As the world marks International Women's Day on 8th March, it is paramount to explore the role that rural women can play in agricultural development, especially in taking control of technology tools strategically and innovatively.
Rural women farmers in Uganda have been very essential in enhancing economic development especially in rural and agricultural economies in many ways. With women in Uganda constituting the biggest percentage of agricultural labor-force, women's contributory role in food production, processing and eventual export of agricultural products cannot be underestimated. It's also very important to note that by bringing awareness into the overall issue of gender, then we are able to realize how agricultural development initiatives fits in a more sustainable and beneficial way for both men and women, young boys and girls.
In Northern Uganda, crops that are typically grown includes maize, simsim (sesame), ground nuts, soya bean and cow peas, sorghum, beans, cassava, potatoes and sunflower. Most of these crops are grown basically for food consumption but the surpluses are sold out to middle men, medium and large scale buyers. However, with the advent of new technologies,crop varieties and the use of best agronomic practices, productivity of these commodities can be increased tremendously.
Training for female farmers: mobile phones for agriculture,
WOUGNET has been working with women in Northern Uganda by integrating ICTs such as mobile phones to send and receive messages in regard to their crops, community radio to disseminate agricultural information, internet, computers and establishment of Information Centers with emphasis in agricultural information and resources,etc. and these experiences have increased production of the commodities within these farming communities.
Female farmers are more able to adapt to better farming techniques and increase yields and production per unit area when some factors are present, for example:
Timely weather forecasts
Valuable information gathered from the internet and disseminated to farmers,
Information disseminated over the Community radio, such as early warnings,plant varieties, and marketing opportunities
Regular short text messages reminding them about pests and disease control measures, post harvest strategies and loss mitigation through the ICT platforms, ,
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) has been proactive particularly in Northern Uganda in promoting issues of agricultural and rural development by harnessing the opportunities that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play in addressing issues of sustainable national development. The use of traditional and modern ICT tools used by WOUGNET through women farmers has proved very successful in the rural areas and has helped increased agricultural production, processing, marketing and livelihood opportunities.
As noted already, ICT tools that have been used include among others the mobile phones and SMS based platforms to send and receive messages on best agronomic practices, control of pests and diseases, new varieties to be grown etc. The use of community radios and radio cassettes, internet, computers, coupled with traditional extension workers, establishment of multi- dimensional Information centers in Apac and Amuru Districts and exchange visits programs to foster experience sharing amongst farmers in different parts of the country, ICT workshops and seminars for instance WOUGNET annual Forum called Lango Forum on e-Agriculture sensitizes rural women farmers, policy makers and the community in general on the important role ICTs play in agricultural and rural development within the region highlighting benefits and challenges involved.w
WOUGNET works with groups of female farmers of about 30 members each, producing crops at group level and also at individual household levels. These female farmers are equipped with ICT tools such as mobile phones and radio cassettes and they are trained on how to send and receive messages as well as access markets for their produces and on other electronic platforms. The farmers are also able to learn agronomic practices through exchange visits to Organic and Integrated modern agricultural farms.
Left: Female farmers trainning on use of mobile phones for agriculture. Right: best agronomic practices. Copyright: WOUGNET 2011
In one of the groups of female farmers that WOUGNET has worked with in Apac District, Northern Uganda, the Kok-Can Ikweri (Fight poverty using the power of the hoe) the women have been able to produce over 60 bags of grains (Maize or Simsim) in a year, they are also rearing quality breeds of livestock; they too have an internal village and loan saving schemes where they are able to save money which in turn are lent out as soft loans to members to help them meet their daily requirements such as pay school fees/ tuition for their children.
"We started in 2005 with only 5 goats but now we have over 45 goats, we also saved about 5 million Shillings which we lend amongst members at low interest rates, we have about 30 bags of maize in our store and huge plantations of new Cassava variety. We now want to construct our own store and also start buying produce from other community members" says Lilian Okello, Chairperson, Kok- Can Ikweri farmers group in an earlier interview.
These experience has shown WOUGNET how rural female farmers can be empowered to use ICTs to increase agricultural productivity and as well improve their livelihoods.
"One of our greatest problems is poor prices for some crops such as maize and we end up selling cheaply because the prices are low. Sometimes drought and heavy rains also affect our crops hence making losses and we request that you help us link up with big buyers who can buy our produce at better prices" echoes Lilian Okello.
Information, Youth & ICT4D Officer_WOUGNET
US State Department Alumni & Recipient of International
Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) Community Solutions
Program Fellowship 2011