What works to empower women farmers?

Roundtable Dialogue on Innovations and Lessons on what works to empower women farmers.

29th March 2023 | New Delhi, India
What works to empower women farmers? What are the methodologies, innovations, strategies that have worked to empower them?  What are the lessons and challenges encountered in the pathway to enable women farmers to become agents of their own transformative change? Driven by these questions, in March 2023, Digital Green organized a roundtable dialogue in New Delhi; a day of deliberations with experts and development professionals from organizations that engage with women farmers. The dialogue was anchored around deconstructing ‘empowerment’ alongwith strategies, framework and pathways that various organizations have been using to empower women farmers. Additionally a session was dedicated to the discussion on digital innovations used by the participating organizations to empower women collectives.

The dialogue, organized into three thematic sessions, began with context setting by Krishnan Pallassana (Managing Director, Digital Green) with chief address by Mr. Chiranjit Singh, IFoS, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of Rural Development. Krishnan Pallassana in his welcome note emphasized on the primacy of women farmers in the agricultural ecosystem – who are responsible for ensuring employment, food and nutrition security.  While Mr. Chiranjit Singh highlighted the need to contextualize and tailor solutions to build capacities of rural women; striving for innovative solutions with an intersectional lens to harness the power of social media and digital technologies to boost capacity building at scale. The speaker foregrounded the need for collaboration and convergence among ecosystem players, expressing that “the government is keen to explore and utilize the power of digital technologies to empower women farmers through the expansive network of community resource people and grassroots infrastructure.” The session concluded with a screening of a short film of women farmers (that Digital Green has been working with) elaborating on what empowerment meant for them.

 With this, the first round of deliberations were rooted in examining ‘empowerment’ from the lens of women farmers’ lived experiences. The participants explored the fluidity of the term itself and the difficulty to capture the subjective experience of being empowered. The participants underlined that women’s identities are relational and contextual, thus they should not be perceived as homogenous entities. Interventions for empowerment need to be designed to challenge gender inequities and power asymmetries, by facilitating conducive conditions for women to be able to challenge systems and structures to ensure they can thrive in both public and private spaces.  With a concept as fuzzy as empowerment, the participants agreed that it presented its own set of challenges when it came to evaluation or measuring it. Thus a lot of interventions and efforts oscillate between economic development and economic empowerment. 

Another participant highlighted that empowerment, like the woman herself, is a composite of different elements, including identity, agency, autonomy, and literacy, that are critical elements in the pathway to empowerment. The discussants associated choice, negotiation, and decision-making intrinsically with empowerment. The floor agreed that empowerment could mean differently for different women – for some women taking up leadership roles could be empowering; while for another to be able to attend meetings and share their opinions could be empowering. Various organizations concluded that it would be best to continue in their attempts anchored around letting women farmers define what empowerment meant for them, while working on creating better measurement tools and program designs that truly shifts and equalizes power.

The second round table highlighted the deep and expansive work being undertaken with women farmers and women’s collectives in the realm of empowerment. The practitioners elaborated the challenges they faced while working on interventions rooted in empowerment. The challenges led the organizations to rely on economic indicators in their respective interventions. Insights from practitioners highlighted the need to build capacities of women farmers to undertake data-backed business planning and decision making as well as devise strategies to enhance collective agency and critical consciousness to scale empowerment. The floor acknowledged that the content and interventions for women farmers should be mindful of diversity in their contexts and languages with a focus on human mediated delivery while at the same time focussing on simplifying solutions and products. Further emphasis needs to be placed on closing the gender gaps in access to digital resources with creating women centered products that are conscious of women’s unique needs and capabilities. Digital access is a right, and safe spaces should be created to increase technology adoption among women farmers.

For the third roundtable session, research organizations such as ICRISAT, IFPRI, IRRI, and ISST  deliberated on the frameworks and indicators that they have developed to measure women farmers’ economic empowerment. The panel discussed the critical need to view women farmers as a heterogenous group wherein empowerment can not be prescriptive. They acknowledged that measuring empowerment, given its complexity and subjectivity, relying only on quantitative indicators alone posed a critical challenge. The panel highlighted the use of PRO-WEAI & ANEW tools that measure empowerment through intrinsic, instrumental, and collective agency channels. The panelists emphasized the importance of robust qualitative studies to complement quantitative tools based on field experiences. The panel agreed that measuring empowerment requires a mixed-method approach that combines qualitative and ethnographic insights to strengthen quantitative indicators and provide nuanced insights.

