By Leah Meadows
When Ida was 15 years old, she dropped out of school to work in her parents’ rice field, like many young girls her age. In the relentlessly hot sun, she planted seeds, weeded out tall grasses, and sorted through the rice post-harvest.
Now, more than 20 years later, Ida is the leader of her community’s female farmer group in Karawang District, West Java Province, Indonesia. Through bi-weekly meetings, she distributes information from the government agricultural extension workers to help her female farmer group increase their productivity and knowledge about agriculture. She procures fertilizer and other agricultural inputs from regional suppliers and distributes them to her group members.
None of the female farmers in her group have bank accounts, which is why Ida coordinates their revolving fund – an informal savings mechanism. Ida collects about $10 US Dollars every month from 8 to 15 members, and then returns their year’s worth of savings at strategic times, such as the beginning of the harvest or in preparation for festivities. This revolving fund allows members to safely save money outside their homes.
During rice production, women plant seeds, weed tall grasses, manage pests, use manual tools, and sort the rice post-harvest. Despite their important role in agriculture production, women in Indonesia are systematically excluded from agricultural information. Ida and the female farmer group present the only opportunity for women in her community to access agricultural information.
Formal channels of agriculture communication bypass women because only men who own land are invited to village meetings about agriculture, and often times agricultural extension officers neglect female farmer groups in order to focus their efforts on male farmer groups.
This is why the Agri-Fin Mobile Program -- which works with partners to build sustainable models where farm and crop management tools are bundled in affordable, unified platforms on mobile phones -- is conducting a gender analysis in order to determine the types of agricultural information female farmers need, their access to cell phone technology, and their access to financial services.
This gender analysis highlights the crucial role women play in farming and managing their family’s household expenditures, but their limited information channels. Women want information about pesticides, fertilizer, and seedlings, and they want formal financial services for savings and credit, but their limited access to cell phone technology, infrastructure, and vital social networks is a barrier to reaching their full productivity.
The analysis shows that female farmers like Ida, who own their own land, have more access to information and cell phones than women who are hired to work on others’ land. Hired workers have the least access to agricultural information and cell phones, but have the biggest need for these services and information due to their limited social networks.