The race to limit the spread of Covid-19 has, through necessity, accelerated many other transformations that were already under way, including the digital revolution in African agriculture.
What had previously been a growing but limited shift towards the use of digital tools and
technologies for food production and business has become a lifeline in the face of market
restrictions, food insecurity and lockdowns. And among the biggest winners have been
Long since excluded from equal resources, from land rights to training, almost 90 per cent of
African women with small and medium agricultural enterprises have taken up digital
solutions during the pandemic, according to a recent survey. Figures from before the
coronavirus outbreak indicated women previously accounted for just a quarter of registered
users of digital solutions.
The challenge – and opportunity – now is to build on these gains, and translate participation
in the digital marketplace into prosperity in the real marketplace.
Through leveraging the potential of digitalisation to level the playing field, African countries
can unleash the potential of women in agriculture, who already represent 50 per cent of the
workforce and own a third of the small and medium enterprises that produce, process and
The first benefit provided by digitalisation is more equal access to markets, which has been
the greatest limiting factor of the pandemic for almost three-quarters of women.
Even before the emergence of Covid-19, women tended to be limited to labour intensive,
low value agricultural production activities rather than high-value activities but with market
closures and restrictions related to COVID 19, many women have found themselves cut off
from their normal business channels.
Online platforms have provided new opportunities for women to continue and grow their
operations, with two-thirds taking to social media to market their products in new ways and
reach broader audiences.
Increasing internet connectivity in rural areas, scaling up access to mobile technology and
improving digital literacy would help more women in agriculture benefit from the digital
revolution and enjoy greater market access.
Secondly, digitalisation offers the possibility of more widespread networking and training,
particularly for rural women in remote areas where opportunities to participate in
workshops or educational sessions are limited.Platforms like VALUE4HERConnect, Africa’s first online portal for agricultural
businesswomen, provide gender-responsive services such as a Women2Women community
forum that allows women to learn from one another and access mentoring and support
The service also offers a Women2Finance pillar and a capacity-building resource to help
equip women with the skills, inputs and knowledge to grow their businesses.
Since launching last year, VALUE4HER has engaged more than 600 women across 27
countries and under the leadership of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),
will support more women as part of plans to reach up to 5,000 women-led agribusinesses
over the next five years.
Initiatives like this, which are designed specifically with women users in mind, will be vital in
ensuring the digital dividend reaches African women.
Finally, growing levels of digitalisation offers women greater access to information and
services when conventional channels are closed or off-limits, providing greater resilience to
shocks and stresses, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
Digital technologies can help reduce the burden of agricultural labour and processing, which
is particularly important for women, who continue to take on a greater share of domestic
work. They can also help women increase their yields and build up financial resilience to
minimise the impact of sudden disasters.
For example, Hello Tractor, a mobile app that allows farmers to hire a tractor on demand,
increases the accessibility of mechanised tools while overcoming the prejudice women face
by allowing them to interact directly with service providers through a mobile device.
Meanwhile, e-verification tool eHakiki received a grant from AGRA last year for four pilots to
help reach 100,000 farmers in Tanzania with a service to identify counterfeit products,
helping to build the resilience of women farmers by ensuring the quality of their seeds,
pesticides and fertilizers.
Women are a key pillar in Africa’s food and agricultural systems, from taking charge of
household nutrition to providing much of the labour on small-scale farms.
It is crucial, not only to the viability of these women’s businesses but to local and regional
food security, that the benefits of the digital revolution are extended to women as well.
This needs investment in infrastructure and resources from both public and private sector,
but it also needs dynamic partnerships to ensure the design of these services feature the
unique needs of female farmers and entrepreneurs and that they are affordable and easy to
use. Covid-19 may have ruptured business as normal but it has also disrupted longstanding
inequalities, creating a chance to build back better.
Sabdiyo Dido Bashuna, head of gender and inclusiveness at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)