Information and communication technologies to provide agricultural advice to smallholder farmers: Experimental evidence from Uganda
This study (PDF) in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics evaluates the effectiveness of an information and communication technology (ICT)‐mediated approach to deliver agricultural information in a field experiment conducted among small‐scale maize farmers in eastern Uganda. Agricultural advisory services generally rely on interpersonal knowledge transfers by agricultural extension agents who visit farmers to provide information. This approach is not always effective and has proved hard to scale sustainably, particularly in highly dispersed smallholder farming systems. ICTs have been advanced as a promising way to overcome many of the problems associated with conventional agricultural extension. Three complementary technologies designed to address both informational and behavioral constraints to technical change are considered: audiovisual messages (video), video with interactive voice response (IVR), and time-sensitive SMS messages. Households that were shown a short video on how to become better maize farmers were performing significantly better on a knowledge test, more likely to apply recommended practices, and more likely to use fertilizer than households that did not view the video. These same households also reported maize yields about 10.5% higher than those that did not view the video. Little evidence was found of an incremental effect of the IVR service or SMS reminders. However, the researchers do not think that extension approaches relying on IVR or SMS should be dismissed solely on the basis of this study. Rather, they encourage continued empirical study of the role that ICTs can play in increasing the effectiveness and decreasing the costs of information delivery to small‐scale farmers, the effects that alternative design features have on behavioral dimensions of technical change, and the relevance of ICT‐enabled approaches to agricultural extension systems and rural advisory services. Most importantly, replication of similar studies is encouraged – alongside variations in the choice of ICTs and the experimental designs in which they are introduced to farmers – across multiple agroecological, social, and economic contexts.