From tulips to tomatoes: Technology empowers women in Asia

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From tulips to tomatoes: Technology empowers women in Asia

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

There are almost as many smartphones on the planet as there are people. From messaging, to maps, to mobile payments, it's almost impossible to imagine a world without internet or devices.

Yet, for many women in developing countries, this is their reality. Here, men are twice as likely to use the internet than women. To empower rural women, and help them contribute to economic growth, access to the internet and digital platforms is vital.

IFAD trains women in digital finance and marketing, and ensures they have access to the technology they need to connect to the rest of the world. Together, technology, tomatoes and tulips are empowering women—while benefitting their communities. 

Taking tomato-growing to new heights in Pakistan

Haji Parveen grows tomatoes all year round at thousands of metres above sea level. © Abdul Ghaffar

When Haji Parveen’s husband died in a mountaineering accident, the 38-year-old homemaker from northern Pakistan was left to provide for the household and raise three young children on her own.

Determined to take control of her future, Haji signed up for the IFAD-funded Economic Transformation Initiative Gilgit-Baltistan (ETI-GB), which gave her the training, tools and inputs to grow tomatoes.

By using vertical farming and plastic tunnels, she can produce tomatoes—and make a profit—all year round, even in harsh weather conditions and at more than 3,000 metres above sea level.

IFAD funded Haji's training, tools and inputs. © Abdul Ghaffar

She had the goods to sell but Haji was missing the buyers. “It was difficult to let others know about the tomatoes because households here are spread out and commuting to the nearest market is not easy,” explains Haji.

That’s when her son, a young content creator, took to social media to advertise Haji’s tomato business. Before long, interested buyers were reaching out.

Haji's son, Ibrar, took to Facebook to advertise the produce.

“I was overwhelmed by the response from the villagers. Everybody wanted to come by to see and buy the tomatoes. This inspired me to post more about how and when to purchase them,” says Haji.

The income from the tomato sales provides stability for herself and her children and she is now working to expand her online presence and her services by offering farm-to-door delivery. Finally, the young widow can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Text for tulips in Bangladesh

Women in Bangladesh grow tulips and market them online. © Mohammed Golam Ehsanul Habib

In the northernmost part of Bangladesh, on the foothills of the Himalayas, a group of women in brightly-coloured headscarves walk along rows of equally vibrant tulips.

Supported by IFAD’s Rural Microenterprise Transformation Project, and co-financed by Danida, these women are part of a group of farmers who were provided with tulip bulbs and training on how to grow the flowers then market them online. After grading, cutting and packaging the flowers, they are sent to Dhaka for sale. In less than a year, the farmers have made close to 1 million BDT (just over US$ 9,000).

As the tulips bloomed, so did the local economy. Having spotted the tulip fields on social media, tourists began flocking to the picturesque place, generating business for local restaurants and accommodation.

Hundreds of tourists visit the flower gardens each day. © Mohammed Golam Ehsanul Habib

Within a few months, tourist numbers grew from 50 to 600 a day. One of these is Awal Hossain, a tourist from Rangpur. “I heard about the tulip garden through social media and several news sources and came to see it with my family and friends. It is outstanding.”

Both the entrance fee to the tulip garden and flower orders can be paid using mobile money transfer and mobile banking, with many customers placing orders on WhatsApp and Messenger.

Online marketing and cashless money transfers have helped boost business and confidence. © Mohammed Golam Ehsanul Habib

As her phone pings with a new order, flower grower Shumi Akter tells us how “the marketing and cashless money transfer system have boosted our confidence.”

But today’s success did not come easy—it required sacrifice and determination. “Many of our neighbours criticized us for cultivating tulips,” says flower farmer Sajeda Begum. The women’s success is shifting attitudes around gender norms and inspiring others to invest in this profitable venture. “Now, they are turning to us for advice on how to grow tulips."