Successful global research results indicate that there is no doubt that “Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) improve rural people’s livelihoods” (IDRC/Acacia Prospectus 2006-2011). In a rural community context, this phrase is widely understood to mean traditional and modern electronic tools that include telephony (both mobile and fixed), community radio transmissions, television broadcasting, cinemas, computer hardware, software and the internet that help access and use quality information that has the potential to accelerate, if used strategically, sustainable rural people’s social, economic and political development. However, in the Rwenzori Region of Western Uganda where the Toro Development Network (ToroDev) operates, ICTs need to be embraced more comprehensively. Although efforts have been made in the past five years by a limited number of local and international NGOs, assessments show most of these initiatives have been dominated by men. A more gender-sensitive intervention is needed to enable both men and women to generate and exchange reliable information of relevant local content on their own. There is a need to strategically involve men who have taken a step in embracing ICTs, to enhance gender advocacy and sensitisation programmes that target improving the status of women and sharing knowledge by building an electronic community and network, especially in the agricultural and agro-business sector. Over 80% of rural women depend on small-scale agriculture and agro-business sector in the region.
In order to address this situation Toro Development Network (ToroDev) successfully submitted the project “Increasing Small-Scale Women Farmers’ Revenues in Kabarole and Kyenjojo Districts of Western Uganda by Using Sustainable ICT4D-Enabled Production and Marketing Tools”. ToroDev is a community-based NGO established in 2005 to promote the use of appropriate ICTs for sustainable and gender sensitive socio-economic community development in the rural Rwenzori region of Western Uganda. Its current operations cover the districts of Kabarole and Kyenjojo.
Agriculture, men and women in the Rwenzori region
Small-Scale Women farmers in the Rwenzori region of western Uganda are facing the poorest agricultural production and marketing conditions because the majority have much more limited access to relevant information and communication facilities compared to men. The Batoro traditional culture puts men at the helm of women’s welfare and therefore women have, for long, complacently settled for less in terms of their social and economic development. Men in the community look at women as merely housekeepers, responsible for provision of free domestic labour, childbearing and ensuring food security for the family, leaving them with no time to access quality education, skills training and other programs that increase opportunities for access to both traditional and modern ICTs. Further to this, women are frequently used by their husbands to work in commercial agricultural farms, whose earnings go to the men. This is another form of exploiting women, yet they comprise 58% of the 1.5 million people in the region. However, today due to national constitutional reforms that favour women’s empowerment, there is a steady increase in the number of women defying the above inappropriate cultural beliefs that belittle them, by steadily employing themselves in the small-scale agricultural sector, either independently or semi-independently since most of the land is culturally owned by the men in the community. In August 2007, ToroDev carried out a sample survey in twelve rural farmers’ groups, of which five were women-led, with a total of 120 registered members in Kabarole and Kyenjojo districts. The survey revealed that, for example, the total sales share of a kilogram of maize, beans and groundnuts in an urban market place between these farmers and an intermediary was at 38% and 62% respectively. This was due to lack of current market price information and low value production.
There is need to increase rural small-scale women farmers’ revenues, which can be done by supporting them to access and use simple ICT4D tools, by strategically involving men who have taken a step ahead in embracing these same tools and supporting them to improve on agricultural production skills, thus adding value to their products. Sharing knowledge with colleagues for behavioural change also helps them get instant information about better market prices, and communicate easily and cheaply with buyers in the nearest urban centres like Fort Portal, Mbarara , Kampala and beyond.
Bringing change about
The project seeks to increase the total sales share of at least 120 members of five groups of rural small-scale women farmers by at least 25% by tapping into men’s support for ICT training, using and piloting ICT4D-enabled demand-driven intensive farming that reduces reliance on middlemen by directly linking them to potential buyers in the nearest urban centres and regional markets by 2010.
Specific objectives include: to hold eight community radio sensitisation talk shows on the role of simple ICTs tools and influencing behavioural change, with support from men in improving rural women’s small-scale agriculture production and increasing household income by March 2009; to train 70 members from five small-scale women farmers’ groups to use modern ICT and Web 2.0 tools to gather, package and disseminate information to their colleagues and set up electronic networks with other agricultural organisations locally and globally by July 2009; and, finally, to develop a rural community agricultural marketing and knowledge sharing system that provides timely information to women farmers on current agricultural products prices in urban centres and available ICT4D resources and opportunities from ToroDev and partners by use of male agents, mobile phones and bicycles by October 2009.
Gender and ICT issues at stake
The women make up 58% of the total population in the two districts. Among these, over 80% women live in rural areas and are involved in subsistence and small-scale commercial farming. Women are responsible for providing food for their families whereas most men/husbands move to urban centres where the ICT infrastructure is more developed, enabling them to more access and use of ICTs than rural women. Yet back in rural areas, women also often contribute household income in order to enable their family members receive good healthcare and pay for children’s education, among other needs. 43% of these women are illiterate and speak only the local language (Runyakitara) whereas 57% of the remaining members can at least read, write, speak and interpret simple documents prepared in English. In the Kyenjojo district, the villages where these women live have no power or internet connectivity, whereas in the Kabarole district, less than 15% of the targeted rural women can access electricity. Only 23% of the rural women in the targeted districts can afford to use generators and solar power at nearby trading centres. Therefore, the use of individual computers and mobile phones in these areas is a big challenge. On top of that, internet connectivity provided by the mobile telecom companies in rural areas is very expensive for these rural women. Supporting these rural women access and use (after training) simple and cheap (Open Source) Web 2.0 Tools, at community information centres/points, that facilitate the generation of relevant local content (in local language, audio & visual and formats affordable to rural women) information can help them manage information flow and share knowledge for improved production and marketing in the agriculture and agro-business sector.