Vodacom uses tech to empower SA women farmers

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Vodacom’s women farmers programme goes nationwide.
Vodacom’s women farmers programme goes nationwide.

The Vodacom Foundation has today announced plans to roll out its digital literacy programme countrywide for women farmers, following a “successful” pilot in four provinces.

Introduced last year, the programme, a partnership initiative between the Vodacom Foundation, UN Women and South African Women In Farming (SAWIF), seeks to bridge the digital and information gap by equipping women farmers with the digital skills and knowledge to run their businesses better.

Through the pilot, Vodacom Foundation said it managed to empower 600 women small-holder farmers in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Eastern Cape, receiving digital skills training.

Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer of corporate affairs at Vodacom, told the room filled with women farmers and various stakeholders that the time has come to celebrate women that have decided to claim their rightful place in society using technology.

Netshitenzhe explained as part of its gender empowerment agenda, the Vodacom Foundation decided to introduce a programme that would resonate with company’s adoption of the sustainable development goals, focusing on fighting hunger and poverty.

She continued to say the foundation explored the idea of an app to help the women break barriers to access and bring exposure to their businesses. However, it was soon confronted with the reality that most of the women were digitally illiterate.

This, she said, meant they could not introduce the app even if the functionality was on USSD. “The Vodacom Foundation work is rooted in uplifting the lives of people in disadvantaged areas; we then had to be creative.”

According to Netshitenzhe, the foundation approached the Department of Basic Education, where it has connected 92 teacher centres, nine teacher centres that it runs, and youth academies run in partnership with the department. At these centres, Vodacom provides ICT training to the teachers and the youth.

“We encouraged the people in the communities where the teacher centres are to use them as community-based centres. We told SAWIF to take farmers in their constituencies to our training centres and provide them with basic digital literacy and basic business management skills, so that we prepare them to use an app which is part of our basic IOT [Internet of things] offering.”

“We are now rolling out this programme to other provinces, and because we are guided by SAWIF, we have asked them to tell us their needs in order to determine how to partner up.”

App ambitions

According to Netshitenzhe, an app is currently being customised to get SAWIF to digitise its farmers’ database.

This isn’t the first time the JSE-listed company has tried its hand at a mobile technology solution to support South African small-scale farmers.

In 2017, Vodacom Enterprise Business introduced the Connected Farmer platform to link farmers across the agricultural value-chain after realising that small businesses experienced a lot of barriers to access to resources.

“We noticed that the app was not thriving in SA; rather it was making gains in Kenya through that country’s local mobile operator, Safaricom,” said Netshitenzhe. “In Kenya, the app is uplifting women from subsistence farming to participate in the mainstream economy. It has advanced in such a way that it is now integrated with the M-Pesa mobile money platform.”

The app the Vodacom Foundation is currently customising in collaboration with SAWIF, will see field workers interviewing all the farmers so they compile their profiles and their information will be stored on a Web portal, she revealed.

“This will enable SAWIF to link the women farmers with retailers so that orders can be placed and the women will be able to supply produce.”

The next phase will be to minimise the role of SAWIF in order to give the women independence and direct access to the market, she stated. “We will leave this to be their choice. Those women who will still want to transact through SAWIF will still be able to do so, and those that want to transact directly with the bigger market players will have an opportunity to do so.”

The last and most exciting phase is the integration of the app with Vodacom’s financial services offering, she stated. “Vodacom is no longer a traditional telco that just connects people. We now are connecting people with things and machines with machines.

Vodacom has spent R4 million on the digital skills training programme and development of the app is costing R380 000, Netshitenzhe concluded. 

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