Cultivating Change: Increasing Women’s Access to Off-Grid Productive Use of Energy for Agriculture

Female farmer in eastern Tanzania
Female farmer in eastern Tanzania. Photo Credit: Gisela Ngoo
Three Tanzanian women walking on a farm.
Power Africa contracted the consultancy E Co. to investigate female farmers’ understanding and opinion of PUE and its effect on women’s lives. Photo Credit: Gisela Ngoo

Enhancing Women’s Agricultural Productivity

In Tanzania, three-quarters of the population is involved in agriculture, and more than 80 percent of economically active women work in the agricultural sector. Female farmers are consistently perceived to be less productive than male farmers because of inequality in accessing technology, land, labor, agricultural inputs (e.g., fertilizer and improved seeds), and information.

A female Tanzanian farm standing with her crop.
In Tanzania, three-quarters of the population is involved in agriculture, and more than 80 percent of economically active women work in the agricultural sector. Photo Credit: Gisela Ngoo

Understanding Female Farmers’ Energy Needs and Preferences

Simusolar’s customers fish, farm, and run agribusinesses in off-grid areas of East Africa. Active in Uganda and Tanzania, Simusolar supplies farmers and off-grid businesses with appliances such as solar water pumps and solar fishing lights via lease-to-own financing plans. According to the findings of the market assessment informing Simusolar’s gender strategy, more than 63 percent of Simusolar’s customers were below the Tanzanian poverty line at the time of purchase, and 78 percent of its customers said it was the first product they had bought on credit. Simusolar’s customer financing model makes PUE systems more accessible. With a predominantly male customer base (in 2021, just 17 percent of its customers were women), Simusolar wants to offer its products and financing model to a wider customer base and bring the benefits of PUE to women in particular. To do so, the company needs a deeper understanding of female farmers and entrepreneurs.

Women’s and men’s roles in agricultural value chains, according to 32 respondents.
Women’s and men’s roles in agricultural value chains, according to 32 respondents.

Translating Data Into Action: The Gender Strategy

A customer journey map is one tool that can help to develop a gender strategy. It illustrates how customers feel at different stages of purchasing a product. A company should prototype its gender strategy by involving staff to build, test, and rework its policies and practices to be more gender inclusive. In Simusolar’s case, the company developed female customer “personas” to guide the marketing team in understanding the perspectives of customers like Joyce and to design products and services to meet their needs (such as advising customers on financing plans that match their income patterns).

  • Customize the company’s marketing and sales strategies to appeal to a wider female customer base. Simusolar can enhance its sales strategy by building the capacity of the sales team to engage a larger segment of female farmers and also counsel couples on the benefits of joint household decision-making, which can empower women economically.
  • Pilot new approaches to consumer financing. Simusolar can accept lower down payments or allow two down-payment installments, enabling farmers — and especially female farmers who often cultivate less profitable crops, according to Simusolar’s market research — to save incrementally to pay the amount due. The company could also expand partnerships with savings groups and formal financial institutions to offer loans for PUE.
  • Collect sex-disaggregated data and analyze sex-disaggregated feedback from customers on product use and satisfaction. The company can use these data to improve female farmers’ confidence in using and maintaining technology by offering hands-on training, visual aids, customer care contacts, and peer support.
  • Analyze female-dominated agricultural activities to identify new opportunities to serve women. Determine women’s share of the labor burden in specific agricultural activities and map their needs in each stage of the value chain. The company should introduce a gradation model for asset ownership so that female customers can purchase larger systems.
  • Formalize new partnerships with organizations that work with female famers. Simusolar can partner with agricultural organizations to broaden its customer base.
  • Adopt a policy on diversity and inclusion. Simusolar should set targets to increase its share of female sales officers and raise awareness within the company about its commitment to gender equality. The company should translate its inclusive ethos into corporate procedures.

Applying Lessons for the Off-grid Solar Sector

Simusolar’s six-month journey to understand female customers’ PUE demand yielded the following lessons:

  • Management’s willingness to change company policy and practice is a prerequisite to closing gender gaps in a particular market and within the company.
  • Being intentional about delivering PUE technologies and services to female customers, including identifying where gender gaps exist, takes commitment (and time) of staff at all levels.
  • The returns on gender equality are long term; prioritization is essential, lest the urgent overtake the important.
  • Companies should seek feedback from customers when designing and testing new products and policies.
  • Companies can consider using contracting experts to help them understand the economic and societal norms of their markets.

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Power Africa

Power Africa

A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