Key message 3 – Information and communication technologies can play a key role in supporting knowledge sharing.

Over the past decade, information and communications technologies (ICT) have become a feature of many African farmers’ lives. These technologies have the potential to help improve agricultural technology adoption. Information sharing through ICT can inform farmers about new technologies and market conditions, such as prices, to help them decide when and where to sell their harvests (Aker 2010).

The impact of traditional government extension services such as farmer field schools, train and visit models, and test plots has been mixed, and these services can be ineffective if they promote technologies that are not profitable (Duflo et al., 2008). Surveys show that less than 6% of farmers in India report having used information from these services, although they consume significant budgetary resources (Glendenning et al., 2010). Studies of extension practices to encourage fertiliser use in Kenya, hybrid rice adoption in Sierra Leone, and coffee growing practices in Rwanda were found to have high costs and mixed impacts (Duflo et al. 2008; Glennerster and Suri, 2017; Duflo and Suri, 2010). The effectiveness of public extension systems is often hindered by issues including the top-down approach and inefficient management practices.

Innovative approaches to reducing the informational barriers to agricultural technology adoption include mobile information platforms and farmer helplines to deliver information on agricultural practices, commodity prices, and weather forecasts through text- and voice-based services (GSMA, 2017). ICT solutions can also deliver information on pests or diseases control, ideal times to plant crops, and information on subsidies or other programmes available to farmers.

Many different products and business models are under development and research findings on the impacts of some of these agriculture training and information-sharing solutions are beginning to emerge. For instance, a study in Kenya found that sending SMS messages to sugarcane farmers with agricultural advice increased yields by 11.5% (Casaburi et al., 2014). In India, a recent study found positive impacts from a mobile-phone based agricultural consulting service providing information on weather and crop conditions. In rural Pakistan, a platform sharing crowdsourced information on the success of veterinarians in artificially inseminating livestock led to service improvements (see box below).

For instance, a study in Kenya found that sending SMS messages to sugarcane farmers with agricultural advice increased yields by 11.5%.

Developing and scaling up these alternatives to traditional agricultural extension may require collaboration across the public and private sectors. The public sector has a role in making agricultural information less costly to acquire or distribute, and helping to bring agricultural technologies to scale. At the same time, the private sector might be more effective in developing strategies to market and disseminate information to smallholders – although there may not be sufficient profit incentives to reach the poorest farmers. Mobile agricultural services often require users to pay monthly subscription fees, which may exclude the poorest farmers. Innovation around financially sustainable and inclusive business models will increase the reach and impact of these solutions.

Crowdsourcing to share information on livestock insemination

In rural Pakistan, IGC supported the pilot-testing of an innovative approach to sharing information on the success of veterinarians in artificially inseminating livestock. Similar to the way that information clearinghouses, such as Amazon, eBay, and Yelp, rely on user ratings about products and services received, the system required farmers to report whether the insemination had succeeded. The crowdsourced rating system motivated veterinarians to perform better with 27% higher success rates, and in turn farmers were more likely to return to them for future services, suggesting that the system helped to strengthen government accountability (Rezaee et al., 2015).