Game Changers: Let’s Change Lives with Women Smallholders

Nov 15, 2021 | All, News and Events, Women & Youth

>> Download AgriFin’s Gender Transformative Toolkit.

Over the past seven years, Mercy Corps AgriFin’ programs have worked across Africa with more than 150 partners to design, test and scale digitally enabled services for the world’s smallholders. With our partners, we have reached more than 16 million farmers. The most challenging digital breakthrough has consistently been around how to reach women and drive active use and impact.  

What is the Challenge?

The barriers women face in agriculture are myriad and well documented (see AgriFin’s 6 Principles for Designing for Women and Gender Transformative Approaches). Most women smallholders are relegated to working in the lower value staple crops and livestock that feed the family. Extra funds to invest in their farm businesses for seeds, fertilizer, labor and mobile phones are often lost as they face emergencies and financial shocks in their families. In Kenya, for example, women farmers experience 2.5 times as many financial emergencies as Kenyans overall. AgriFin’s work leveraging human-centred design across Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya has consistently pointed to key constraints in women’s mobility in reaching services, pointing to the need for digital innovations like digitally-enabled field force, e-learning, precision agronomy, access to markets, etc. And gender norms, particularly around the use of financial services, create additional loops and barriers where women can be lost in the system. Global evidence shows that on the demand side, gender norms can form barriers to women’s engagement in the productive economy, financial decision-making, control or ownership of assets and access to mobile phones. On the supply side, these norms can also often lead to biases in credit scoring algorithms, inappropriate product offerings and inadequate delivery channels. 

But Game Changers Are Afoot

While our early work with partners reached only 5 to 25% women, AgriFin partners are now reaching 42% women with 96% active usage rates. How is this happening? Early digital efforts typically targeted value chains engaging women and provided the same service for all farmers, often 100% on digital channels, with poor results. Now, many of our partners recognize that women, who make up 51% of the agricultural labor force in Africa, are important to their bottom line. Partners are refining approaches to onboard and retain women smallholders as valued customers. These efforts have included digitizing field force to support women’s access to and active use of tailored offerings, improved digital tools for women’s groups and increasing outreach of platforms leveraging digital data to bring end-to-end services to women smallholders. 

There is change afoot, but more work to be done to ensure this momentum reaches scale and is refined to meet the unique challenges of climate change, hitting women smallholder farmers hardest. 

The Gender Transformative Toolkit

Based on seven years of innovation with partners, AgriFin has developed the Gender Transformative Toolkit as a compendium of 17 hands-on tools to help farmer-facing organizations make digital technology work for women in agriculture. The Toolkit was developed through a co-creative process with AgriFin, CGAP and Dalberg engaging with a range of AgriFin partners, including Zanaco, Arifu, Agromall, CoAmana, Sunculture and One Acre Fund, to test and refine the tools. The Toolkit is designed for organizations anywhere on the spectrum of gender transformation, from brand new to the topic to deeply immersed. It includes a mix of resources that will expand over time, from participatory tools to reference libraries of cases and examples, to guides and best practices. The Toolkit is designed to bring an accessible gender lens to approaches you may already have some experience with (e.g. journey maps, data collection and analysis, budgeting) so you can build on your current experience and practices.

We invite you to engage with and use the Toolkit. AgriFin will deploy these tools across all our partner engagements moving forward into our own programming and will continuously update the tools with our partners. We look forward to collaborating with organizations to bring about the transformation that we need for the world’s women smallholders.

>> View Gender Transformative Toolkit Resource Page.

Related Resources


Leesa Shrader, Program Director