The Benefits of Mobile Phone Applications to Women Livestock Keepers in Zimbabwe

Pfavai Nyajeka and Richard Duncombe

Mobile phone applications have offered much value in the livelihoods of women in rural Zimbabwe.  Research conducted in resettlement areas during 2017 and 2018 used mixed methods to collect data on samples of women livestock keepers (Figure 1) who were household-heads (HHHs) or non-household heads (NHHs), providing an understanding of the unique forms of hardship that are imposed on married, single, divorced or widowed women in their pursuance of livelihoods.  The research investigated how women farmers used mobile phones to strengthen their position in livestock keeping and mitigate their vulnerability.

Figure 1. An Interview with a Woman Livestock Keeper in the Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, in common with other sub-Saharan African countries, was experiencing a revolution in digital communications prior to and up until the end of the study period; but Zimbabweans, and particularly those in rural areas, remained disadvantaged due to poor electrical grid connections and digital connectivity compared with some other sub-Saharan African countries (Table 1).

Table 1. Digital Landscape: Selected Indicators for 2018

Country/Region % of rural population with access to electricity % of population using the Internet Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 inhabitants) (a) Secure internet servers (per 1 million inhabitants)  
Botswana 24 58 150 134
Kenya 58 19.5 96 217
South Africa 67 62.4 160 12,032
Zimbabwe 19 25 89 47
sub-Saharan Africa 22 29 94 794

Sources: Human Development Report (2019) and ITU (2018) Indicators Database; see: World Bank Open Data | Data

(a) including accounts with mobile money service providers.

Women livestock keepers in resettlement areas (Mashonaland East and Midlands) pursued their livelihoods within a challenging vulnerability context, typified by adverse climatic conditions, volatile markets and lack of support services (Figure 2).  Their ability to participate in local economic development was also constrained by their position within the largely patriarchal social structures that govern livestock keeping in Zimbabwe.

Figure 2. Community Meeting Place for Women Livestock Keepers in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe

Use of mobile phones enabled the women to resolve problems quickly, saving time that could be more profitably spent on other income generating activities.  One HHH commented… “no one likes to be constantly travelling distances to chase buyers or debtors, so you find that a lot of women livestock farmers in this area depend on their mobile phones to remind buyers or debtors about upcoming livestock sales and money owed.  A lot of the time constant mobile phone reminders are enough.  Even when the person on the other end does not answer the phone or respond to a message or post, seeing that missed call, or text, or post, is often enough to put pressure on debtors.  Some (women) will post a reminder on social media group forums such as WhatsApp.  You find that this is very effective and frees up time and money for them (women livestock keepers) to focus their energies on other things”.

WhatsApp was used for group messaging and exchanging of photos and short videos related to problems or threats to livestock.  WhatsApp was particularly useful in instances when livestock farmers used group chats to coordinate an emergency veterinary department’s visit.  One focus group participant in the Midlands province (Figure 3) stated… “we as women farmers can communicate quickly… this also allows us to get advice on livestock disease outbreaks.  Although some women do not have smart phones, due to the expense, everyone knows someone who has access to information through community WhatsApp groups… no one in the community is left out as the message can be spread quickly, meaning we are quickly able to manage disease and risks” (Respondent 49).

Figure 3. A Group Meeting with Woman Livestock Keepers in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe

In addition to WhatsApp, locally designed applications such as Kurima Mari[1]provided farmers with information on livestock management, livestock market updates and information on crop production, with English, Shona and Ndebele language options.  Another platform service was EcoFarmer[2]– introduced in 2013 as a ‘weather indexed insurance business’ and EcoCash[3]– a mobile payment solution for Econet customers that let farmers carry out financial transactions and pay bills.

The survey suggested a high degree of independent information searching on behalf of married women.  Phones enabled women livestock keepers to enquire about market prices either directly or through the app, ascertain where livestock demand was, quantities, and agreed periods of payment, before travelling to market.  

The survey results also showed significant usage of mobile banking apps (such as EcoCash).  Many women moved to mobile banking due to the cash shortages, but most also viewed mobile money as the safest means of transferring money and conducting transactions.  Mobile banking fees were generally lower compared to bank charges, and some farmers were able to make and receive payments and gain access to credit more easily.  

Some key findings from the study include…

  • A largely positive picture of the use of mobile phones amongst women livestock keepers.  Everyday use of mobile phones and applications has brought considerable benefits associated with better overall communications, helping to meet rural women farmers’ information needs in a timely manner.
  • A divergence of the results according to whether the woman livestock keeper is a HHH or NHH.  HHHs tend to be more active in relation to income generation due to not having to defer to the waged husband in the household.  The use of the phone tends to reinforce and strengthen this income earning activity for HHHs, both in relation to livestock keeping and other income earning opportunities.
  • Various limits and social pressures are placed on the NHHs in the use of their phones, thus restricting the ability of NHHs to accrue the full benefits of phone use.  The ability of NHHs to link with new social networks and other livestock intermediaries is limited.
  • Despite the potential benefits, the cost of accessing information with mobile phones could be prohibitive, even when considering the relatively low initial cost of buying (mostly) second-hand phones.  In part this is dealt with by opting for cheaper phone data bundles that facilitate use of web-based applications such as WhatsApp.

The results of this research will be presented at the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2022) in Seattle between June 27th – 29th and published in the Conference proceedings.  International Conference on Information & Communication Technologies and Development (ictd.org)


[1] Kurima Mari is a family farming Knowledge Platform which gathers and digitized quality information on family farming from all over the world; including national laws and regulations, public policies, best practices, relevant data and statistics, researches, articles and publications. Kurima Mari – Apps on Google Play

[2] EcoFarmer provides farmers, government, contracting companies, NGOs and farmer unions a range of digital solutions to assist productivity across the agriculture value chain. Launched in 2013 as a weather indexed insurance and micro insurance product with an SMS based advisory service it has evolved to offering diversified services like Vaya Tractor, logistics, warehousing, cold chain, Hay Bailing, combine harvesting and soil testing. Farmers register to access the application by paying a small charge.  Services for Farmers – EcoFarmer

[3] EcoCash is a mobile payment solution for Econet customers in Zimbabwe. It facilitates financial transactions, like sending money, the purchase of prepaid airtime or data and payments for goods and services, using a mobile phone. http://www.ecocash.co.zw/about

 

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