The Digital Village Initiative (DVI) has been met with great enthusiasm and support from various stakeholders, including government officials and rural smallholder farmers. This emerged from the DVI scoping field assessments that were carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development (MoLAFWRD).
“The purpose of the scoping mission was to assess, characterize, rank, and recommend for possible selection two villages for piloting DVI in Zimbabwe. The process involved stocktaking and needs assessment to identify digital innovation infrastructure, institutional capacity, programs /ongoing activities, key partners, gaps and opportunities, including the identification of low-hanging fruits for piloting in the pre-identified villages, ” said the FAO DVI focal person in Zimbabwe, Innocent Chamisa.
The FAO Digital Village Initiative (DVI) is a community-led approach to rural development guided by principles of inclusion, collaboration, and empowerment. The interventions are co-created at the local levels, guided by the particular needs of rural communities, and designed to enhance capacities and ensure long-term sustainability.
Globally, the Initiative aims at identifying at least 1,000 villages and converting them into digital village hubs in which a variety of ICT-enabled services (farm and non-farm) will be offered. In Africa, the DVI is currently being implemented at pilot stages in Malawi, Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Niger, Liberia and Zimbabwe just joined.
Zimbabwe recently held two scoping missions in two provinces – Masvingo and Mashonaland West Provinces. A total of eight (8) villages were assessed across the two provinces.
Voices of the farmers
Reflecting on the potential benefits of the DVI project, farmers in Zimbabwe highlighted that the project could help farmers to effectively use mobile devices while improving market access, increasing productivity and bridging technology gaps of rural women and young people.
“ICTs have brought a revolution to agriculture. With my mobile phone, I can access weather updates, market prices, and useful tips on farming practices. The DVI project can help me to be more informed and make better decisions,” said Tendai, a young rural farmer from Lincoln Village.
“The DVI project can help us to overcome some of the challenges we face as women farmers, such as limited access to markets and information. With better access to information and market opportunities, we can improve our livelihoods and support our families,” added a woman rural farmer in Chiona Village,
“As women, we often face more barriers to accessing information and resources than men. The DVI project can empower us to overcome some of these barriers by giving us a voice, access to markets, and new opportunities for income generation,” echoed Sophie, a poultry and vegetable farmer in Village 13, Mhondoro-Ngezi District.
Enablers and barriers
During the scoping missions, FAO was joined by personnel from the Agriculture Ministry who emphasized the government’s commitment to the initiative and the importance of digitization of agriculture.
“The Government is fully committed to the success of the DVI project, and among many stakeholders, it will work closely with FAO, farmers, other development partners and the private sector to ensure its success. The Government will provide the necessary policy and regulatory framework to support the initiative and ensure its sustainability,” said Freeman Gutsa, Deputy Director in the Ministry of Agriculture and DVI – Project Country focal person.
The Acting Director of ICT in the Ministry, Thomas Nyikayaramba, added that the initiative was in line with the Government’s AgriTech Strategy and would complement government efforts in the digitization of agriculture to improve access to information, financing, and agricultural inputs for farmers, as well as streamline market linkages and supply chain management.
“Currently, the Ministry is implementing policies and strategies that encourage the adoption of new technologies amongst the smallholder farmers, women and youth through the Zimbabwe AgriTech strategy 2021-2025,” stated Nyikayaramba.
Additionally, the government, through the Ministry of Lands, is promoting the development of digital platforms such as the e-voucher system, which provides farmers with electronic vouchers for inputs such as seed and fertilizer. The Agriculture Management Information System (AMIS), provides real-time information on weather, market prices, and crop yields. And the soon to be launched Zimbabwe Inputs Distribution Mobile Platform for farmer registration.
“Moving forward, the Ministry will continue to prioritize the development of digital agricultural solutions and policies as a means of promoting inclusive, sustainable, and resilient agriculture in Zimbabwe. The DVI will ride on all these programmes and initiatives meant to transform the sector depending on the local needs sustainably,” added Nyikayaramba.
Across the eight selected villages, mobile phone ownership among rural smallholder farmers was incredible, “what is needed is a mindset shift, helping the smallholder farmers to appreciate that, through mobile phones and other digital tools, they can have at their fingertips real-time data on soil, climate, irrigation, pests and diseases, and market prices,” said Chamisa.
The villagers also highlighted that while smartphone ownership was high, there were a number of challenges that were preventing them to use mobile devices effectively.
“Although ICTs are useful, they require electricity and network coverage, which are still a challenge in many rural areas. Also, some farmers lack the skills or literacy to use them effectively. So, there is still a need for training and support to bridge the digital divide,” said Chipo, a vegetable farmer in Village 13, Mhondoro-Ngezi district.
FAO is calling for partnerships to support the implementation of the Digital Village Initiative in Zimbabwe.
Highlighting the potential of the initiative to transform the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe and improve food security, the FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa and Representative in Zimbabwe, Patrice Talla, emphasized the importance of partnerships between the government, private sector, and development partners to ensure the success of the initiative.
“By working together, FAO and its partners can create sustainable and resilient farming communities in Zimbabwe. FAO is committed to leveraging the potential of digital technologies to achieve the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind,” asserted Talla.
Article from FAO website