Paula Mutesi is a Food Entrepreneurship Fellow working to enhance access to digital technologies among Rwanda’s farmers. In this eye-opening interview, she shares her leadership journey, and why she believes that digital literacy is the key to food systems transformation.
Who is Paula, the food systems leader?
Paula is a lady, a scholar and an enthusiast highly involved in the Rwanda food system. I am a big supporter of farmers. I am working with them to unlock new possibilities and opportunities for digital technology.
You are a digital literacy lead at One Acre Fund. What are you currently working on?
All One Acre Fund program activities have been or are being digitized. Over the past few months, I have been exploring how the use of digital technologies, including tools like the mobile phones can be used to serve farmers and increase our impact. At the same time, I am figuring out how to use these technologies to make farmers' lives easy & convenient.
What does the current digital landscape look like for Rwandan farmers?
Farming in Rwanda is still largely subsistence-based, and there are high illiteracy levels amongst farmers. Farmers therefore rely on One Acre Fund field officers to enroll them onto our program where they can access agriculture inputs, planting advice, and credit repayments. There are never enough field officers to work with the farmers efficiently to improve digital literacy - One Acre Fund has a ratio of one field officer to 400-500 farmers.
This means that the level of engagement or contact time is low and may not result in desired positive changes. I am therefore working to raise greater critical awareness of the problematic nature of low digital literacies. The aim is to get enough support to exert a deeper level of commitment and produce more digitally skilled farmers.
Africa is rapidly digitizing with a thriving tech scene. What are the most exciting innovations for farmers and food systems leaders in the market today?
Mobile phone penetration, the rise of mobile money, and USSD applications to access local and international markets are some of the exciting innovations that could fundamentally rewrite the way our food systems work.
What are the biggest challenges holding farmers back from embracing tech?
Many farmers do not have access to affordable phones, or they don't know how to use them. Those with phones need to be taught how to move beyond basic skills and deepen their user experience.
In addition, cultural norms inhibit women from learning digital skills from friends and family or a male mobile agent thus widening the gender gap.
Looking back at your journey, what would you do differently?
I would pay more attention to food and treat it well and not waste it. The truth is, food and our relationship to it is one of the most vitally important factors in our world today. It shapes our health, our economy, and affects the world we live in. It is the great unifier of all systems, a factor which brings people together in ways that most other elements cannot.
You have been a Fellow at the African Food Fellowship for four months now. Why should other young female food systems leaders apply to join the programme?
The Fellowship is an unprecedented opportunity for young people to take an active role in shaping the future. It will open their eyes to possibilities, and allow them opportunities to network and collaborate.
Yes, we have inherited enormous global challenges, but we have the ability to confront the status quo and offer youth-led solutions for change. I encourage them to be a part of the solution building, policy-making and lasting change that come with being a part of the African Food Fellowship.