Smartphones drive gender equality in agriculture

Nestled in the vast plains of Georgia, at the foot of the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains, Malika Machalikashvili’s farm in Pankisi was once quite traditional. She and her family shared the daily work of taking care of livestock and poultry, growing vegetables, and maintaining the hazel orchard, along with some fruit trees and berry shrubs. He used to take the products to the local market or sometimes even to the one in the country’s capital, Tbilisi. Today, in addition to new additions to the farm, such as a greenhouse and a modern irrigation system, the most novel change is that it now sells its products through a smartphone.

For the past three years, Malika has attended training courses of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), funded by the European Union. This hands-on training, delivered on demonstration plots and farms, teaches participants the best habits in the sector. These platforms have also proven to be very useful in teaching rural men and women about gender equality, gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment.

In addition, in partnership with other organizations, such as the United Nations Population Fund, FAO also provides gender-sensitive training to communities. These trainings help small-scale women farmers feel empowered to defend their rights, grow their businesses and implement successful economic initiatives. Higher yields, more opportunities

Thanks to the good agricultural practices learned, Malika was able to improve soil fertility and increase the yield of her fruits and vegetables. With the increase in performance, he saw an opportunity to explore new marketing channels.

Malika recalls that a leading farmer at the Pankisi farmer field school, Nino Khakhichashvili, always told her “to advertise my products on smartphones social media.”

Inspired by her colleague, Malika followed the advice during the first outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). With the help of her 14-year-old grandson, she got used to taking photos, recording voicemails and posting on social media and group messaging apps. Gradually, it attracted the interest of buyers. As a result, the digital channels of his smartphone became new platforms for earning revenue.

Also during the COVID-19 pandemic, Malika joined a messaging group of women from Pankisi, where they share images of many different items for sale: cakes, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and even household items.

“I was worried about losing income,” Malika admits. “So I started putting pictures” [in the messaging group].

During the harvest season, she continues to send updates on vegetables and fruits in her garden, and throughout the year she shares images of her dairy products. As an active member of this digital space, Malika sets an example for other women in Pankisi.

Nanuli works in the fields behind her home in Karaleti, Georgia.Smartphones: economic independence

The use of social media is transforming people’s lives everywhere, even in small villages like Malika. Before, neighbors visited each other in person to sell their products. Now, the internet and smartphones are essential for communication within and between local communities. They are also proving to be excellent tools for smallholder farmers to market their produce.

Just by browsing an app on their mobile phone, consumers can find images of Malika’s cottage cheese or other farmers and know when it will be delivered. Most importantly, they can learn what makes Malika’s dairy product so special, realizing how carefully they make their products.

Smartphones and other digital technologies are also having positive effects for women farmers in rural communities. By communicating through social media and messaging apps, many women are already creating new links and market partnerships, taking steps forward to close the gender gap and achieve economic independence.

Malika, for example, has shown that her smartphone has helped her generate more income for her livelihoods. A higher profit covers more family expenses and allows you to reinvest in your farm.

In her community, Malika is an example of a woman who has taken advantage of these opportunities and achieved economic independence through her hard work. FAO and the European Union are convinced that these initiatives strengthen rural communities in Georgia, reduce rural poverty and close the gender gap.