As the world celebrates International Women's Day, it is worth reflecting on the crucial role that women play in agriculture and the critical need for technology inclusion to promote gender equality in the sector.
With this year's theme, "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality," there is a renewed focus on the barriers that women face in accessing digital technologies and the impact it has on their productivity and livelihoods.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources has a digital office that is strengthening data systems to, among others, ensure that women are not sidelined in the agri-tech revolution, according to Martine Nezerwa, the Chief Digital Officer for agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
"The digital office is focusing on strengthening data systems as the key to inclusive and equitable service delivery by supporting disaggregation of data not only by gender but also by socio-economic demographics, strengthening equity and equality in agricultural services delivery," said Nezerwa.
She said that existing systems are supporting access to subsidies on cash and food crops respectively by farmers, as well as a digital marketplace to help farmers understand and access the best market for their produce.
"The Digital office is also working with MINICT [Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Innovation] and other partners to support inclusive smartphone devices access, and to strengthen inclusive digital learning for small-holder farmers," she added.
In many parts of the world, women make up a significant portion of the agricultural workforce, but they often lack access to essential technologies, such as mobile phones and the internet.
The Rwanda Housing and Population census, released during the 18th National Dialogue Council, Umushyikirano, on February 27, indicates that the percentage of agricultural occupations is higher among females than males. There were 77 percent of females engaged in agricultural activities compared to 58.3 percent of males in August 2022.
The World Bank also reports that in sub-Saharan Africa women account for 40 percent of the workforce, and in some developing countries, their contribution surpasses 50 percent.
As agriculture becomes increasingly digitized, it is vital to ensure that women have equal access to these technologies to build more equitable and sustainable food systems.
Female agriculturalist, Florence Sifa Sangwa, explained how technology is aiding her career.
Through using social media, she has been able to share knowledge and skills with fellow farmers around the world and also market her farm's produce.
"I also use technology to buy seeds, fertilizers, or other farm inputs through the 'Smart Nkunganire System (SNS)' platform," she said.
Smart Nkunganire System is an innovative tool used to link and empower stakeholders in a subsidy program that handles fertilizers, improved seeds, pesticides, mechanization and small-scale irrigation technology, among others.
On problems being faced by women in agriculture, she said, "female farmers especially in rural areas have low or no access to mobile phones."
"They lack information, and are financially incapable of affording technology incorporation in their practice," she said.
"Raising awareness on Agri-tech impact to farmer's productivity, providing loans, grants or gifts to facilitate access to IoT devices, providing more services used via feature phones as smartphones tend to be costly and hard to use."
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the need for technology inclusion for women in agriculture is more critical than ever, since they make up the majority of the agricultural workforce.
As noted, the digitization of agriculture presents significant opportunities to improve food security, promote sustainable agriculture, and empower women to participate fully in the digital economy.