How can Nigerian female farmers use VOIP for economic empowerment?
The role of ICTs for poverty reduction and economic empowerment has received substantial attention globally. The consensus is that ICTs of themselves do not reduce poverty, but they can enhance business opportunities for people. However, the low level of ICT infrastructural deployment in rural Nigeria does increase the challenge of ensuring equitable access to ICTs. Mobile telephony infrastructure has been the predominant ICT infrastructure on the Nigerian landscape, may be because they have cheaper and quicker installation costs, and the client subscription process is usually more user-friendly. For example, in December 2009, Nigeria had about 73 million active mobile subscribers1 - for a country with a total population of 155 Million2, this is the fastest growing mobile market in Africa.

However, income distribution and demography of Nigeria shows that women comprise the larger population of rural communities, and they also have less access to means of secure livelihood, including mobile phones.

An earlier GRACE research project (2009) had shown that

  • Mobile phones are expensive to run
  • These phones are also expensive to own
  • Household budgets can be at risk from costs of phone top-ups
  • Face to face communication is preferred
  • Mobile phones provide a cheaper way of communicating with distant relatives than traveling to see them.
  • Mobile phones are increasingly being used to send small amounts of money to friends and relations.

Lessons Learned
1. Women need capacity building in order to make efficient use of VOIP
The attraction of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has been its open source facility and its relevance for typical Nigerian rural communities where there is high illiteracy within a rich oral culture. In addition to these constraints, women also have to face societal barriers that make access to such facilities difficult. While women may have nominal rights to use and own mobile phones and VOIP, they do not always have the capability. For example many women are not literate enough to use the keys on their mobile phones, and this can be a barrier for them to make efficient use of VOIP.
2. Economic empowerment has to be grounded in ongoing business experiences
The microfinance field officers were requested to identify women participants based on the commonest income generating activities of women in our host communities. These women participated in focus group discussions where the specific small scale income generating activities were identified. This led to identification of two agricultural business clusters: soya beans and catfish processing. The women discussed those aspects of their businesses in which they would like to see some change and they were offered capacity building sessions on the use of mobile phones for small businesses. 

The space that was created within Fantsuam for the women to meet and discuss their common issues had three immediate effects

  • This was the first time these women were meeting in a cooperative to realize they were part of a value chain. Two value chains were evident among the women: catfish fish and soya bean processing. Through the Nigerian GRACE project, they were introduced to other members of the value chain: the producers and the retailers. This direct contact with the major players in their value chain was empowering for them as they were able to have direct access to vital business information on costs of supplies, prices and useful business contacts
  • The environment in which they were meeting was the Fantsuam compound where they got exposed to a variety of ICTs and had demonstrations of their relevance to their businesses. This was an empowering environment that also reduced technophobia as the women got to use various devises, especially how they can use the VOIP to make business contacts with members of their value chain, and negotiate prices, make appointments and share information
  • The discussion sessions, focus group discussions, and in-depth interviews were opportunities to tease out how the women perceive their status within their business communities, the challenges and opportunities which access to VOIP creates within their peers, families and business contacts

b) What activities have you done for outside partners that can be linked to your GRACE project?
One of Nigeria’s prestigious ICT events took place on Monday 19th July, 2010, and Kazanka was invited to do a presentation on Gender and ICT. An international consortium consisting of the Digital Bridge Institute, Harvard University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Democratic Institute organized a symposium on “ICT & Civic Engagement in Nigeria: A Focus on the 2011 Elections & Beyond.” This was an opportunity to make the first public presentation of the published GRACE research.

c) What activities have you done that are not directly linked to your GRACE project but that you would like to see featured in the GRACE website?

The VOIP technology is new and not even seasoned techies are familiar with it. Its attraction is that there is a version of it available as a Free and Open Source Software. The typical potential rural user of VOIP has high oral but poor literacy skills. In the course of the GRACE research, we saw a need to provide some basic literacy skills that will empower the potential users to get the most out of VOIP.  In order to also help them get over technophobia, various every-day examples of computers were introduced, the most useful for those engaged in business was the calculator. This photo shows a typical adult literacy class, where use of calculator is taught

This GRACE journey had been punctuated by a series of sectarian crisis in our region. The most horrific was the report of a massacre of over 200 women and children from a whole village. The gender dimensions of these crises was not lost on anybody: that the physical vulnerability of women and children can be so gruesomely exploited in a war whose remote causes can be traced to men’s political ambition that fosters an absence of equitable access to means of livelihood.

One of the consequences of the strife was the cancellation of an IDRC-sponsored capacity building visit by Swedish engineers on the VOIP technology for our organization. We had to look for alternative access to this resource which is required for our GRACE project. The freedom phone v1.5 http://freedomfone.org/page/downloads is a VOIP4D device that would provide affordable access to our rural communities where there is no access or limited access to the internet. We have now downloaded a new version of this freedom phone from the internet for use by our women farmers.

African Women & ICTs (eds Buskens & Webb 2009.  Ch.4, pp 44-55 Kazanka Comfort and John Dada. ISBN 978 1 86888 561 9)

Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and Social Justice. Martha C. Nussbaum. Feminist Economics 9(2-3), 2003, 33-59

Slide Show of work by GRACE in Kafanchan

Location: Kafanchan

Kazanka Comfort
Grace Yakubut
John Dada
Bala Bidi




Grace is an initiative envisioned and funded by
the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), developed by Research For the Future (RFF) and managed by The GRACE Project Voluntary Association
Grace est une initiative initiée et financée parle Centre de recherches pour le développement international (CRDI), développée par Research For the Future,
et gérée par l'Association Volontaire Projet de GRACE .