INTERVIEW: FAO says digital transformation to accelerate women, youth business opportunities in Zim

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is seeking to assist Zimbabwe to build digital economies in rural areas and help marginalised citizens access services, innovations and opportunities. Review & Mail’s Tichaona Zindoga [TZ] sat down with FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa Patrice Talla [PT] to discuss this development. Below are the excerpts…

TZ: What is the full concept of the project; its aims and objectives?

PT: Launched in 2021,  FAO launched the 1,000 Digital Village Initiative (DVI) to promote digital innovations, support inclusive gender-sensitive rural development and sustainable agrifood systems transformation in support of Agenda 2030. The Initiative aims at identifying globally 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.

A digital village is a concept to promote digital innovations to rural communities enabling economic livelihoods, individual wellbeing, and social cohesion. FAO DVI follows a country-led, user-centered, holistic digital ecosystem approach for digital village development, allowing the local context to dictate the modalities pursued.

TZ: When is it likely to start in Zimbabwe?

PT: In Zimbabwe, The Ministry of Lands Agriculture Fisheries Water and Rural Development expressed interest to participate in the FAO-Digital villages Initiative and a technical cooperation project was developed and approved for implementation in January 2023.

TZ: How many beneficiaries will it make?

PT: The project is at the initial stages of implementation. The Ministry of Lands Agriculture Fisheries Water and Rural Development, with the support from FAO successfully carried out a scoping mission in Masvingo and Mashonaland West.

The results of the scoping assessment will lead to the final selection of villages where initial DVI activities will be implemented at the pilot phase. A village from each of the two Provinces will be selected for the pilot phase. The project is currently piloting in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Lands Agriculture Fisheries Water and Rural Development, with the support from FAO are carrying out scoping missions in Masvingo and Mashonaland West.  The results of the scoping assessment will lead to the final selection of villages (Provinces) where the initial DVI activities will be implemented at the pilot phase.

TZ: What have you done so far during the scoping process?

PT: MLAWFRD with the support from FAO, visited the pre-selected villages in Masvingo and Mashonaland Province, for assessment/ characterization, prioritization, and recommending for selection possible villages for piloting DVI  The villages visited were as follows: Masvingo Province: Chiona Village,  Bikita District, Masekesa village, Chiredzi District, Magwenzi village, Chivi District; Mash West Province Lincoln village, Windmill village  and  Village 13, Mhondoro-Ngezi District, Chimusimbe village, Hurungwe District and Musambakaruma village in Kariba District. MLAWFRD with the support from FAO conducted a stocktaking and needs assessment to identify digital innovation infrastructure, institutional capacity, programmes /ongoing activities, key partners, gaps and opportunities, including the identification of low-hanging fruits for piloting in the pre-identified villages.  

(The Ministry) with the support from FAO Conducted consultative meetings from the Provincial leadership level, District leadership level, Local mobile and internet service providers, and the grassroots where we engaged the smallholder farmers (women and youth included) in their respective villages. This was done through focus group discussions, Key informant interviews/ discussions; observations, and transect walk.  

TZ: Are there any major findings or observations that confirm the need for the project?

PT: Across the eight villages which were assessed,  it is clear that digital transformation opens an important opportunity for accelerating women and youth business opportunities across agrifood systems, to take concrete steps to ending hunger and poverty. Young people are best placed to acquire the knowledge needed to uptake new technologies, make agricultural value chains more tech-savvy, and spearhead digital transformation in rural areas.

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