leverage their financial resources to lead their households’ financial decision-making. They can invest in cost-effective and sustainable agricultural inputs and allocate funds to develop household and community-level climate mitigation strategies.
Women in smallholder farming in Zimbabwe face numerous post-harvest challenges, including mismatches with buyers, lack of supplier price information, profit erosion due to excessive intermediaries involvement, inadequate marketing, and failure to forecast demand. Mobile phones offer a solution to these issues. Essential mobile phone functions, such as the phone book and messaging system, can be repurposed as digital databases to collect and store customer information, such as phone numbers, which farmers often overlook during transactions. This collection of vital information can help build relationships with customers beyond transactions, fostering loyalty and enabling farmers to forecast demand, maintain direct contact with customers, and reduce reliance on profit-eroding intermediaries. The rise in smartphone usage in Zimbabwe has been met by the development of third-party mobile phone applications targeted at farmers. These applications perform different functions, including providing market price data, forecasting demand and supply, and matching buyers and sellers, among other tasks that can help farmers become profitable and competitive. Collectively, these mobile phone functions have the potential to empower women in smallholder farming, improve their household cash flow, and ultimately reduce poverty and their dependency on government subsidies.
In conclusion, mobile phones represent a transformative tool for empowering women in smallholder farming, offering a pathway to greater financial inclusion, enhanced decision- making roles, and increased resilience in the face of climate change and market challenges. By leveraging the widespread use of mobile technology and developing tailored applications and services, women can improve their farming practices and market access and become critical players in household and community-level decision-making processes. To fully realize this potential, concerted efforts from governments, the private sector, and civil society are needed to promote mobile phone literacy, develop user-centric applications, and create enabling policies prioritizing women’s participation in agriculture. Ultimately, empowering women in smallholder farming is about economic gains and advancing gender equality and sustainable development in Zimbabwe and beyond.
Pascal Muromba writes in his own capacity. His areas of interest are – Inclusion and Agricultural Sustainability. If you are interested you can contact him on [email protected].

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