How women dairy farmers are taking charge with digital solutions

Launched in 2020, the USAID-funded ‘Digital Inclusion and Empowerment for Women Dairy Farmers in Bangladesh’ project is showing promising signs of improving transparency and increasing women dairy farmers’ access to income and technical assistance.

Although women farmers are engaged in all of the activities related to milk production in rural Bangladesh, they do not receive the money obtained from the sale of milk. This leads to limited access to productive economic resources and also, reduced participation in decision making at the household level. Further, gender dynamics and power relations prevent women from enhancing their knowledge due to limited access to extension services. This contributes to poor farm management and reduced cattle productivity.

Solidaridad’s ‘Digital Inclusion and Empowerment’ project aims to empower women dairy farmers by using digital solutions, to improve financial inclusion and strengthen their capacities on good dairy practices in the- Khulna and Jashore districts of Southwest Bangladesh. 

Through the project, 5,576 women dairy farmers have been registered in the Inclusion Through Integration mobile phone application (i2i app), developed by Solidaridad, which allows farmers and Milk Collection Centres to easily track milk sales and manage payments. And, more than 12,000 women have begun receiving messages and calls through the project’s Interactive Voice Response system, providing access to technical advice on dairy farm management.

Digital payments benefit farmers and Milk Collection Centres

Of the 5,000+ women registered in the app, 769 farmers are also receiving money in their mobile banking and bKash accounts. The 17 participating Milk Collection Centres operators feed the milk sales data into the app, which in turn, sends the information about the amount to be paid to each farmer to the bKash and mobile banking agents. Further, all women farmers also receive details of the quantity and quality of the milk they supply on a daily basis via text messages; these messages are sent through the i2i app. To carry out the digital transactions or receive these messages, the women farmers don’t need to have smart phones; feature phones work sufficiently well – one of the aspects considered by the project during the design of the digital solutions, to make them accessible to more women farmers who do not have access to smartphones. 

The project is witnessing positive changes in the community, as the result of the deployment of digital tools.  A household survey conducted in early 2021 found that 62 percent of the women interviewed demonstrated increased capacity to keep track of milk payment balances by the MCC operators due to the i2i app.

The i2i dashboard makes it simple to track sales and milk data.

In the lives of women who are often juggling numerous other responsibilities, from domestic work and caregiving to other employment or livelihoods, every minute counts. Before the programme, women would often lose valuable time trying to travel and collect money from Milk Collection Centres, which could be busy or unexpectedly without staff. Now, with i2i, women can contact their local bKash agent to collect the money owed to them at their convenience.

Additionally, the previous system meant many women had little choice but to send other family members, often husbands or sons, to collect the money. A frequent consequence was that not all the money made it back to the women. Since using the digital payment system, women are reporting improved access to capital and other resources.

When a woman has access to finance, then she becomes empowered because she can take all decisions about the use of income and fulfill her wishes.

Priyanka Mondal, Dairy Farmer

And, the benefits go both ways. With digital record keeping and payment tracking through the app, Milk Collection Centres have seen improved transparency and reduced document related fraud between operators and farmers. Additionally, Milk Collection Centres are experiencing higher enrolment of non-programme farmers, who are enticed by the ease of sales tracking and payment collection. 

The Digital payment mechanism has increased income of women dairy farmer, which is triggering increase of milk production.

Sumon Mondal, Milk Collection Centre Operator

Technical assistance at her fingertips

In addition to the promising trends in the i2i app usage, the Interactive Voice Response which was recently rolled out has proven a meaningful resource for women dairy farmers, whose markets have stayed active even through the more recent Covid-19 restrictions. As of June 2021, more than 12,000 women had received messages and calls from the Interactive Voice Response system, with just over 2,100 women farmers trained by Community Livestock Service Providers to engage further with the system. Over the coming year, the Interactive Voice Response system will cover different topics based on the demand from the field, seasons, and topics which are high priority for the women farmers. The topics covered to date have included:

  • Breed development and appropriate time of artificial insemination 
  • Signs/symptoms of cows in the oestrous cycle/ heat
  • Vaccines used for cattle in the Bangladeshi context
  • Precautions required to ensure hygienic milking
  • Importance of and appropriate intervals for Anthelmintic drug administration in animals

During field visits, programme managers observed enthusiasm within the community, despite the pandemic situation. While many farmers are facing challenges accessing advisory services due to Covid restrictions, the women farmers of this project are getting advisory support through text and voice messages and importantly, are able to get free, 24/7 support through the IVR hotline number.

High expectations for the months to come

Despite the continued challenges of the Covid pandemic and the more recent urgency of the Delta variant, the project is proving valuable for the farmers. Rural women dairy farmers are catching wind of the programme, and have demonstrated an interest to register themselves in the i2i app, in order to directly receive money in their hands and also avail of digital record keeping. And, Interactive Voice Response is keeping them connected and informed even amidst lockdowns and restrictions. Stay tuned for more project updates in the coming months as the programme expands to reach more women and deepen its impact in rural Bangladesh.