Africa’s Indigenous Technology for Rural Women Economic Empowerment

Indigenous knowledge is critical in generating local innovation and in fostering sustainable entrepreneurship. In many rural communities, more women than men use indigenous technology at home and commercially in getting small scale, localized commercial projects accomplished. Women in rural areas are marginalized in making choices of decent jobs and have generally been besieged by social norms that they have low ability to combine work, family and personal life, therefore getting them skewed to unpaid household work.  Women tend to be clustered in fewer sectors than men; in agriculture, they tend to be mostly involved in subsistence production despite the availability of other (but mostly non-traditional) commercial farming opportunities.

The challenging reality is that even where they have access to employment in rural areas, women don’t always have access to modern technology for use in the production process; they normally apply traditional methods and techniques. Attempts at extending modern technology to rural women have often proven unaffordable to many African governments, as it entails much more than the transfer of tangible technology, but requires much investment of time and funds in continuous education, training and maintenance – sustainability becomes impractical.

Indeed, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, the idea and practice of technology transfer has failed in the past several decades in being able to actually transfer sustainable technology to rural communities. This is mostly due to the fact that imported technology is difficult to establish, and to maximally function independently in a foreign environment . Imported technology is also lacking in the ability to birth innovation in its new territory and cannot be relied upon to create sound entrepreneurs.

Commissioned by the International Development Research Center, Canada, I was the principal investigator (Rwanda) for a study that examined indigenous technology and traditional enterprises and the possible role those could play in creating employment among rural women in different sectors in Rwanda. Rural women are very closely associated with indigenous technology, and according to Basu and Weil (1998), innovation that is based on indigenous knowledge is a pertinent driver of economic growth. What this means is that products or services and systems that are developed in response to the realities of a particular environment are more sustainable and holds potentials for improvement from the local communities. Since economic and social settings of sub-Sahara African countries are to the large extent similar, the findings from Rwanda will undoubtedly inform policy making in most other countries. The objective is to influence the laws, policies and programmes that can address the historically disadvantaged situation of rural women much more effectively.

Four research papers and one documentary came out as part of the final products of the research as follows:

  1. Indigenous Technology and Economic Empowerment of Rural Women in Rwanda: the Role of Government and Development Partners
  2. Indigenous Vegetable Production and Rural Women Economic Empowerment in Africa:  Trends, Opportunities and Challenges in Rwanda
  3. Indigenous Beverage Production and Economic Empowerment of Rural Women in Rwanda
  4. Rural Women Economic Empowerment, Indigenous Fermented Milk Production and the Challenges of Modernity in Rwanda

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