Gender Integration in Digital Green’s Work

Agriculture is a family business in Ethiopia, as it is in most countries. Women farmers conduct up to 75% of farm work, accounting for 70% of family food production in Ethiopia. However, women produce up to 35% less than male farmers because they have less access to extension services and inputs such as seeds and fertilizer.[1] This is because agricultural extension services have traditionally been geared toward males and development groups (25-35 farmers organized by the government in their neighborhoods for extension and agricultural development services) are made up of “heads of family,” who are predominantly men. In order to address this, the Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia, in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations, is aiming to close the gender gap in agricultural extension services. As part of this endeavor, Digital Green is developing women-only development groups to boost women’s access to agricultural extension services. Furthermore, Digital Green’s video extension approach aims to close the gender gap in farm labor and decision-making by better understanding gender roles in farm labor and decision-making and ensuring that the structure, design, and delivery of video extension services meet the needs of both men and women.

To better integrate the gender dynamics in the project districts and better incorporate them in the video extension approach, Digital Green is collaborating with Tanager[2] through the IGNITE[3] project, a collaboration of Tanager, Laterite and 60 Decibels.  IGNITE supports Digital Green’s effort in increasing women’s access to agriculture extension services and gender integration across project activities.

A qualitative research conducted by Laterite as part of research initiatives of IGNITE titled “Exploring Intra-Household Decision-Making and Best Practice Adoption Outcomes of Women-Targeted Digital Extension”[4] shows that women and men have distinct gender roles in wheat farming. Traditionally, men lead on several farming activities like land preparation and sowing, but women and children provide essential support for these activities, while women also lead on others. Men tend to dominate land preparation, sowing, purchasing inputs such as fertilizer or herbicide, and selling the crop. Men are also heavily involved in harvesting and threshing (with support from women and children) and contribute to weeding. Men are rarely involved in support activities like fetching water or preparing food.

Women play a supporting role in almost all farming activities and take the lead in some. Crucial supporting roles, like fetching water for chemicals and fertilizer, monitoring leaves for rust, clearing land of debris, availing fertilizer, and preparing food for all laborers are led by women. Women also take lead on post-harvest storage of wheat. Together with men and children, women harvest and weed as well, and prepare the threshing floor.

Figure 1:  division of farm labor[5]

Despite their distinct farm labor role, nearly all participants agree that land belongs to the household as a whole and is not owned by any individual. There are also women who owned wheat plots independently, such as households headed by single mothers or widows.

Besides gender mainstreaming, Digital Green is also focusing on women-specific activities, such as establishing Self Help Groups (SHGs) and repurposing a women’s development army organized by the government to tackle different health issues. According to the gender analysis conducted for the Digital Agriculture Advisory Service (DAAS) study, although women make up a large portion of the agricultural labor force, their contribution is underestimated[6], and as a result, they do not receive the necessary agricultural extension services. Moreover, their decision-making ability in the household and on the farm is limited by stereotypical social norms. To address these issues, Digital Green has formed 4900 Women Development Groups, totaling 120,714 members, and thus far has reached 94,037 of them through video-based extension services.

Digital Green is also challenging the stereotyped gender norms through the videos used for advisory services recognizing women’s roles in agriculture and promoting shared decision-making. Whenever it is feasible, we cast female farmers as role models in the videos. Moreover, Digital Green also produces women-specific videos that focus on the activities women play on the farm predominantly. The result of the qualitative study shows that Women farmers appreciated the presence of women in the video and see them as role models to follow. They also spent more time than men praising the video sessions, mentioning that they are relevant, and timely and giving them great motivation to improve as farmers.

Furthermore, Digital Green has formed SHGs, voluntary organizations of 20-25 individuals homogeneous in terms of socioeconomic background and gender, who get together to solve shared problems and enhance their level of living. SHG involvement is significant because it contributes to women’s economic, social, and political empowerment through increases in income, savings, and/or loan repayments, and skills after women are exposed to group support and accrue social capital through frequent meetings. Accordingly, under the DAAS project, Digital Green has formed 66 SHGs with a total of 1650 members providing technical and financial support to the group members. Digital Green also provides training on the SHG approach for Woreda staff from the Women and children affairs office, Agriculture Office, and Micro and Small Enterprise Office. The training helped the trained staff to provide the necessary support and follow-ups for the SHGs. “The SHGs approach is increasingly recognized as a community development strategy to fight poverty, promote grassroots democracy and build social capital. The approach was introduced to Ethiopia from India in 2002 and has enabled numerous low-income women to pull themselves out of poverty, exercise local governance and revitalize social solidarity.”[7]

The DAAS project is generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.







[1] USAID, Empowering Women Through Agricultural Development in Ethiopia, 2017

[2]  Tanager is an international non-profit organization established in 1993 and an affiliate of ACDI/VOCA.

