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Kenya Exploring the promise of ICTS for women farmers and extension agents

by Deborah Rubin and Cristina Manfre, Cultural Practice LLC


It is easy to understate the impact mobile technology has had on our world. Mobile phones and the growth of technology applications associated with them have changed the way we communicate with others, stay informed, and network with colleagues, friends and peers. More importantly their impact has not been limited to users in developed countries. Mobile phones are in the hands of the young and old, men and women, urban activists and rural farmers in developing and developed countries. The expectation is that the number of subscribers, especially women subscribers, is set to increase. Emerging research is exploring the links between mobile phones and economic growth, and finding some interesting connections (Box 1).

Box 1: Mobile phone and economic growth: A technology for growth?
  • A 2007 report by Deloitte found a 10% increase in mobile phone penetration is linked to a 1.2% increase in GDP in low- and middle- income countries 
  • In India, 3.6 million jobs were created, directly and indirectly, in mobile industry. The industry is expected to continue to add a million jobs annually. 
  • Mobile phones contributed to a 62% and 59% increase in profits in South Africa and Egypt respectively 
Source: GSMA and Cherie Blair Foundation, “Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity.”

For extension and advisory services, the advent of mobile technology offers the opportunity for rapid and cost-effective dissemination of agricultural information to remote locations and to diverse populations. Mobile technology makes it possible to disseminate real-time information on weather, market prices, disease and pests, and services which allows farmers, especially women farmers who may not otherwise have access to such information, to make more informed decisions about land preparation, planting, harvesting and marketing. Furthermore, the opportunity to use alternative methods to literacy-dependent content allows the reach of mobile to extend to farmers with varying levels of education and literacy.

Using mobile technology to reach women farmers is a tantalizing promise for closing gender gaps in yields and productivity. Women face a number of constraints to accessing agricultural extension including factors such as limited mobility which reduce their ability to participate in trainings and field schools, and institutional biases that overlook them as farmers. Mobile phones would allow them to overcome some of these constraints. A number of interesting initiatives are emerging in this area. This case study will focus on exploring the gender dimensions a recent effort launched in Kenya.

M-Kilimo, Kenya

Kenya has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in Sub-Saharan Africa with roughly 51% of the population subscribed to a mobile network. Value added mobile services are expanding rapidly in the country and already it is well known for being one of the pioneers of mobile money services with Safaricom’s m-Pesa. In 2009 Kenya’s largest call center and business processing operator, KenCall, launched, “M-Kilimo” ( to test the viability of agricultural value added service products and improve the transfer of knowledge to farmers. M-Kilimo was established to test the viability of agricultural mobile value added service products. The program has three objectives: 1. To establish a hotline to provide quality information to smallholder farmers; 2. To better understand farmer needs and 3. To test the commercial viability of agriculture value added services. Instead of receiving messages via SMS, farmers can talk to a real person to get agricultural expertise and information to help them make informed decisions on land preparation, planting, pest management, and marketing. Farmers receive information in English, Swahili, and other local languages. In its first eighteen months of operation, the program reached 25,000 farmers.

Although the program was not originally designed to specifically reach women farmers, an estimated 43 percent of callers are women farmers and they make up 31%  of subscription users (versus 69% of men). This is not surprising given that female mobile penetration is estimated at 34% (compared to male mobile penetration at 44%) and women are only 22% less likely to own a mobile phone than men (GSMA 2010).[1]

The proposed focus of this case study is to examine women farmers’ use of M-Kilimo services and their satisfaction with the services provided. It will explore the extent to which using mobile phones for extension and advisory services overcomes constraints that reduce women farmer’s access to information and technology and what impact access to agricultural information via mobile phones is having on their farming activities. It will draw lessons learned from the M-Kilimo experience delivering extension and advisory services via mobile phones. The case study also will provide guidelines and recommendations to practitioners on how to more effectively integrate ICTs in ways that benefit women farmers and women extension workers. The proposed case study contributes to key topics for MEAS, including how to design gender-equitable EAS, the role of private sector in extension and successful use of ICT. The work will result in a case study as well as a proposal for action research based on the findings from the research.


The case study is proposed for April – July 2012. Ten days of field research would occur in May/June 2012. The final submission for the case study would be July 31, 2012.


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World Bank (Forthcoming) ICT in Agriculture: Connecting Smallholders to Knowledge, Networks, and Institutions. Washington, DC.

[1] This figure is consistent with the mobile gender gap estimated for the Sub-Saharan region (23%) and lower than the Middle East (24%) and South Asia (37%) (GSMA 2010).