The Impact of Digital Services on Women Smallholder Farmers

May 25, 2021 | Women & Youth

These reports highlight the results of the gender impact assessment carried out by Busara on the impact of our partners’ digital services and products on women smallholder farmers in Kenya and Zambia. We gratefully acknowledge the participation of Arifu, Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), DigiFarm and Zanaco Bank.

Access the Gender Impact Studies here:


The agriculture sector in Africa has been facing systemic challenges over the past decades including issues around markets, credit, quality inputs as well as knowledge and networks. These challenges disproportionately affect female smallholder farmers who contribute greatly to agricultural labor and productivity.

Digital solutions have potential to revolutionize the livelihoods of farmers; however, consistent challenges that constrain meaningful use of digital services by female users limit sustainable impact for female smallholder farmers. We engaged Busara to understand the impact of digital services on women smallholder farmers, and the factors driving and inhibiting their adoption and usage of the services.

The reports present the results of the gender impact assessment carried out on 4 partners’ (Arifu, FtMA, AgriPay and DigiFarm) digital services and products on smallholder farmers, particularly women. The main objectives of the study were centered around understanding knowledge/attitudes towards digital solutions, usage by gender, factors that drive adoption and use, as well as impact on women  farmers’ livelihoods  and learnings for delivering digital solutions for women.


  • Trust is a key driver of adoption for all farmers, but more so for women farmers. Women farmers, more than men farmers, were most receptive to channels of information about the platforms that they trust to adopt. This manifested in multiple ways across the platforms, such as: working with farmer associations, field agents, use of personalized messages; strong brand associations as well as using farmer and saving groups in recruitment drives.
  • Besides trusted channels and sources, the types of products offered on the platforms also drive adoption, particularly access to inputs, input credit, markets and training sessions.
  • While digital literacy is not a barrier to women farmers’ engagement with simpler channels e.g. SMS and IVR calls, it is a barrier to use of more complex platform components e.g. USSD-based services and applications. This results in women farmers’ requiring more handholding and guidance to navigate more complex digital platforms. 
  • Women farmers face greater time poverty and mobility constraints, leading to less ability to use some services e.g. learning, accessing inputs and taking produce to market. Social norms result in additional responsibilities of women farmers in the household e.g. childcare, leaving women more time-constrained and with less ability to travel than men farmers. 
  • Women farmers have limited agency using products with higher perceived risk such as credit, resulting in a need for spousal engagement and more time for decision making. The level of risk is mainly driven by whether services involve assets e.g. land. This results in a longer decision-making process for women farmers than men farmers, to decide if to take up the products or platforms. 
  • Women farmers have less access and ownership of resources than men farmers, which limits their use of some services, e.g. inputs, input credit and learning. Women farmers are less likely to own smartphones and more likely to own feature phones, which have storage limitations. 
  • Gendered roles in agriculture limit usage of some services, such as learning modules on value chains or activities in which women farmers have limited participation


Overall, the study found that the digital agricultural platforms have positively impacted the livelihoods of women farmers. Women have increased yields on their farms due to knowledge gained on the platforms on better agricultural practices, and enhanced access to high-quality and certified inputs, as observed on DigiFarm, Arifu and FtMA. On AgriPay, women farmers also report having higher financial discipline after using AgriPay, due to reduction in spontaneous spending compared to when they store money at home. The safe storage of money and ability to track expenses on the platform also results in better financial planning and budgeting. 

Digital agricultural platforms have also had a positive impact on women farmers’ lifestyles. Women farmers have experienced time savings through using DigiFarm, Arifu and FtMA, decreasing time poverty. Digital trainings provided by Arifu, FtMA and DigiFarm have also helped women farmers learn without requiring them to travel for in-person trainings, saving time. However, AgriPay has had a mixed effect on women farmers’ time, with some women saving time due to the ability to make payments to third parties without requiring to travel, while some women have added time constraints due to the requirement to visit XpressAgents in town areas to make deposits and withdrawals. 

On DigiFarm, FtMA and Arifu, women farmers have also increased their decision-making agency on the farm and in the household. On all platforms, women farmers cited that their spouses have trusted them more with decisions upon seeing the knowledge they have garnered from the platforms or increased yields and incomes after using the platforms. Women farmers on Arifu, DigiFarm and FtMA also reported feeling greater control over, and confidence in, their own learning journeys, due to being able to access learning content at any time and to decide how and when to learn. 


Based on the factors driving adoption and use, the following opportunity areas emerge for digital agricultural platforms to become more gender inclusive and amplify impact for women smallholder farmers across their user journey:

Awareness and Onboarding to Encourage Adoption

  • Use a combination of above the line marketing and below the line marketing to create awareness among women farmers about the platforms. 
  • Target farmer and savings groups to recruit women farmers. 
  • Encourage agents to follow up more frequently with women farmers to encourage their registration and to engage husbands e.g. through household/farm visits, to garner permission, if required, to register onto platforms. 
  • Use agents to support women farmers to register and onboard onto platforms, to overcome digital literacy and trust challenges. 
  • Provide additional support to women farmers to gather registration requirements to mitigate time and mobility constraints. 

Product Design and Roll-out to Encourage Active Usage

  • Inputs: Enhance last-mile delivery of inputs between agrovet stores and farmers’ homes or farms as last-mile delivery challenges are felt more by women farmers due to time and mobility challenges. Platforms’ agents can support farmers by offering input delivery to their homes or farms as additional support – farmers will potentially pay for such support given the time and transport cost-savings they would gain from the support. 
  • Input credit/Savings: Offer a combination of group and individual loans to farmers to meet the needs of both farmers who cannot qualify without group guarantees, but also women farmers who prefer individual loans and can qualify for them. Increase support to build digital identity for women farmers (individually and in groups) to be able to more effectively support women farmers to access digital credit. There is a need to educate more women on  alternative collateral requirements for loans on platforms, to mitigate misconceptions. Bundling input credit with savings can serve women farmers who prefer to use savings rather than input credit to purchase inputs. 
  • Insurance: Work with insurance partners to clearly set out guidelines on when farmers are compensated and to shift negative perceptions of insurance. These guidelines should be proactively shared with farmers as well, through agents and channels such as SMS, and feedback loops created between farmers and platforms, to mitigate challenges of misaligned expectations and trust between farmers and insurers. 
  • Access to markets: Incentivize and enable agents e.g. FSC leads and DVAs to collect produce from women from their farms as additional support to address women’s time and mobility constraints from accessing markets. Data analytics and value chain targets can effectively link women farmers to buyers as well as Support irrigation and post-harvest loss strategies to maximize farmers’ sales potential.
  • Learning: Expand learning modules to value chains and farming activities dominated by women such as poultry and indicate the source of the digital learning content is indicated e.g. in SMS or IVR calls, to mitigate trust challenges of receiving digital content. Due to household responsibilities of women, improved timing of content delivery can enhance engagement. The integration of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) as an additional content delivery mode may increase engagement among women who need to multitask while learning to mitigate time constraints. For more complex digital platforms like apps, proactively provide guidance on their usage through use of agents, how-to SMS messages, call-back numbers, etc. Adoption of targeted smart advisory services for farmers may also improve their production, reduce crop loss and ultimately increase productivity

Access the Gender Impact Studies here: