Research completed by team members before the formation of PAD demonstrated that sending SMS messages with agricultural advice to smallholder sugar cane farmers increased yields by 11.5%. It also demonstrated that creating a platform through which farmers could report fertilizer delivery delays by the contract farming company reduced the incidence by 21.6%.
Yield increase for sugar cane
Increase in use of new input
PAD established Kenya as a “sandbox” for further developing ideas on how best to offer mobile phone-based agricultural extension services. In 2016, we piloted an SMS-based advisory service among 1,900 smallholder maize farmers that provided input recommendations conditional on local soil tests. In early 2017, we rolled out a more intensive system that offered information not only via SMS but also through phone calls and an e-extension system among 5,900 farmers.
This research revealed that farmers who received recommendations and were advised to use agricultural lime to combat local soil acidity were 10-24% more likely to experiment with the input. Farmers who received the service and were advised that they did not need lime were 25% less likely to purchase it.
With this proof-of concept, we continue to work with farmers across Western Kenya to experiment with new methods of communicating customized agricultural information effectively.
Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation (MoALFI) asked PAD to develop and implement a two-way SMS mobile campaign platform on their behalf. The request was prompted by the outbreak of Fall Armyworm (FAW), a dangerous pest new to the continent and rapidly spreading; the service initially focused on FAW before moving to cover a range of agricultural advice. The service is called MoA-INFO and operates from the shortcode 40130. Sending and receiving messages is free for farmers and can be accessed by any Safaricom or Airtel user. PAD runs A/B tests on the platform to improve the service and also conducts phone and in-person surveys with farmers to learn about how they are using the information that they receive from MoA-INFO.
As of the end of the first quarter of 2020, the system has registered over 367,000 farmers to MoA-INFO. The service allows farmers to both pull content, when they are looking for information about crop production or pest control, and receive push messages containing information about farming practices that are timed to coincide with cropping schedules in different parts of the country.
Initially, the platform focused on dispensing advice focused on combating FAW, but has been expanded to include recommendations for optimizing the cultivation of maize, beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, pigeon peas, tomatoes, sorghum and green gram. Recommendations are customized based on the user’s location and agro-ecological zone, collected at the ward level, and are offered in either English or Swahili. All platform messages are based on recommendations jointly developed with, and approved by, technical experts at the MoALF (including KALRO, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization).
Additionally, the service provides Decision Support Tools (DSTs). Using farmers’ location, PAD asks them filter questions, such as their land size, budget or preferred characteristics and then provides them with recommendations for inputs and practices based on their responses. PAD encourages farmers to use these DSTs multiple times so that they can see how different constraints lead to different recommendations, so that they can make informed decisions about what will work best for them in the current season. PAD currently has tools to help farmers decide on which maize seeds to plant, which fertilizers to apply, and whether pesticides are appropriate based on the scale of pest infestation.