There are several challenges in modernising agricultural value chains in developing countries. A substantial one is the high unit cost of connecting a vast and remote population of small-scale growers (henceforth, growers) to markets and useful information.
The introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) into this sector holds great promise for improving both productivity and market performance. Through the collection and dissemination of information, ICT may allow growers to improve or supplement conventional extension services at scale and at very low unit costs. Also, it can help formalise and commercialise the sector.
However, most large-scale implementations of ICT among growers have been limited to phone call based interactions or “pushing” simple, concise bits of market-related or agronomic information (through SMS or Interactive Voice Response tools). This is likely because the vast majority of growers only possess feature phones with limited functionality. While such interventions have been found to produce positive impacts, less is known about the potential of more complex forms of digital interaction. From a policy perspective, understanding whether and how complex digital interaction can be used to improve the productivity and incomes of smallholders is a question of important practical import.
The subject of this research will be the Rwandan Irish Potato (IP) value chain. This project will study the introduction of a sophisticated digital platform into the IP value chain. The platform will enable the digitisation of all market sales and complex forms of communications between growers, agronomic experts, and buyers. It utilises the N- Frnds USSD-based technology, which enables functionality usually designed for smartphones to be usable on feature phones. Growers registered in the platform will be able to search an “online” database of agronomic and market information on-demand, interactively “chat” with experts, and observe records of all of their past sales.
This study observes administrative data on all market sales and the textual content and user activities of all such communication. This allows the impacts of informational interventions on key practices and market sales to be evaluated. Of particular interest is the ability to experimentally seed or form digital social networks of various kinds and evaluate the impacts on informational flows and market outcomes.
The Rwanda government’s goal is to register all 100,000 IP growers in the country into the platform. The research can help determine how best to utilise this platform in order to improve the productivity of the IP sector.