Digital Support for Women Beekeeper Entrepreneurs
May 18 2023
The AID-CSB project, launched in 2021, is an innovative digital initiative in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan led by ICARDA’s MEL team and HiveTracks. It aims to narrow the gender digital divide, support rural women’s livelihoods, and promote biodiversity through beekeeping as an opportunity for income-generating environmentally sustainable activities. The project follows three impact pathways to women’s empowerment: inclusivity an d women-led design, digital access and literacy, and awareness building.
Beekeeping requires substantial knowledge of bee management practices, regular support from local experts, and robust monitoring, documentation, and planning skills. Access to such information can help farmers and their communities become climate-resilient by offering ways to adapt practices to new climatic realities. To support existing women beekeepers to grow in these skills and encourage more women to enter the sector, the AID-CSB project worked with women beekeepers in the first year of the project to develop the HiveTracks application, a smartphone app ‘localized’ to their specific contexts, to support beekeepers’ hive management practices and improve honey production.
Local and women-led knowledge helps develop cutting-edge technology
The HiveTracks app was developed through the participatory engagement of local experts and existing women beekeepers to gather traditional beekeeping knowledge and understand their needs for technical assistance. This gender-responsive innovation was developed by working primarily with women beekeepers and integrating their feedback at early stages, thus avoiding the common men-design bias of the technology industry. It gave women ownership and decision-making power, generating a better solution tailored to improving women’s livelihoods.
The project also equipped women with smartphones on which the app was installed and provided training and ongoing support. Throughout the project, women became more confident around the technology to access resources and opportunities. Women became technology focal points as family members, men beekeepers, field assistants, and local development partners began to see the value and impacts of how women leveraged the technology for better beekeeping management.
Humanity relies on nature’s services, especially pollination. But interconnected challenges such as biodiversity loss, global warming, and agriculture that relies on excessive use of chemicals lead to habitat loss for pollinators, causing a severe decline in honeybee populations. The beekeepers raised the need for more guidance and information to understand how to diagnose and treat bee diseases during the initial interviews, so the team created and tested a ‘symptom checker’ feature that generates a list of symptoms, with descriptive summaries and images, to help themaccurately describe and document the problem, to receive possible diagnoses and practical actions. The HiveTracks app now closely monitors and promotes honeybee health and acts as a proxy information source for other pollinators, critical for sustainable agri-food systems in the face of frequent adverse climatic events.
AID-CSB – a hive of activity
Beginning in the Tashkent and Bukhara regions of Uzbekistan and the Amhara region of Ethiopia, the AID-CSB project extended to three additional regions in 2022. The project also raised awareness of the linkages between beekeeper activities and environmental health and tested new features based on user feedback. Overall, 136 beekeepers directly received app accounts and in-person training within the project, yet over 269 app users now exist in Uzbekistan and Ethiopia, indicating a broader demand and potential.
An improved version of the HiveTracks app was developed in early 2023 and is currently undergoing translation improvements before being shared with users in Uzbekistan and Ethiopia. It aims to address technical challenges, improve user navigation, and implement feedback received over the past two years of the project. In the future, the app can go beyond beekeeper decision-making support to increase opportunities for beekeepers in market access, additional income through biodiversity credits and eco-payments, and access to microloans and financial inclusion.
Women’s vital contribution to technology adoption
By leveraging traditional knowledge and technical assistance, the AID-CSB project is an innovative initiative that shows how inclusivity continues to empower women beekeepers, narrow the gender digital divide, support rural women’s livelihoods, and promote biodiversity. If smallholder farmers and beekeepers are expected to adopt climate-smart technology practices, they should be the first experts consulted. Data collection methods must respect the user’s wide diversity of knowledge and challenges based on location, language, climate, gender, and digital skills. Encouraged through one-on-one dialogue, women’s input was at the center of the project, informing how the app interface, features, and gender-sensitive translations should be designed to better support their livelihoods as beekeepers.
The project’s focus on beekeeping as an opportunity for income-generating activities that are environmentally sustainable is a model for other initiatives seeking to promote sustainable livelihoods and environmental health, while its participatory model is in line with further contemporary research that shows the impact women can make to technology adoption and development.