The day concluded with an agreement that the grassroot level networks and collaborations must be tapped in to reach the last mile to provide women farmers with access to technology, resources and knowledge. This further requires a convergence among eco-systems including practitioners, experts, researcher organizations as well as private players for collaborative solutions and interventions devised for women farmers.

Digital Green envisioned this event as an ongoing co-learning space that will enable us to hold regular deep dialogues and form an expert group with like-minded organizations. These dialogues will be geared to build a shared vision and strategy for empowerment of women farmers; a space for collaborative learning to use collective power towards making a sincere shift in the lives of the women farmers.


Climate-smart practices become more accessible for farmers through Farmer.CHAT, a Generative AI assistant from Digital Green and Gooey.AI

NEW YORK, NY – Digital Green has announced a new product that aims to enhance the development of farmer-driven content, research outputs, and policy guidance at scale. This service was developed by generative AI startup Gooey.AI and partnerships with the Governments of India and Ethiopia, FAO, Microsoft, and Apurva.ai.

Famer.CHAT is a locally responsive farmer advisory service designed to facilitate real-time communication between governments and farmers on the frontlines of climate change and water security issues. 

By developing content based on call center logs, transcribed training videos and farmer feedback in local languages, this service provides critical two-way exchange that can benefit both parties.

“The best source of information for farmers is other farmers,” said Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green. “Leveraging generative AI technology alongside our years of experience in creating accessible agricultural advisory content for millions of small-scale farmers across India, Ethiopia, Kenya—and beyond—has the potential to be life changing for the productivity of not just millions of farmers, but hundreds of millions.”

Over its 15-year history working with national governments around the world, Digital Green has facilitated access to trusted agricultural advisory services that have benefited over four million farmers worldwide.

“We believe that by empowering farmers with more knowledge about climate-smart practices we can help them increase their incomes while also building resilience to climate change,” added Rikin. “Our mission is not only about providing better access to tailored information for productivity, but also helping people adapt quickly as climate and market conditions change rapidly.”

“AI has the potential to aid the productivity of everyone,” says Gooey.AI Co-founder Dev Aggarwal. “In Farmer.CHAT, we’ve combined technologies like GPT and vector databases from Microsoft Azure OpenAI, speech recognition from Bhashini.in and the ease of use of Google Docs to create a simple WhatsApp conversational bot. Now any government extension agent or farmer can type or talk in their own language and get clear answers with links to relevant Digital Green videos.” 



About Digital Green

Digital Green has institutionalized farmer-to-farmer videos to enhance public extension with Ministries of Agriculture in Ethiopia, India, and Kenya, enabling 54,000 government extension agents facilitate screenings and capturing farmer feedback & data, producing 7,000+ location-specific, videos in 40 languages.

About Gooey.AI 

Gooey.AI works to simplify generative AI for organizations everywhere through its platform of reusable, low-code workflows and strategic consulting. 

Improving Interactive Voice Response Technology for Dairy Farmers

Ethiopia has more than 50,000 trained government development agents deployed to provide improved agricultural advisory services. However, records show that one development agent is responsible for training 300 farmers on average, which makes the advisory services delivery difficult and tiresome.1 Digital Green, therefore, is working to combat such problems by digitizing agricultural extension service deliveries. One of the mechanisms being used to deliver customized improved agricultural advisory services to smallholder farmers is Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. The DAAS project, led by Digital Green and implemented in partnership with other organizations, aims to strengthen the existing digital extension services through the deployment of use cases.  The Dairy Use-case of the DAAS project is being implemented by Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) and utilizes the Agricultural Transformation Institution’s 8028 IVR line to disseminate advisory information. The dairy component of the project focuses on the development and dissemination of advisory content in the areas of artificial insemination (AI), calf & cow management, ration formulation, and climate-smart diary. PAD partnered with 60 Decibels (60dB) in order to understand the uptake, effectiveness, and impact of advisory messages on dairy farming sent via the 8028 IVR call.

The study included interviews with 1,057 dairy farmers in Ethiopia who received advisory messages through the 8028 IVR calls, of which 59% were from the Amhara region. The samples were segmented between primary, secondary, and partial listeners based on their listening rate of the 5 advisory messages delivered through the IVR. Of the interviewed farmers, 41% reported that their quality of life has very much improved due to the IVR service they are getting, of which 28% mentioned that their dairy production has increased, and 19% said they have become able to afford household bills. Listeners valued convenience, ease of understanding, and usefulness of the information. 