[3] Impacting Gender and Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange for Agriculture (IGNITE) program, is a five-year investment in a technical assistance mechanism to support African institutions to integrate gender and nutrition into their agriculture interventions and way of doing business. IGNITE is implemented by Tanager, Laterite and 60 Decibels.

[4] Exploring Intra-Household Decision-Making and Best Practice Adoption Outcomes of Women-Targeted Digital Extension

[5] Note: the roles displayed are community normative roles for women and men, as expressed by the farmer in the focus group discussions. However these differ on an individual household basis, especially differ for female-headed households.

[6] The role of women in the agricultural economy in Ethiopia: the case of Aira woreda in western Wollega zone, Oromiya regional state, Moa Alemayehu, International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology Research, 2019

[7] Yntiso, Gebre. “The Self-Help Groups Approach in Ethiopia: Promising Achievements and Formidable Challenges.” Journal of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 48, 2015, pp. 33–60. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Aug. 2022.

“ I have witnessed the social change the video extension has brought to farmers” a reflection from a Model Master Trainer

In Ethiopia, Digital Green is training staff from the government agriculture office in video production and video dissemination. The training is delivered by Digital Green team. However, eight selected agricultural professionals in Amhara Region were trained as trainer-of-trainers (ToT) to make the training more sustainable and institutionalized with the government’s structures. These eight selected staff are also working as assistant master trainers during video dissemination training in their respective sites.   

Bogale Luel is one of these master trainers. He was born and raised in Gishe Rabel, North Shewa Zone. He is currently working as an Extension Communication Specialist at the North Shewa Zone Agriculture Office. In addition to his government work in this office, he is also responsible for overseeing the overall work in the districts where Digital Green operates and working as focal person. Bogale has received a full master trainer training at the regional level and he has been working as Digital Green’s  focal point since 2011. Bogale began attending dissemination and production training since he was an extension officer at the Bureau of Agriculture.

Tesfu Altaseb, Digital Green field coordinator in Amhara region, says, “From those ToT participants who became master trainers, Bogale Lule is the model. Whenever Digital Green invites him to provide video dissemination training, he is eager and ready to provide  it. He provided seven video dissemination trainings for Woreda Agriculture staff with little assistance from Digital Green to date. The feedback in every session helped him to build his skills and knowledge as a master trainer. He has now become a qualified coach which he feels confident about.  In all the Woredas where he participated as a trainer, the feedback from the trainees is always praising him for his training techniques as suitable and easy to understand.”

Speaking of the training he is providing, Bogale said, “What makes me more interested in video production and dissemination training is the fact that I have witnessed the social change it has brought to farmers. I believe that video dissemination will be expanded in all regions and woredas and if it is implemented for the benefit of all farmers, it will increase production and productivity.” Currently, Bogale is providing independent video dissemination training for participants. Tesfu said, “Although there are many trainers in the Amhara region, he has excelled and has become a coach who is known for his bravery. As such, he is a model trainer who has been instrumental in helping Digital Green effectively implement training plans in a timely manner.”


Delivering customized and climate smart dairy cattle advisory services in Ethiopia

This blog outlines the Digital Agriculture Advisory Services (DAAS) project’s approach to climate smart livestock advisories. The project is implemented by Digital Green, Precision Development, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia’s Ministry or Agriculture and Agricultural Transformation Agency, and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Tsegaye Ayana, pictured on the left with her dairy cows, lives in the Amhara region of Ethiopia with her husband and seven children. In addition to her cows, Tsegaye also raises oxen and sheep and farms maize. She credits extension services with teaching her how to better care for her animals, and notes that “I learned how to feed dairy cows to increase their milk production. My family works hard and we are able to earn more income from dairy activities. There are customers who buy milk from us and with this, I earn a 6,500 ETB per month income.”

Tsegaye is one of many small-scale producers turning toward livestock as a growing source of income. In Ethiopia the population of cattle, the most popular type of livestock, increased by ~50% from 2004 – 2015 and the total number of livestock owning households increased by over 5 million during that same period. As an important source of income, nutrition, and household resilience, livestock ownership is expected to continue growing as small-scale producers aim to diversify their incomes in response to a changing climate which increasingly affects their ability to rely on annual crop productionThese trends represent significant economic opportunities for farmers and show that livestock production should be a priority investment area for governments, non-governmental organizations, and agribusiness actors; however, there is another important aspect to consider – emissions. Globally, livestock production contributes an estimated 14.5% of total GHG emissions, primarily through methane emissions accounting for an equivalent of 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2-eq per annum. In Sub-Saharan Africa, on a per unit basis, milk production is a high contributor to GHG emissions primarily due to enteric fermentation and lack of manure management.

