Agriculture stands as the cornerstone of Ethiopia's economy, with women constituting a substantial 75% of the sector's labor force. In the coffee industry, vital for the livelihoods of around 15 million Ethiopians, a significant gender income gap persists, with women receiving only 34% of the income generated. This disparity is rooted in limited access to essential resources such as land, credit, and market opportunities.
Recognizing the critical role of women in agriculture and the potential of digital transformation, the Ethiopia Chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) is at the forefront of initiatives addressing structural barriers. The organization, founded in 2016, aims to empower women farmers, providing them with the tools to fully benefit from their contributions to one of Ethiopia's primary exports—coffee.
Digital payments emerge as a powerful solution to bridge gender income gaps and promote financial inclusion. However, the journey towards digitizing agricultural payments faces hurdles like limited phone ownership, digital literacy gaps, connectivity issues in remote areas, and the absence of suitable financial tools for farmers. Sara Yirga, President of the Ethiopia Chapter of the IWCA, emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach, transcending education and awareness campaigns, to seamlessly integrate women into the digital financial ecosystem.
The National Digital Payments Strategy (NDPS), a strategic initiative towards achieving Digital Ethiopia by 2025, plays a pivotal role in overcoming these challenges. Developed in collaboration with the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance Secretariat in 2021, the NDPS focuses on improving efficiency, transparency, women's economic participation, financial inclusion, and overall inclusive growth.
Digital financial services, particularly mobile money, have witnessed remarkable growth, as seen in Ethio telecom's "telebirr" service, boasting 34.3 million subscribers and a total transaction value of $12.3 billion in the fiscal year 2022/23. The Reaching Financial Equality for Women action plan further underscores the significance of financial inclusion as a foundation for women's economic empowerment, outlining tailored policies and programs to address specific barriers.
Sara Yirga's testimony highlights the transformative power of digital payments. Streamlining business operations, digital payments provide women with control over their finances, preventing unnecessary spending. With women receiving only 34% of resources after a year of hard work, having access to their own money empowers them to make informed financial choices.
The message is clear: "Digital is safe, digital is fast, and digital is the way forward." As Ethiopia progresses towards a digital future, digitizing payments in the coffee industry promises not only to provide women with tools to shape their financial futures but also to contribute significantly to the overall economic prosperity of the nation. Sara Yirga's journey serves as an inspiring example of the positive outcomes that embracing digital payments can bring, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for women in the coffee sector.