Nearly one year ago, we provided smartphones and digital training to a group of beekeepers in the Amhara region with limited or no smartphone experience. A few weeks ago, we met with them again, witnessing improved digital skills, and provided training on applying these skills to use the Amharic version of the Beekeeper’s Companion app.
Globally, women and rural populations have lower access to phones and the internet. In Ethiopia, nearly 40% of the population owns a mobile phone, but women are 25% less likely to own mobile phones than men. Recognizing that this gap limits women’s access to resources and information, the AID-CSB project incorporates the provision of smartphones and smartphone training to equip women with a tool for their daily life, and their hive management. To assess the baseline level of smartphone knowledge, we conducted a survey in August 2021 with our 13 women beekeepers in Amhara and learned that 70% of these beekeepers had no knowledge of smartphones and had never seen one before. We then used the results of this survey to customise and conduct smartphone training in a second field visit in which the beekeepers were also provided with smartphones. The beekeepers were fascinated by the technology and we all could see the excitement and happiness on their faces when they unwrapped their smartphones. During the training, we taught them essential smartphone skills. To provide continued support after the training, we created a Telegram channel for them to communicate with each other and discuss beekeeping issues and smartphone usage. The Telegram chat was a helpful way to monitor and support beekeepers’ smartphone skills. We found that beekeepers were highly active, exchanging beekeeping photos and questions, simultaneously demonstrating their new smartphone knowledge and serving as a platform for beekeeping discussion.
Beekeepers meet in August 2021 for smartphone training. Photo Credit: Dr. Abebe Jenberie Wubie
A few weeks ago, we followed up with these beekeepers to provide smartphone refresher training as needed and train them in the Amharic version of the Beekeeper’s Companion App. The specific objectives of this field visit included having the beekeepers (1) test the language translations with the beekeepers, (2) reinstall the latest version of the app, (3) sign in to their accounts, (4) create apiaries and hives within the app, (5) create beekeeping To-Do’s in the app, and (6) perform inspections with app guidance, as well as see how to keep records. The main challenge faced in this training was synchronization of accounts that occurred with the specific smartphone model used by the beekeepers, underscoring the importance of testing solutions locally where technology infrastructures differ.
Site 1: Awi Zone
The first stop of the field visit was to meet with five beekeepers and a focal point (local field assistant) in Awi Zone. During the previous field visit with smartphone training, this group was the most active and participatory, so we assumed they would face few conceptual problems in understanding the app. It was a pleasant training because although we knew that the group was active on the Telegram chat room, we did not expect them to be this advanced in their smartphone interactions. This made it easier for us to conduct the technical app training more because beekeepers were quickly grasping the concepts. However, these beekeepers are not native Amharic speakers, instead, their first language is called ”Agewegna.” Because of this language difference, we gave them an extra day to explore the app and see if they found anything complicated. The following day, we gathered to perform in-app tasks like creating an apiary, setting up a hive, performing inspections, and setting up a “To-Do”. After finishing, we asked beekeepers to share any questions or points of confusion with the app, then concluded our training session in Awi Zone.
Beekeepers practice creating apiaries in the Beekeeper's Companion app. Photo Credit: Nahom Lulseged.
Site 2: East Gojam Zone
For the second site, we went to the Lumami Woreda of the East Gojam Zone, where we met with five women beekeepers and the focal point. These beekeepers are native Amharic speakers, so they had no difficulty working with the app due to language differences. We could assess their knowledge based on their responses to questions we asked, such as reading a particular output on their screen and responding to it, or sending a text to the group. They performed these tasks without challenges, demonstrating their digital proficiency. We then gave them the Beekeeper’s Companion app training and assessed their understanding by requesting them to perform tasks with the app. These beekeepers were very active in completing the tasks, and clearly understood the app and its purpose for hive management. They asked questions when something was unclear, and we were able to complete all training activities and objectives at this site.
A woman beekeeper supported by her tech-saavy son while learning how to complete a hive inspection in the app. Photo Credit: Nahom Lulseged.
Site 3: Mota Zone
As our last site, we went to Mota Zone. This group was smaller (three women beekeepers and the focal point) but the most interactive as they asked more questions than the other groups. We observed that these beekeepers were much more comfortable using their smartphones than during the first visit and were active in using different app features. We completed the same process of digital skills assessment, reinstallation of the Beekeeper’s Companion app and, followed by training of the app components.
Soon, we hope these beekeepers will improve their hive productivity through aided decision-making by the app. In particular, the app will help them with their record-keeping and planning, which is currently a gap in their beekeeping activities. Aside from the benefits to their beekeeping, their growing comfort and interaction with smartphones also builds their digital literacy, enabling them access to more information and resources.