The dairy farming advisory information is impactful and leads to tangible improvements with close to 8 in 10 listeners reporting some improvement in their quality of life, their way of farming, and cattle management. Top changes included improved cattle care, feed preparation, and feeding. Female primary listeners were less likely to report the depth of impact: the proportion reporting very much improved. Listeners who were able to apply the IVR advisory in full experienced a better impact than partial listeners. The top reasons they did not fully listen to the call were because they were at work, poor network connectivity, and language barriers. Female partial listeners reported lower levels of satisfaction and a high challenge rate compared to complete listeners.

When it comes to gender-disaggregated findings, female listeners expressed lower understanding, application, and uptake of AI services. While all listeners reported advisory information to be useful, fewer female listeners-particularly female primary listeners- reported ease in understanding, application, and uptake of the information shared. 

“Most of the time women don’t have a radio or anything else to learn from. 8028 helps us improve our knowledge and it is easy to use! I think many women can benefit from this because most of the time they are staying at home. This could be a good method of reaching these women.” – said one of the female secondary listeners, aged 45.

About 9 in 10 male farmers applied information, compared to only 7 in 10 female farmers. Similarly, close to 8 in 10 male farmers use AI services for crossbred cattle, compared to only 65% of female listeners. According to the study, levels of decision-making ability vary by sex and listener groups, and sharing information is also likely to be between members of the same sex in a community forum.  Male listeners are more likely to share information through family gatherings than females, while female listeners are more likely to share the information in one-to-one conversations and village-level community groups compared to males. 

The study recommended that there is an opportunity to increase the reach of women farmers and curate messages to improve female involvement through innovative ways of reaching women with messaging, including encouraging speakerphone use to listen with spouses and family members, and ensuring women are sent messages after 5 PM, given that 9 in 10 of them requested this. Similarly, the study recommends trying another way of reaching partial listeners like making callbacks at a more appropriate time that picks up from where the listener left off could increase retention and application. 

The study also indicated that the project could consider providing messaging around joint decision-making to increase female levels of decision-making ability in the household. The IVR messages should reinforce the need for more equitable distribution of dairy activities within households. Besides female reach, the study recommends additional assistance to deepen the impact of the IVR messaging including encouraging and incentivizing women to share messages with other women in their households and community to increase the impact on farmers not just by interacting with them directly, but also through their family members.  Improving women farmers’ access to financial products could increase the adoption of AI to get crossbred cattle and in turn, potentially increase IVR’s effectiveness is also recommended by the study.

Digital Agricultural Advisory Services (DAAS) project is a five-year project aimed at strengthening digital extension channels in Ethiopia. DAAS, implemented in partnership between Digital Green and Precision Agriculture for Development, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the government of Ethiopia uses digital channels to provide advisory support to smallholder farmers through various digital means.


 1 Ethiopia’s 8028 Hotline: Aiding farmers through text and interactive voice messages

Food Security and Sustainability: Investing in human infrastructure for digital transformation at scale

Food Security and Sustainability: Investing in human infrastructure for digital transformation at scale – Research Paper

A Step Forward to Climate Smart Agriculture with the Digital Empowerment of Women Farmers

In India, women farmers are one of the most marginalized groups, having very limited access to resources, advisories, credit, and technology than their male counterparts. There are many government schemes and policies introduced for the advancement of women with the idea to enhance their capacity, crop yields, and income, to lift them out of poverty. In this order, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare has implemented various programmes for farmers, including women in the agriculture sector. The guidelines of Centrally Sponsored Schemes/Missions such as Support to State Extension Programmes for Extension Reforms under the Sub-Mission on  Agricultural Extension (SMAE), and National Food Security Mission, among others, stipulate that States and other Implementing Agencies are required to earmark at least 30% expenditure on women farmers.

The primary objective of  “Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP),” implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development is to empower women in agriculture by making systematic investments to enhance their participation and productivity, as well as create and sustain agriculture-based livelihoods of rural women. Under the Jharkhand State Rural Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), this project has been implemented in such a manner that the skill base of the women in agriculture is enhanced to enable them to pursue their livelihoods in a sustainable basis.

