Strategies for increasing access to both tech-nology and meaningful content
Providing just-in-time information that is both highly relevant and actionable is key to making mobile agro-advisory services valuable to farmers and therefore drive adoption. This means creating content that is highly localized, aligned with regional agricultural calendars and markets and presenting it in appropriate languages.
The growth of mobile in developing countries, and rural regions in particular, presents an opportunity to deliver effective, accessible information-based agricultural services directly to rural smallholder farmers, contributing to an increase in their productivity and improvement to their livelihoods.
Across the developing world, around 40% of people now actively subscribe to mobile services, with 130 million new subscribers every year, and mobile (2G) coverage is around 95% by population1. However, urban subscribers still outnumber rural subscribers across the developing world, by almost double in some cases1.
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are looking to rural regions to grow their subscriber bases. In India, for example, urban areas are reaching saturation point in terms of subscribers, so operators and service providers are beginning to develop specific strategies to address this market. This move is supported by government policy, with targets to reach 60% rural tele-density by 2017 and 100% by 2020.
There are still challenges to overcome for operators and service providers expanding into rural areas: poor grid availability, battery life in the absence of a reliable electricity supply, difficult terrain, access limitations, fragmented markets, no single language for communication and literacy levels. However, the increased rural access to mobile networks provides a platform for expansion of agro-advisory services, however these services must demonstrate meaningful subscriber numbers and regular usage to appeal to MNOs business priorities, whilst delivering meaningful content and demand-driven services for farmers to see real benefit.
Content needs to be objective, trustworthy, and developed by experts, taking into account national and regional agriculture policies and linking with existing field based extension services. It needs to be localised, to take account of regional agro-ecological conditions, gender-sensitive and simple but giving farmers the opportunity to follow up with questions.
The content delivery mechanism itself needs consideration, with options to communicate via text, voice message or through helplines. Choice of delivery method will depend on literacy rates, complexity of information being communicated and user preference. Making an initial assessment of farmer needs is critical. On-going validation of content and messages via farmer groups should be an important part of the operational process. Farmer profiles can be gathered and used to customise message delivery (e.g. farm size, crop types, location, inputs, seeds, irrigation). Timing of information delivery should be aligned with cropping cycles and calendars and the ability to respond to time-critical incidents (e.g. pest outbreak, flood) should be built in. Mobile market-places should offer farmers input supplies competing on price, to give purchasing power back to the farmer, helping to squeeze costs out of the supply chain.
Only if all of the above factors are taken into consideration, will a mobile agro-advisory service add value to farmers – something that is critical to the sustainability of any service.
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