How a new IVR/SMS service is revolutionizing the way Ethiopia’s smallholder farmers access vital agricultural advice and information.
Despite the strength and volume of agriculture related information and training available through Ethiopia’s vast public extension system, ensuring farmers receive up-to-date data and knowledge in a timely manner remains a great challenge. This is particularly the case for the remote rural smallholders who make up the majority of the sector. At times, new agriculture extension advice emerging from Ethiopia’s agricultural research centers can take multiple years to cascade down to reach all smallholder farmers around this vast country.
To address this challenge, an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Short Message System (SMS) platform was developed to deliver information directly to farmers through mobile phones. In July 2014, the ATA, in collaboration with the MoA, EIAR and Ethio Telecom, launched ‘8028’, Ethiopia’s first agricultural hotline. The 8028 hotline seeks to support sustainable agriculture by empowering smallholders with access to agronomic best practices. The system’s main objective is to ensure that smallholders have real-time and immediate access to pertinent agronomic information, which will help them to make more informed decisions about their farming practices.
Smallholder farmers can now call into the 8028 automated hotline for free and receive information on a wide range of agricultural activities on all major cereal, pulses and high-value crops. Keypad menu options allow farmers and Development Agents to select their particular areas of interest and receive automated information whenever they call in.
At the same time, the hotline administrator can also “push” customized content. In cases of drought, pest and disease, for example, tailored information can be sent to callers based on crop, geography, or demographic data captured when farmers first register to use the system. Recognizing the diversity of Ethiopia’s smallholders, the IVR/SMS system functions in three local languages (Amharic, Oromiffa, and Tigrigna) and provides information about crops specific to soil type and altitude.
Twelve weeks after its July 2014 launch, the hotline had received nearly 1.5 million calls from 300,000 farmers in the Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and SNNP Regions. As the system was expanded to callers all over the country, nearly 1.2 million registered callers had logged 7.3 million phone calls by July 31, 2015. Of the registered callers, 72% (823,114 callers) identified themselves as smallholder farmers.