Completed Research

Cutting Through the Grass Ceiling: Supporting Women Smallholder Farmers with the Collective Power of Community, Participatory Learning, and Trust

University of Toronto

Smallholder farmers are disproportionately among the world’s most poverty-stricken and hungry, however, at the same time they are also cited as a key to ending hunger and food insecurity worldwide. Digital Green is a global development organization currently working in various regions in Asia and Africa. Their mission is to empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty by harnessing the collective power of technology and grassroots-level partnerships. Since 2008, the use of locally produced videos and in-person facilitation has led to over 4,000 videos reaching more than 800,000 farmers in more than 9,000 villages. This case study report will examine Digital Green’s unique ability to disseminate knowledge related to nutrition-sensitive, climate-resilient and inclusive agricultural practices in rural India.

Hard to Reach

Women smallholder farmers who face compounding barriers from high levels of gender inequality in India.

Key Takeaways

Digital Green’s UPAVAN trial’s successes and shortcomings reveals five key insights to be learned when designing interventions to support the empowerment of women:

  1. Enacting sustainable change requires men, family, and community members to see themselves as beneficiaries of women’s empowerment.
  2. Gender-responsive interventions cannot take a “one-size fits all” approach and must include women and men in all phases of the interventions.
  3. Gender-sensitive content must be designed to spotlight accurate representations of women.
  4. Successful and sustainable interventions require a strong foundation of trust and partnerships with the communities they serve.
  5. Effective technology interventions consider and are responsive to the social, political, and cultural factors they operate in.


This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. We express our gratitude and appreciation to the passionate experts and professionals who we met over the course of this project. In particular, we acknowledge and thank the key informants who took the time to share their insights with us.