Putting technology into the hands of women
Women in northern Ghana have limited access to agricultural technology and are forced to do most of their farming activities manually, from clearing land to planting, harvesting and processing. This limits their agricultural productivity in multiple ways. Women can only cultivate as much land as they can clear, and since they rarely have title deed to the property, they are frequently forced to move to new plots of land every few years, as their now-improved fields are taken over by male farmers. Traditional planting, scattering seeds by hand, results in low yields, and manual harvesting and processing results in products of inferior quality, which fetch lower prices at market. In addition, farming manually is extremely time- and labour-intensive.
In 2017, MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project launched a large-scale smart incentive program to increase women’s access to selected technologies through local commercial providers. MEDA worked to build a more sustainable market for the technologies by working on both the supply and demand side. On the supply side, all technologies were sourced through local suppliers, mainly commercial providers. Prior to the Technology Fund, none had considered women farmers as a viable customer base. MEDA linked interested women farmers to the suppliers, who have now experienced first-hand the potential size and scale of this new market segment. MEDA is stimulating demand among GROW clients, increasing their awareness of the technologies and linking them to suppliers who have been vetted.
Women farmers are typically risk averse, operating with limited resources and extremely narrow margins with little cushion against shocks and little margin for error. Spending money to purchase technologies requires a degree of certainty that such an investment would result in not just a reduction of labour, but also a measurable return. The Tech Fund increased the visibility of technology in a relatively short period of time, allowing women to observe their peers using new equipment first-hand. In addition to increased supply, the Tech Fund offered smart subsidies as an incentive.
Even with increased supply, the technologies are expensive for smallholder women farmers, many of whom would be unable to purchase even a single item of technology without financial support. For a limited period of time, the Tech Fund offered a smart incentive to women involved in the GROW project, allowing them to benefit from technology they could otherwise not afford.
The Tech Fund was designed as a strategic, limited time subsidy, to be withdrawn as relationships between suppliers and buyers are developed. The Tech Fund was designed to catalyze change rapidly and stimulate adoption of new technologies and expansion to new client segments. A relationship of trust between suppliers and women farmers has begun, which will continue long after the life of the GROW project.
Overview of Technologies and their Role in the Soy Growing Cycle
Women could select from a menu of technologies that were selected to facilitate each stage of the soy growing cycle: land preparation, planting, growing, post-harvest, utilization and marketing of soy (see diagram for specific technologies). Women farmers were consulted extensively, providing information on issues they faced and specific technologies they believed could address these challenges.
How did we select the technologies?
To be included in the Technology Fund, items had to address specific agricultural barriers faced by GROW women. Technologies had to facilitate as many of the following conditions as possible:
Women Sales Agents (WSAs) Drive Economic Success with Motorized Tricycles
Tricycles are three-wheeled motorized vehicles that can transport both people and cargo within and between villages. Previously, communities relied on ‘trotros’ – small inter-community mini-buses, motorcycles and occasionally tractors. Because trotros are so limited in number and so unpredictable, they tend to charge high rates when they are available. To avoid these costs, women often try to walk and carry produce manually, which is time-consuming and labour-intensive. Tricycles eliminate both the costs of transportation and the time spent in waiting for unreliable options. Motorized tricycles existed in some communities, but they were owned by men.
The women in the survey describe using their tricycles for multiple functions, including transporting fertilizer, seeds, tools and to and from their farms; bringing crops to market; fetching water and firewood for domestic use; and taking children to and from school.
The tricycle has had a significant impact on transportation, but has also opened up additional income streams. All of the WSAs surveyed reported economic and social benefits to owning tricycles. Many women have begun to use their tricycles to provide transportation services to community members: they bring group members together for VSLA activities; provide transportation to health clinics in neighbouring villages; and bring community members to weddings, funerals and other social events. In some cases, women talked about choosing to not charge people for transportation services, such as taking another woman to a health clinic or a funeral.
Owning and controlling such important technologies has placed these women in more prominent positions in their communities. Significant social changes have begun to occur: women describe being invited to town meetings, and being consulted by local chiefs, for the first time in their lives.
Want to learn more about the learnings from our GROW project? Download our GROW Learning Series at www.meda.org/GROWlearning.