Empowering Women Farmers Learning in Odisha, India

How does one leverage the reach of digital systems to empower women farmers in India?

In 2019, PAD’s Ama Krushi service in Odisha, India, piloted extension content specifically targeting female farmers. Early indications are very promising and that nutrition and other farm-adjacent impacts may be catalyzed through a focus on women farmers.

Women farmers attending a training and awareness workshop conducted by PADIF's staff in the Bhadrak district of Odisha
Female farmers in rural India confront unique and gendered barriers that inhibit their ability to access and benefit from digital extension and other mobile advisory services.

These include:

  • limited agricultural decision-making power regarding staple and cash crops,
  • disproportionately limited access to mobile phones, and
  • low levels of mobile phone literacy, text literacy and numeracy relative to male farmers.
The Ama Krushi service, which PAD has built and operates in partnership with the State Government of Odisha, provides mobile phone-based advisory extension services to over 700,000 farmers.

Ama Krushi empowers farmers with advisory on fifteen crops, including fruit and vegetable crops, pulses, cotton and rice/paddy, through a mix of weekly voice-based advisory messages to promote information dissemination and an inbound interactive voice response (IVR) hotline which farmers can use to lodge questions with agronomists or listen to agricultural advice to promote improved practices and farm productivity.

In the final quarter of 2019, PAD launched a hybrid call center as part of the Ama Krushi service which farmers can call to register questions with a call centre agent. Experts then provide answers to farmers via pre-recorded calls.

Farmer engagement with the service is high, and is growing rapidly: Through the course of 2019, farmer enrollment on the service grew 606%, rising from 103,060 farmers at the end of 2018 to 624,300 farmers at the end of 2019.

Meeting the needs of female farmers

At the beginning of 2019, only 6,619, or 6.4% percent, of the 103,060 farmers accessing Ama Krushi services were women. While the share of women farmers accessing Ama Krushi rose to 14.4% by the end of the year (90,180 farmers), equivalent to a year on year increase of 1,362%, engagement by women with the Ama Krushi service continues to lag that of their male peers.

These dynamics present both a challenge and an opportunity for the implementation of Ama Krushi:

While women confront particular barriers in accessing digital agricultural extension services, Ama Krushi’s overall reach presents an opportunity to empower large numbers of female farmers, and presents an opportunity to deliver information to women in ways that bypass cultural and gender-related challenges.

Taking into account these challenges and opportunities, and with the objective of providing services that are accessible to and impactful for women, PAD developed content for the cultivation of kitchen gardens; a domain that is most often controlled by women and in which women are usually the primary decision-makers.

Kitchen gardens are typically small pieces of land where fruits, vegetables, and spices are grown for household consumption. The choice of crops, and the relative productivity of kitchen gardens, can significantly impact nutritional outcomes for households.

Utilizing an iterative approach based on human-centered design principles, PAD tailored content to maximize comprehension and access to information, and to address important informational needs in an area of cultivation where rural women have more decision-making power.

Over the course of the 2019 Kharif season (July to October), PAD sent kitchen garden-related content to 4,500 female farmers in the Sambalpur and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha. The service provided information with a focus on improving general agriculture practices, content about organic substitutes for pesticides and fertilizers with the potential to negatively impact family health, the nutritional benefits of particular foods, and information about best practices to maximize the productivity of specific crops.

Qualitative feedback indicates that women find this content engaging and useful: Women enrolled in the initiative indicated a strong preference for kitchen garden content (87% of women reported a preference for the kitchen garden content over general Ama Krushi messages), and the kitchen garden content received a very positive feedback rating of 4.2/5 (Ama Krushi’s general content is rated 4.08/5).

Another measure of its popularity among female beneficiaries is that the kitchen gardens initiative has been particularly good at generating network effects: 71% of women self-reported sharing kitchen garden content with friends, and neighbors compared to 58.4% of female farmers surveyed in an assessment of Ama Krushi as a whole. This is also higher than the share of male farmers enrolled in Ama Krushi (68.4%) who report sharing information acquired through PAD’s services.

PAD’s India team is refining the kitchen gardens intervention to increase the magnitude of its impact and reach ahead of the Kharif 2020 planting season.

Leveraging insights from the piloting of the initiative, we are refining content to ensure that messages are easily understood, actionable, and are aligned with women’s information needs.

In particular, we are identifying nutrition-related topics to complement agriculture recommendations and improve household health. Moreover, we are exploring options to efficiently collaborate with other organizations active in supporting the cultivation of kitchen gardens, female-focused agricultural activities and nutrition, to boost the reach and impact of our work to more effectively empower women farmers.