We say that we need to empower a woman, but being a woman; I believe a woman is born empowered, we just need to be aware of it. We have the power in us to make our own decisions and persuade anyone of what we want to do and what we think is good for us, we just need to apply that power at the right time and place.

This awareness is more visible among rural women after the implementation of the ‘Digital Empowerment to Enhance Productivity’ (DEEP) project on the ground and the ownership of a video-based approach by these women. This project aimed at building the technological skills of frontline workers (FLWs) and farmers, especially women-led farmers organizations (FPOs) and small and marginal farmer collectives. In this order, Digital Green has trained frontline agricultural extension workers to reach small and marginal farmers in community-led digital promotion of improved agricultural practices. This project is generously funded by Accenture CSR Pvt. Ltd. and is being implemented in collaboration with MKSP-JSLPS. The project incorporates Digital Green’s highly acclaimed video-based approach (VBA). VBA involves the development of appropriate content based on formative research, producing short videos to demonstrate the application of new methods, and disseminating the videos to farmers. These video advisories have enhanced the digital literacy of rural women and the PoPs provided to them as an advisory for best practices of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and women collectives to enhance their awareness and knowledge, making their work easier and more effective than earlier. Below are some of the impact stories shared by the women:

  1. A woman farmer named Navanti Birua in Jharkhand has taken the initiative to make her own decisions even after being refused many times by her family. In a refresher and planning meeting at Tantnagar block of West Singhbhum district with all the block officials, cadres, and farmers, she happily shared her experience and said that: “I have learned from the video advisory on potato crop and tried it on a small scale to see the difference from traditional farming and I am surprised to see that my potato crop is healthy and grows very fast, where in just a week time the growth is parallel to one-month crop with traditional farming. The yield is also higher which I can compare to the production cost. On my main crop field, I have not treated the seeds and used chemical fertilizers and pesticides for better growth and yield but in my small bari I have sown treated seeds and also used the organic method, which has given me such a great result. Now, my husband and all family members are supporting me so, from next season I will adopt this technique on my whole potato farm field, and I want to give a message to all farmers that this video advisory is very helpful and if it is benefitting me then it will benefit you also.”
  2. Similarly, a woman frontline worker named Gudiya, from Chitarpur block in Ramgarh district, who is the Aajeevika Krishak Sakhi (AKS) in Murubanda village is sharing knowledge on agricultural activities with farmers through videos. She spoke in a cadres meeting that this new digital technology has made her work easier. More farmers are now understanding, believing in the video advisories, and adopting them, which before was difficult by giving verbal training at community meetings, and also there was the extra effort of needing to explain all the advisories in practical terms. Now, farmers are also demanding other farming videos to be shown in the meeting as they found these videos interesting and relevant to their work. As a result, Gudiya is disseminating these videos in more community meetings and gatherings, and gaining respect among community members.
  3. A farmer named Kiran Devi in Kurhagarha village, Katkamsandi block from Hazaribagh district has adopted Natural Pest Management (NPM) practices for potato crop cultivation. She is happy to see the results and shared that her potato plants are grown thicker than earlier and growth is also fast. She also noticed that by using regular and systematic techniques, as per the video advisory, there was no pest attack on her crop. When she decided to adopt the practice, her family members agreed with her but some people in the village were making fun of her that her crop would be at risk and saying; Why are you trying these new things? You will bear loss this season because you are not using traditional methods, which we have been doing for years. But she replied that “whatever happens, will happen with my crop and I would be responsible for it and if there is any loss, it would be my loss. So I will take risks and try this new method because I believe in it.” But after the positive results, everyone was surprised and told her that they will also adopt this method and that if their family refused, they will point to her as an example.
  4. AKMs from Bishungarh block in Hazaribagh district took ownership of the VBA in their work after being trained on video dissemination as master trainers, and they shared the learnings among all the AKS in the block-level video dissemination training. They shared their experience in a community meeting and said that this approach has made their work easier and more effective. Rita Devi from Bedahariyara said: “From the time I started disseminating farming videos in our village, I have seen an increase in the number of farmers attending meetings and adopting these new techniques. This also helped in building trust and respect among farmers for my work and efforts.”  A few AKMs who took training from her also said that: “Earlier we used to explain to the farmers many times and adoption was less because they didn’t find the method authentic and if some of them tried to adopt the NPM practices, we had to make that practical for their understanding. That was increasing our efforts and comparatively less adoption was happening. But now, we are happy that we got this new idea of sharing our knowledge through digital tools. We are happy that we got such impressive tools that made our work so easy and effective.” Some farmers also said that they are now using video advisories in their crop fields and are excited to see the results. They have used NPM practices for seed treatment, irrigation, and disease and pest management. Also, they have used line sowing in cultivating mustard and wheat crops this season and found that the method has increased plant growth and given more yield compared to the traditional method.
