Influencing mobile network operators and partners to work for women and sustainable agriculture

Oxfam recently embarked on an innovative partnership in mNutrition, a programme, which aims to use mobile phones to help fight hunger and malnutrition in Asia and Africa. Here Alvaro Valverde and Dennis Aviles from the Economic Justice Team, explain how and why we’re involved.

The use of mobiles is commonly regarded as “neutral” among both Mobile Network Operators and development practitioners. A recent study of the role of mobiles in supporting sustainable agriculture in Africa, concludes that the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) (including mobiles) is “sustainability neutral”. This is because it is equally applicable to the
expansion of conventional, high external input dependent agriculture, or to the development of more sustainable, agro-ecological approaches. Likewise, ICTs could be used either to cement women’s economic marginalisation or to foster their leadership.

However, while ICTs could be called neutral channels, the message they deliver is not so. The fast pace at which mobile services are expanding as a means of conveying information, worldviews and approaches to development, means it’s vital to look at these services more critically and find ways to influence key actors in the field to ensure that mobile services benefit the most vulnerable.

ICTs could be used either to cement women’s economic marginalisation or to foster their leadership.

Nine months ago, the GSM Association (GSMA), in partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development, conceived a Mobile Nutrition (mNutrition) programme to develop and scale-up the delivery of nutrition messages through agriculture and health mobile phone platforms. The aim is to reach 3 million women and children in a total of 14 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and
Asia over the next 3 years. To meet this end, GSMA is relying on a consortium of implementer organisations (CABI, BMJ, GAIN, ILRI and Oxfam GB), acting together as a Global Content Partner, with expertise in different thematic areas and presence in the 14 countries. 

Oxfam will be playing a convening and influencing role in the programme, both at global and national levels. We see the mNutrition programme as a platform for us to influence the 50 different organisations (private enterprises, NGOs, academia, governments and donors) involved in the design and implementation of the content and services. 

Our role involves providing advice in the development of base-line analysis and plans which are gender and sustainable agriculture sensitive; advising monitoring and evaluation partners on the inclusion of indicators that better reflect behavioural change and women’s roles; and working with donors in the refinement of theories of change to consider issues of time poverty. 
Oxfam will also provide in-country support to the design and implementation of the services through public-private partnerships in Malawi, Bangladesh and Rwanda. We aim to: ensure the appropriateness and relevance of the services for female small-holder farmers; gather evidence for national advocacy purposes; and identify synergies with Oxfam’s in country programmes, including feeding back lessons learned for the refinement of the services. 

In Malawi, the mNutrition and We Care programmes will converge to tap the potential of mobile technology to gather data on the use of intra household time with the aim of providing evidence to support global and national advocacy.

It’s vital to look at these services more critically and find ways to influence key actors in the field.The programme has recently started and many challenges lie ahead, two are worth mentioning here. First, sustainable agriculture is not strongly linked to the market and value chains approach as it is the dominant practice of conventional agriculture. We need to build a strong case for linking mobile phone services with national policies to support a more sustainable approach to agriculture. Second, nutrition
programmes have historically focused on the reproductive role of women, and still need to recognise the role and potential of women in non-reproductive age to multiply knowledge and practices that impact nutrition at household and communal levels, and to concede to multiple local realities where nuclear and extended family and community members also act as child carers.

In discussion with other Oxfam colleagues, we are exploring how to better influence our global partners and, in the long term, how to gear the use of mobile phones to support sustainable agricultural practices and women’s leadership.

Author: Alvaro Valverde
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.