Smartphone training for Ethiopian Beekeepers

Published on: October 12, 2021, Submitted by Laura Becker on: October 12, 2021

In collaboration with ICARDA’s MEL team, icipe, and HiveTracks, smartphone training was given to beekeepers participating in the AI-Driven Climate Smart Beekeeping (AID-CSB) for Women project in Ethiopia. This training focused on building capacity and confidence in technological skills, which the beekeepers will soon use to pilot a hive management app to increase their climate resilience. The training included demonstrations and peer-to-peer learning activities on essential smartphone functions and additional skills needed to use the Beekeeper’s Companion App.

The “digital divide” refers to the gap between those who have access and can use technology and those who don’t. This gap is particularly wide for women in rural Ethiopia, who are limited by lack of internet access, traditional gender barriers, and socioeconomic status. In a survey conducted with our 15 project beekeepers in the Amhara region, four women had never used a smartphone, and only two women felt 100% confident using a smartphone. This digital divide limits their opportunities and potential, thus hindering their access to knowledge, markets, and resources such as the Beekeeper’s Companion App. This digital divide also reflects the dearth of digital tools designed for women, considering their feedback and needs. To challenge this gap, the AID-CSB project is working together with women beekeepers to co-design the Beekeeper’s Companion App — a smartphone app that supports hive management and enables new data collection on honeybee health. In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, the AID-CSB project is working with 15 beekeepers (12 women and 3 men) across three sites.

To determine whether the project beekeepers were familiar with smartphones and the skills required to use them, a survey was conducted to assess the beekeepers’ level of knowledge and comfort using smartphones. The questionnaire was designed with questions suitable for any farmer, and the data were collected by icipe focal points already stationed at the three project sites. Findings of the survey helped to inform the content of the smartphone training manual, as it enabled better understanding of the state of current mobile phone usage by the beekeepers. 

After analyzing the survey responses, it was deemed necessary to train those who are not well acquainted with smartphones to improve their digital literacy, confidence, and ability to use the Beekeeper’s Companion App. The smartphone training was developed accordingly, to include simple activities practiced by any smartphone user daily, such as how to send a text message and make a call. Skills required for the Beekeeper’s Companion App were also included, such as taking a photo and video and signing in to an account. Social media usage was also covered, as this activity was familiar to most beekeepers and requires similar skills as the Beekeeper’s Companion App. The training aimed to increase each beekeeper’s reading and responding capability while using a smartphone. 

On September 20, the first training was conducted in the Motta town, East Gojjam zone, with five women beekeepers and the icipe focal point. Among them, three had previous knowledge on how to use a smartphone, and two were inexperienced. By guiding the trainees through every small activity and practicing in pairs, progress on their smartphone knowledge and usage were made.

Women beekeepers gather after participating in smartphone training in Motta town. Photo Credit: Dr. Abebe Jenberie Wubie

After three hours of road travel, project staff arrived at the next training center in Lumamie town, Awabel Woreda, East Gojjam zone, where they met with five women beekeepers for the training. Recognizing that some had little to no smartphone experience, the trainers advised these beekeepers to bring a tech-savvy family member who could help provide extra support during the training. This solution worked well, as the women beekeepers felt comfortable asking their family members more questions during the workshop and go in-depth on topics as needed. However, one beekeeper relied too heavily on her family member, and was less participatory. This group was more interactive than the first one, with many questions from the beekeepers and elaborations given by the trainer, enabling a cooperative learning environment.

Women beekeepers gather after participating in smartphone training at Lumamie town, Awabel Woreda, East Gojjam zone. Photo Credit: Dr. Abebe Jenberie Wubie

After another three hours drive, the third training site in Tilili town, Awi zone was reached, where project staff met with three men and two women beekeepers. This group of beekeepers was much more experienced with technology, with a higher baseline level of smartphone knowledge. This enabled the trainer to cover more advanced smartphone topics, and the participants were able to understand and practice all the activities as planned.

Beekeepers during the smartphone training, responding to basic pop-ups while signing in to their Google accounts in Tilili town, Awi zone. Photo Credit: Dr. Abebe Jenberie Wubie

In summary, the training covered the planned topics and activities but was also adapted based on the beekeepers’ engagement and progress, when it was observed that they either needed more or less practice on a given topic. By the end of the workshop, all beekeepers could call one another, send SMS messages, take good quality pictures and videos, read and respond to pop-up notifications, and create and log in to accounts. The biggest challenge was that some of the beekeepers did not have any prior knowledge regarding a smartphone, making it difficult to cover all desired topics as it took significant time to train these beekeepers on the basic functionalities. To create a comfortable learning environment for women beekeepers, we found success in our methods to (1) include peer-to-peer exercises to practice their new skills and (2) enable beekeepers with no technology experience to bring an experienced family member for support. Beekeepers will receive follow-up support on their training and will test the Amharic prototype of the localized Beekeeper’s Companion App in a few weeks.

All beekeepers already had basic cellphones, so the workshop started by explaining the similarities and differences between cellphones and smartphones. Photo Credit: Nahom Lulseged

Beekeepers practiced taking photos and videos of each other, a skill they will use to monitor their beehives. Photo Credit: Nahom Lulseged



About the author

Nahom Lulseged is at International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas - ICARDA.