  5. Twelve farmers from Piska village, Nagdi block in Ranchi district, adopted the video advisory on Mustard PoP in group farming to increase production. They got 24 kg of black mustard seeds at a 100% subsidized rate under the National Food Security Mission and targeted for more yield than earlier, so after seeds distribution to farmers; the block team and AKS of that village decided to do group farming in a patch of 5.5 acres of land as the plots of those farmers are nearby and chose to adopt the CSA video advisories for mustard farming. They found it easier to do all the farming-related activities on time and convenient to look after the crop properly. This group farming also gave confidence to farmers to bear the minimum loss and do their work effectively with the help of each other, see the difference from traditional farming methods, and the impact of these advisories on the ground. They did all the practices starting from a seed treatment with Beejamrit, land preparation, line sowing, weeding, disease, and pest management using natural fertilizers and pesticides, and timely irrigation from Jeevamrit until harvesting, as had been shown in the video. It has demonstrated better results compared to the traditional farming method as farmers and the block team observed 55 kg yield per kg of seeds i.e.; 5kg (10%) more yield with this PoP, which was earlier 50kg yield per kg of seeds with traditional practices for black mustard. Because the crop growth was faster and not infected with any disease or pest, farmers are now delighted with the high yield and healthy crop, and they decided to adopt the same technique in their individual farm fields. Similarly, a few of them cultivated yellow mustard in their individual farm fields and observed 20% more yield i.e 60 kg yield per kg seeds, which was earlier 50 kg per kg of seeds.
  6. Farmers from Balumath block in Latehar district shared that they are now easily adopting NPM practices with the help of video advisories disseminated in their community meetings and facilitated effectively by AKSs. As the NPM practices have been promoted for years by the government, AKSs used to share the knowledge with farmers in their respective villages but every time a farmer decided to adopt this, AKSs had to prepare those organic manures and pesticides for them to understand the full method. But after the video advisories were implemented, most of the farmers adopted these NPM practices just after watching the videos and when additional support is needed in preparing these, they just watch the videos again on their smartphones and do it. Only those farmers who don’t have access to smartphones are seeking help from AKSs and other neighbour farmers who have adopted this earlier.
  7. Laxmi Kumari, an AKS from Lupung village in Katkamsandi block of Hazaribagh district is using Pico and WhatsApp groups for sharing and disseminating video-based crop advisories in her village-level community meetings. She shared that after using these digital tools for video advisories the adoption has increased among farmers: “As the advisory is localized and time specific, farmers found it authentic and easy to understand and this has built a self-confidence in me to do my work more efficiently.” Where before she was approaching farmers individually to give crop advisory and adoption by them, and now farmers are calling her to visit their crop fields and see the benefits of adoption. 
    She is delighted that now there is no need of visiting the farmers many times for a single advisory, as they can go through the videos shared on WhatsApp and can clear their doubts, only minimal telephonic support and observation are needed. There is also an increase in farmers attending community meetings to see videos and farmers have taken initiative to share the advisories with each other as they are experiencing fruitful results.
  8. Rural community members and farmers from 3 different districts in Jharkhand (West Singhbhum, Gumla, and Simdega) have been trained in video production modules and become Video Resource Persons (VRPs) who are producing community videos on improved agricultural practices. These VRP team members also shared that they are happy and excited to produce videos, which would further be used in community training. They are proud that they would be contributing to the knowledge transfer of best practices to the farmers for better yield and income, which they will be documenting. This new work is encouraging and exciting for them, where they could not even come out of their home for work, now they are traveling to different villages for shooting, meet with new people and even convincing them to provide their time and work as actors in the videos. They are now confident about continuing with their work and producing videos on Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and Sustainable Agriculture (SA) practices.

It was great to see the way they happily shared their stories, which led me to visit their farm fields and observe community video disseminations to observe the facilitation of AKSs and adoption results by the farmers. These stories of empowered women are inspiring and encouraging regarding the impact of the digital revolution and the adoption of CSA practices among rural women. The changes have made them confident in making their own decisions and living life with their own identity and respect.