FAO Guide: How to Have Gender and ICT Success in Agriculture

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Beginning in 2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in its plan on action on gender and development, was flagging the changes ushered in by new ICTs. As the digital revolution reaches rural areas in many developing countries, the rural digital divide disparities are growing with the introduction of fast-changing technologies.
The challenges are especially acute for women, who face a triple divide: digital, rural and gender.
The new FAO guide on Gender and ICTs in Agriculture details how to mainstream gender in the use of information and communication technologies for agriculture and rural development notes that women’s access to, use and control of ICTs is currently limited due to a range of reasons, including;

  • Cultural and social factors
  • Time and mobility constraints
  • Heavy workloads
  • Inadequate financial resources
  • Low levels of literacy and education

Yet in many cases, ICTs can make significant contributions to overcoming these obstacles – a fact that underscores the importance of ensuring that women have opportunities to unlock the benefits of ICT tools.
ICTs offer valuable opportunities for agricultural and rural development, increasing sustainable output, farm and agribusiness efficiency and revenues for a wide range of players.
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Used with a gender sensitive approach, they can help to improve gender equality in rural areas, with a subsequent impact on poverty alleviation, through increased agricultural production, more effective marketing, and the development of other income generating activities, especially those managed by women.
Three Gender Errors with ICTforAg Interventions
Yet despite the clear advantages of using ICTs to increase and extend agricultural innovation, three common errors reduce the potential for ICT applications to contribute to gender equitable agricultural development.
1. ICTs are considered gender neutral
The assumption is that men and women have the same ability to access, use and control these technologies, when this is often far from being the case. For this reason, practitioners should conduct a gender analysis to identify opportunities for using ICTs to enhance current practices.
The analysis should describe where and how men and women participate in the specific value chain or agricultural activity. It should capture what information and services men and women farmers need, and how they are currently meeting those needs. It should also assess which ICTs are already in use, and the type of access men and women have to them (direct or mediated).
2. Smallholder farmers are seen as an undifferentiated group
Intervention designs often mistakenly view smallholder farmers as a homogeneous group of beneficiaries. But smallholder farmers are made up of men and women who have specific needs, face different challenges and do not have the same opportunities.
3. Interventions only focus on women
ICT initiatives seeking to improve gender equality should not exclusively target women. They should also target men – women and men need to be involved in the decision-making processes and policy development, as well as the larger family unit and the community.
A family-centred or community-centred approach to ICT initiatives will help to generate widespread recognition that it is important for women to be able to use ICTs.
Four Ways to Have Gender and ICTforAg Success
To close the gender gap, it is important that the seven critical factors of success are taken into consideration:

  • Content
  • Capacity development
  • Gender and diversity
  • Access and participation
  • Partnerships
  • Technologies
  • Economic, social, and environmental sustainability

The third factor of success points specifically to gender and diversity as one of the remaining challenges to the use of ICTs in agriculture. It states that access and opportunities are not equally distributed among users, creating asymmetries that must be addressed through specific policies, designed to target the source of the inequalities.
1. Mainstream gender considerations
However, it is important that gender is also mainstreamed in the other factors of success. For this reason, the FAO report on Gender and ICTs in Agriculture does not exclusively address the gender and diversity factor of success, but also explores how gender can be taken into account when putting into practice all the other factors.
2. Link initiatives to Digital Principles
They should be linked to the Principles of Digital Development: design with the users, understand the existing ecosystem, design for scale, build for sustainability, be data driven, use open data, open standards, open sources, open innovation, reuse and improve, address privacy and security and be collaborative. Furthermore the technologies should be accessible, affordable, easily usable, safe and relevant.
3. Use sex disaggregated data
To support gender mainstreaming in ICT initiatives, further research and analysis are needed to ensure that women really benefit from the programmes, and that ICT programmes do not widen the existing gender gap in access to ICTs.
For this reason, the collection of sex disaggregated data on women’s participation in the information society at local, national and international levels is also crucial. Sex disaggregated data on education and income, as well as on attitudes towards technology use, should be collected to help identify the most appropriate ICT applications.
Since many of the Sustainable Development Goals mention new technologies in their targets and indicators, these should be used to break down information on access to ICTs by gender, network coverage and a number of other factors.
4. Develop national e-agriculture strategies
FAO is advocating for national e-agriculture strategies to be drawn up that take into account all stakeholders, and it is critical that any digital strategy should be gender sensitive and participatory. Governments must establish policies and mechanisms to ensure men and women’s effective access to and participation in the information society.
This should include access to information and the use of ICTs at a reasonable cost for all. The involvement of women in ICT policy-making and implementation at national, regional and international levels needs to be reinforced. Non-state actors, such as the private sector and civil society, will play an important role in any strategy for the sustainable and equitable use of ICTs for agriculture.
Such national strategies will contribute to bridging the triple divide. They will help to develop a regulatory environment and standards such as those for interoperability, open access, security, and data ownership and sovereignty. Finally, they will enable the agricultural sector to innovate through ICTs by maximizing the benefits and mitigating the challenges for both men and women.
Download the full FAO report on Gender and ICTs: Mainstreaming gender in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agriculture and rural development, by Sophie Treinen and Alice Van der Elstraeten.
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