GenARDIS: supporting the use of ICTs by women farmers for social change

GenARDIS’s goal

The GenARDIS grants programme was developed in recognition of the ICT-related constraints and challenges faced by rural women in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The challenges include cultural factors that hinder ICT access by women, lack of time to participate in ICT training and use, minimal access to technologies such as radio, mobile telephones and computers, and lack of relevant information in local languages, adapted to local realities.

From July 3 to 8, 2006, a knowledge sharing workshop on gender, agriculture and rural development in the information society was held in Entebbe, Uganda. The participants were beneficiaries of GenARDIS grants as well as the 2005 honourable mentions.

Funded projects

Mention should again be made of the fact that the GenARDIS grants programme is a partnership between Hivos, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The programme is administered by the Association for Progressive Communications.

The GenARDIS fund has financed approximately twenty research and training programme projects, amongst others. The focal point of all the projects was the original use of ICTs by rural women to improve their welfare and that of their families and communities.

Issues covered by the projects

There are similarities amongst the women of ACP countries in terms of their access to resources. Some ACP countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, have large populations of women whose only means of subsistence is agriculture.

Several projects, such as that being worked on by Mabela Khabele of Lesotho, deal with the use of cellular telephones. The focus of this project is the use of cellular telephones to facilitate communication between women farmers whose communications are hindered by the topography of the land which does not support fixed line installation.

Other projects are making use of numerous ICTs

The Ghanaian project is one such case, as explained by Dr. Collins Osei: “women farmers are informed about the existence of ICT tools such as internet, radio, computers, tape recorders and information centres on agricultural markets, but their access is limited or non-existent, and they cannot use these tools and services. The GenARDIS project is dealing with these issues so that women farmers will have access to information relevant to the production of healthy vegetables in the Techiman metropolis.”

In Uganda, the project consisted of using the available ICT infrastructure in schools and community telecentres to provide internet training and access for women and groups of women farmers. This was also the case in Burkina Faso, where “the internet is simply an unrealisable dream for most peasant women. The objective of the Manegbzanga Association’s project is to contribute towards increased computer and internet access by women.”

The South African project, led by Bettina Koella, involves the use of geographic information systems (GIS) in spatial dynamics. This system has been proved to improve communication, learning, planning and natural resource management, and to support social justice.

The beneficiaries of the projects supported by GenARDIS are mainly women farmers, but also include students of women and gender studies, as well as smallholders.

Social impact in the communities

How does one create a sustainable socio-economic impact with a grant of 5000 Euros? That is what the GenARDIS grant beneficiaries managed to demonstrate in many countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Kenya and Ghana.

In the case of Adama Compaore of Burkina Faso’s Manegbzanga Association, 30 women were trained to use computers and the internet and learnt to read and write. “The beneficiaries of our project are all peasant women. They learnt French. Basic language and French skills facilitated ICT learning.”

James Onyango, promoter of the project “Engendering equality: a health and agricultural community-based information and communication system project”, asserts that “ICT development in rural areas is a prerequisite for maintaining rural agricultural productivity, confronting gender disparities and problems related to health and poverty in these regions of Kenya. The project aimed to ensure ICT use by women, so that they would be capable of campaigning for their needs.”

Twelve community group leaders were in fact selected to participate in a train-the-trainers workshop on information production and management.

In Cameroon, the situation had to be evaluated on a local level through the complete analysis of a small town where 30% of the heads of households are women farmers. Gender disparities in cellular telephone use were also studied. Dr. Joyce Endeley of Cameroon, who received an honourable mention for her project, states: “we hope that the publication resulting from this research will analyse the impact of ICTs on rural women in Cameroon, as well as throw light onto the implementation of innovations in agriculture.”

In Ghana, farmers expanded their information sources and used telephones, radios and agricultural information centres that provide easy access to market information. They subsequently formed a listening group to discuss pre-recorded radio broadcasts on agriculture. The listening groups have thus developed the ability to discuss and analyse agriculture-related issues.

The South African geographic information systems (GIS) project enabled results to be obtained corresponding to natural resource management in the Rooibos tea lands, and also explored the spatial dynamics of gender in the rural areas. Together with the involvement of the beneficiaries in the land reform process and the promotion of planning and farmer empowerment, the sensible use of GIS contributed towards social change.

The women of the “Arche d’Alliance” Association in the Democratic Republic of Congo were able make use of loans intended for peasant women to start small businesses. The beneficiaries learnt to read and write in Swahili, a national language, and to use computers.

ICT policy recommendations resulting from lessons learnt through GenARDIS projects

David Dolly, who worked on analysing cellular telephone use amongst a group of farmers in Trinidad and Tobago emphasises that:

  • “telecommunications operators should take small food producers into account, especially with regard to access to quality services from remote locations;”

  • “farmers need special consideration and training if they wish to use ICTs for their agricultural livelihoods.”

  • With regard to the Democratic Republic of Congo, “Arche d’Alliance” recommends that after the elections:

    • “the government should draft an ICT policy for rural development through the involvement of peasant women, who are mainly farmers;”

    • “the ICT approach should be integrated into the various socio-economic development programmes.”

    For the Manegbzanga Association in Burkina Faso:

    • ”decision makers can improve rural women’s access to ICTs by creating an institutional environment that promotes ICT development and the electrification of rural areas;”

    • “encourage and finance the development of national language software.”

    Sharing lessons learnt on the projects and advocacy for ICT policy change in the affected countries are essential.

    As emphasised at the opening ceremony by Jennifer Radloff, the APC-Africa-Women Network Coordinator, “we recognise that we have an enormous mass of knowledge and experience that needs to be shared with those responsible for developing policies in order to fundamentally change policies to women’s advantage. We have a responsibility to inform politicians about people’s needs.”

    Using the GEM tool to integrate gender analysis into the projects

    It is essential to integrate gender analysis into initiatives that use ICTs for social change in all phases of a project.

    Participants at the GenARDIS workshop in Uganda had the opportunity to learn some concepts of the Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM), a tool developed by the APC-Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP). The GEM workshop was moderated by Chat Ramilo, the APC WNSP coordinator, Jennifer Radloff of the APC-Africa-Women’s network and Natasha Primo of APC group member, Women’sNet.

    Building the capacities of those involved in implementing GenARDIS projects is proving to be crucial, as these skills can be used to determine whether ICTs are really improving the lives of women and gender relations, as well as to promote positive change on the individual, institutional, community and social levels.

    A third round of GenARDIS grants ?

    With regard to future prospects for the GenARDIS fund, Oumy Ndiaye, head of CTA’s Communication Channels and Services Department, declared at the end of the workshop that “we must wait for the evaluation report to refine GenARDIS’s vision. There are interesting prospects.”

    According to Ramata Molo Thioune, IDRC’s Programme Officer, “the objective of exposing rural women to ICTs and developing strategies to use ICTs to improve their activities was globally achieved by the presented projects.”

    With regard to the continuation of the GenARDIS grants programme, she adds that “we are waiting for the results of the evaluation to see how the issues raised can be translated into research issues, and how to integrate them into our research programmes.”

    The GenARDIS fund deserves acknowledgement for bringing together diverse partners around the same vision, and for enabling access by women farmers to ICTs in rural areas.

    Translation provided by APC

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