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 research centers can take multiple years to cascade down to reach all smallholder farmers around this vast country.

ATA-IVR-SMS

To address this challenge, the ATA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock Resources, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research,
and Ethio Telecom, developed an Interactive Voice Response and Short Message Service (IVR/SMS) platform to deliver information directly to farmers through mobile phones.
In July 2014, the ATA launched the ‘8028 Farmer Hotline’, Ethiopia’s first agricultural hotline. The 8028 Farmer 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 access the 8028 Farmer Hotline by calling the short code 8028. The 8028 Farmer Hotline is toll-free and the callers 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 register to the service and to select their particular areas of interest and receive automated information whenever they call in.

ATA-IVR-SMS-2

At the same time, the hotline administrator can also “push” or broadcast 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. Over the past four years, the 8028 Farmer Hotline has broadcasted more than 2 million alerts on the occurrence and treatment of Wheat Rust, Maize Necrosis Lethal Disease, Fall Army Worm, and Unseasonal Rainfall. Recognizing the diversity of Ethiopia’s smallholders, the functions in five local languages (Amharic, Oromiffa, Tigrigna, Sidamigna, and Wolaitagna) and provides information about crops specific to soil type and altitude.

The Farmer Hotline recently launched a Helpdesk that enables smallholders and Development Agents to ask questions and report issues to experts in their respective woredas. The Helpdesk enables smallholders to streamline the channels they have used in the past to communicate with the agriculture experts in their woredas and kebeles. To date the system has generated more than 3,000 questions from 39 woredas.

In addition, the 8028 Farmer Hotline also formally launched a survey tool in September 2016 to capture information and data from kebele and woreda levels, which has enabled our partners and stakeholders to broadcast surveys on the occurrence of various crop diseases. In the survey’s pilot, MoALR, EIAR, CIMMYT, and the UK Met office to identify and verify the occurrence of Wheat Rust and develop detailed dispersal forecasts on how the disease will spread through time. Based on the findings and spread of Wheat Rust in pockets of the country, the 8028 Farmer Hotline was also utilized to alert smallholders and agriculture extension workers on the occurrence of the disease, as well as how to identify and properly treat it.

In the initial 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 3.6 million registered callers had logged 30.3 million phone calls by 29 June 2018, illustrating that the 8028 Farmer Hotline and similar technologies have staying power and the ability to support farmers receive information faster than they would in the past. A scale-up of the IVR/SMS system is scheduled for the end of the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II), in which the system plans to develop a strategy to incorporate livestock information, weather thresholds, rural financial services  and agricultural inputs.