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THE PROBLEM: An estimated 70 percent of the world's poor rely on agriculture for all or some of their household income. Increasing agricultural productivity and incomes is essential for poverty reduction.
THE SOLUTION: Introduce an inexpensive mobile agricultural extension program to provide information about farming best practices through text messages to farmers who are not reached directly by extension agents.
COST EFFECTIVENESS Text messages cost little more than a penny ($0.0125 - $0.0375) per message in Kenya’s competitive mobile phone market. The project will quantify how the access to information improves farmers’ crop yields, then compare the results to program costs to determine cost effectiveness.
With Stage 1 support from DIV, Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics at Harvard University and researchers from Harvard University and Innovations for Poverty Action will partner with Kenya’s largest sugar producer to develop, implement and rigorously evaluate an innovative mobile agricultural extension program to directly reach farmers with agriculture expertise.
Agriculture serves as the backbone for the majority of economic growth in Kenya, while sugar cane farming is the main source of income for approximately 250,000 farmers - with an estimated 6 million individuals connected directly or indirectly to the sugar cane value chain.
Studies have shown that a well-designed agricultural extension program can increase agricultural productivity and technology adoption, boosting farmer’s incomes. However, agricultural extension workers in Kenya currently reach only a small portion of rural producers, and expansion is limited by the high costs of outreach and monitoring activities.
In partnership with Mumias Sugar Company, the largest sugar producer in Kenya, the research team will leverage the proliferation of cell phones in rural Kenya to introduce an inexpensive mobile agricultural extension program to provide information through text messages to farmers who are not reached directly by extension agents. More than half of all sugar cane farmers are in possession of a cell phone, and nearly 90 percent of the farmers have access to a mobile phone through their neighbor or relative.
Text messages are extremely cost-effective, costing little more than a penny ($0.0125 - $0.0375) per message in Kenya’s competitive mobile phone market. The program will tailor text messages and voice mails to diffuse information about the best and novel farming practices, remind farmers about best timing to undertake specific tasks, notify farmers about contracts and payments, and receive inquiries and feedback from farmers.
The research team will rigorously evaluate the impact of this interaction on the farmers’ crop yields using a randomized controlled trial. Initially, the program will directly reach 20,000 sugar cane farmers and can scale up to near to 90,000 farmers. The very low per-farmer marginal cost of expanding the program, the low technological requirements and the scale of cell-phone diffusion in Africa present a large opportunity for the initiative to serve as a model for scale up in response to successful pilot studies.
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Last updated: February 19, 2013