Innovator Spotlight: Telenor Mobile Agriculture Redoubles Focus On Female Farmers

December 22, 2017

Above: Habib Saqib presents at the LAUNCH Food Forum. 

Many LAUNCH innovators find and realize new dimensions of their work through the LAUNCH process. For innovators Habib Saqib and Obaid Khan of Telenor Mobile Agriculture, the epiphany was that their organization needed a renewed focus onand engagement withPakistan’s female farmers.

Telenor’s Prosperous Farmer service (known as Khush'haal Zamindar in Urdu) is a voice-based mobile advisory service tailored to the needs of rural farmers in Pakistan. Farmers receive a daily call with information about local weather conditions, livestock advice, and more. They then have the option to dial in to the service for more specific information.

The realization happened during a casual conversation at the LAUNCH Food Forum in March. As he prepared to present his innovation, Habib and Obaid were chatting with Council Member Beth Beck, the open innovation program manager at NASA. Habib says that when they mentioned that 20 percent of Prosperous Farmer users are female, Beth “was totally taken aback.”

“She said, ‘You need to work on this. You need to make sure that you get more than 20 percent female farmers on board, and you need to make sure you have specific content advisories for them,” Habib says. Doubling down on this focus, Beth told Habib, would open doors in the development sector, enabling them to create partnerships that would allow them to expand. Over the course of the Forum, Beth’s advice was echoed by many more LAUNCH network members. Lack of resources for female farmers, Habib says, is not just an issue in Pakistan. “This is a global issue, and there’s a lot of focus in developing countries,” he says. “That’s where we felt like we want to give our initiative more limelight. We want to create more awareness around it.” Although the Prosperous Farmer team had already been thinking about how to engage more with female farmers, the conversations they had at the Forum made them realize that this engagement needed to be a top priority.

The December 2017 launch of Telenor's female-focused advisory service

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 72 percent of women in Pakistan’s labor force are associated with the agriculture sector. Furthermore, more than half of Pakistan’s population lives in rural areas. Female farmers in rural Pakistan are a hugeand largely unrecognizeddemographic. “Female farmers are not just there for supporting their male counterparts,” says Habib.  “The entire [responsibility for] livestock, managing their milk and meat productionthat responsibility lies with the female farmers. Making the food choices within rural households, there’s a lot of responsibility with the female farmers as well.”

And investing in women could pay huge dividends. The FAO reports that if women in developing countries are given equal access to agricultural resources, production on women’s farms could increase by as much as 30 percent. This could ultimately “reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent, or 100 to 150 million people.”

So what does a female-focused agriculture advisory look like? One major difference is the interface. Users of this new advisory will interact with a female voice instead of the male voice used in Prosperous Farmer’s original service offering, which will ultimately allow more women to access the service. The advisories will be sent out in the evening, when women are more likely to have access to the phone. The content is different, too. Because female users are likely to be responsible for choosing what their families eat, the advisories will cover nutrition as well. They’ll focus on nutrition issues common among Pakistani children, like iron and vitamin deficiencies. And there will be special nutrition advisories for users who are expecting or who have young children. “It’s an expansion of the content,” Habib says, “and a remodeling of the user experience as well so the women can find it much easier to use the service.”

The new service launched in December 2017 to praise from government officials and industry stakeholders alike. “It is a positive and encouraging step towards empowering the Pakistani women as it extends the benefits of the industry-leading Mobile Agriculture service Khush’haal Zamindar to women in a more focused way,” says Punjab Minister of Human and Labor Resources Raja Ashfaq Sawar. “We congratulate Telenor Pakistan on the launch of this exclusive, female-friendly service, and also thank them for continuing to supplement the Government’s efforts for a digital and empowered Pakistan.”