Simple solutions come with complex implementation challenges

There are many practices which can reduce emissions and improve productivity in small-scale livestock production systems. Improving general calf and cow health, enhancing genetic stock through artificial insemination, and providing more digestible fodder all contribute to reduced emissions. Some climate-smart practices can also greatly improve livestock productivity, which is an immediate co-benefit seen by the farmers themselves. Additionally,  in accordance with the DAAS project’s climate and nature strategy, we also consider the natural resource conservation or nature improvement value of the practices promoted. Within the DAAS project we have focused our dairy value chain efforts on some of the most impactful dairy husbandry practices, found within the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture’s package of practices, for reducing GHG emissions which also offer clear and immediate co-benefits to the farmer. Additionally, some of the practices promoted lead to clear natural resource conservation outcomes. The table below outlines the key dairy husbandry practices promoted within the DAAS project, the mitigation pathway and/or nature positive value, and the co-benefits seen by the farmers.

Although we know the practices in the table above are effective, there are complex implementation challenges which must be addressed in order to effectively promote them. The predominant environment where most small-scale livestock production happens is highly variable. In Ethiopia, despite the large  number of government Development Agents delivering crop and livestock training services, the reality is that localized conditions, variability in access to goods and services, and language and structural barriers to information dissemination and uptake make the delivery of these solutions difficult. There is a need to develop information pathways which complement the ability of the extension system to provide more tailored advisory services at a larger scale while capturing data on uptake and results of those interventions.*Hypothesis within the DAAS project

Utilizing technology to customize solutions and overcome barriers

We believe that digital solutions can help overcome implementation and dissemination challenges. Within the DAAS project we are working closely with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Transformation Agency to build digital solutions which enhance the ability of the extension system to deliver customized advisory services to small-scale producers. Depending on the value chain or solution being developed, the level of customization can vary from simply ensuring that a recorded phone message is delivered in the right language for a geographic area, to precisely calculating the fertilizer needs for wheat production at the village level. Any level of customization depends on the successful utilization of data and dissemination of information; we are addressing these requirements by developing FarmStack, an open source protocol which facilitates the secure exchange of data to inform advisories, and strengthening digital dissemination channels, such as the ATA’s 8028 IVR push line, to complement the existing government extension package. We are also building a farmer registry and work management application which will be deployed at the Development Agent level via tablets. In short, we are bringing together disparate data sets and filling the existing gaps in those data sets to develop more informed advisory content and then delivering that content via digital channels.

Delivering customized, climate smart advisories to millions of farmers

Within the livestock sector, we’re piloting a number of customized advisories based on the practices outlined in the table above. One key channel is a government managed phone information service (called 8028) which farmers can call from any phone in Ethiopia. Through the 8028 service we’ve been able to reach a significant number of small-scale livestock producers with a variety of content and we are continuing to pilot new use cases through these channels. As shown in the chart below, there is relatively high demand for dairy and beef cattle content from farmers using the 8028 hotline. We are also using this service to “push” advisories directly to farmers via recorded voice messages, which allows for a much higher degree of customization by targeting specific farmers based on predefined criteria such as location, type of livestock, or availability of services in their area.

Number of users accessing livestock content via the Government of Ethiopia’s 8028 service from July – September 2021

The push call advisory interventions are tailored to the individual farmer’s language and location and focus on the following:

  1. Artificial insemination: This is targeted at AI technicians and dairy farmers in their area in order to: (i) Improve AI technicians efficiency through reminders of the key steps of AI service provision; (ii) increase farmers demand for AI services; and (iii) inform farmers how to identify when the proper time is for AI services (i.e. heat identification);
  2. Calf and cow management: This promotes key practices for improving calf and cow mortality rates during pregnancy and after giving birth; and
  3. Location based content: This use case will utilize location data to tailor general messages about feeding practices which are timed to the seasonal availability of feed stocks and local conditions and can greatly reduce enteric fermentation. For example if a farmer in Oromia has heifers and sells milk then the feed advisory to optimize the health and reduce the emissions from the cows in March may be different than another farmer who is raising steers for plowing in SNNPR.

We are actively developing a methodology for measuring the adoption of practices promoted via the 8028 channel which will support our ability to quantify the economic and climate related impacts of these advisories. Early phone survey data indicates that farmers who use the inbound 8028 line often understand and retain the information they learn, but further studies are needed to definitively determine the adoption outcomes from this service. When the final iteration of the adoption methodology is complete and tested, we will release that and update these materials accordingly.

A pathway to scaling climate smart dairy cattle practices in Ethiopia

The DAAS project’s approach to reaching scale, with a target of 3.5 million farmers across all value chains by 2024, is threefold:

  1. Proof of concept: Develop customized use cases to demonstrate the value of data integration and customization
  2. System strengthening: Improve digital channels and tools, including video enabled extension, IVR technology, and digitizing extension processes
  3. Catalyzing the ecosystem: Build an ecosystem of actors utilizing FarmStack to share and combine data to further developed future advisories

What we aim to achieve here is to demonstrate how data sharing and digital tools can complement and strengthen existing extension systems in a scalable and repeatable way which can grow with the dairy sector. By prioritizing climate-smart advisory content and targeting the dairy value chain we are supporting farmers to increase their incomes while mitigating emissions from increased dairy production in Ethiopia.