Agriculture has provided a platform to increase earnings and in turn, spur economic growth and cut rural poverty across the world – with the exception of Africa.
Falling rural poverty driven by improvements in farming outputs in developing countries led the big decline in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. However, rural sub-Saharan Africa remains much poorer than urban areas across the continent. This is despite international development organisations promoting increased productivity of farms through investment, crop diversification and increased commercial trade of crops. So what is behind the failure?
One big factor is gender inequality, which, as Nigerian and Blockchain expert, Oladimeji Shekoni describes it “makes you feel unwelcome to the world of greatness… When women realise how big their businesses can become, they become afraid of expanding [and] having to beg families to make adjustments to accommodate this.”
The fact that women, the majority of small-hold farmers, are held back, partly by such fears, is a big reason for this underwhelming performance, research suggests. Female-headed households produce substantially less farm output than male-headed ones, the major study surveying farmers over a decade in 56 villages in six African nations concluded. They have smaller areas to cultivate; lower yields with the land they do possess; and, in some regions, fewer women growers were taking their crops to market.
Male-headed households have benefited more from changes in agriculture policy to increase productivity overall. Gender inequality is still real, with women not only having less access to land, with this granted by marriage, but also lower access to both capital and to markets to make the most of the land they do have, and necessary to expand their farms and earn more.
The fears of women are often born out.
“Many women have tried to start their own business to fight against poverty and to empower themselves but have failed due to the fact that women were not considered capable of making changes,” says Jesca Msemo, a Tanzanian citizen.
This is not only an obstacle for women: inequality is consequently holding back the potential of many nations.
So how can having equal access to mobile internet tear down barriers to them buying new equipment and fertilisers, and stopping them taking their goods to the market?
Improvements in gender equality in one aspect of contemporary life are a factor behind rising smartphone take-up in the first place, according to the GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index. And, then, when women have access to mobile internet, this is the key they need to unlock their access to both finance and to the world markets – with the assistance of FinTech applications.
“As global food demand is rising, the vast majority of agribusinesses directly procure from smallholder farmers [but] face business inefficiencies [to do so]. Mobile-enabled digital tools allow agribusinesses to optimise business performance and promote smallholder farmers’ financial inclusion and empowerment,” the GSMA report underlines.
Smartphone apps have the power to level the global playing field by better connecting everybody into the 21st Century economy. They are a lifeline to women who have suffered from lower access to markets.
Technology does not discriminate. Technology is, therefore, able to change the face of gender inequality. To provide equal opportunities for everyone. African women are more likely to start a business than any other women in the world. So these entrepreneurs are in an advantageous position to transform agriculture and trigger economic growth – if the challenges they face as female smallholders can be overcome.
Msemo says that attitudes have been shifting so that society is more accepting of women being entrepreneurial.
“Ideas are changing, but now women fail to help themselves due to the lack of knowledge and capital that would help them prosper in their business,” she explains.
Both Msemo and Shekoni are ambassadors for the Blockchain-for-good fintech firm Humaniq, an example of a mobile internet app offering a host of new avenues for women who want to get on but have only found barriers. It is aiming to build a community where people can trade and transact with each other without any intermediaries making this more bureaucratic and difficult, including by taking fees. The project not only provides a new source of value, HMQ crypto coin, it opens up new possibilities, both to invest, and to transact.
Lack of identification and access to bank branches has been a perennial problem for all those seeking credit, but especially women. The World Bank, which runs a programme to tackle the lack of IDs that stymies economic development, says this problem disproportionately affects women and girls. Humaniq App, which verifies community member using bio-ID, provides everyone with identification that is a necessary stepping stone to them accessing financial services regardless of what papers they have – including, crucially, credit.
Accessing loans in order to invest in assets is one way to address the inequalities the Oxford researchers exhaustively documented in their longitudinal study.
“A lot of women these days are on the rise and acting against discrimination,” says Eto Olei, Nigerian and Computer Science and Informatics specialist. “They have dreams about running their own business. But lack of capital is what is stopping them,” he says.
To overcome this barrier, Humaniq provides not only a wallet and cryptocurrency, it is the foundation for a whole system of FinTech apps including loan providers who do not currently offer credit to those without identification and without easy access to branches.
This technological solution – powered by a unique Hybrid Blockchain that keeps fees close to zero, and with funds from a popular ICO last year – is also a great leveller for that other central challenge faced by female-headed farms after the harvest: market participation. From the west of Africa to Tanzania, it was found that the share of crops sold was biased towards male farm managers – in the most recent surveys to 2015, male-headed households marketed 56% of their production, compared with only 46% for female-headed households.
Better access to markets can be brought about overnight by an App that can connect producers with larger distributors – and it is blind to the gender of those taking their crops to market. As the Africans advocating for the startup attest, Humaniq is their doorway to the 21st Century economy and the key to Africa unlocking ever-more vibrant economies.