On the Effectiveness of Using Low Cost Technology to Reach Farmers


Digital Green’s FarmStack is a data-sharing platform that integrates farm and farmer data to develop customized and demand-driven information and services offered to farmers via multiple integrated channels of communication (e.g., video and mobile-based channels.) IDinsight, an advisory and research organization, conducted a comprehensive evaluation of a pilot cashew use case in Andhra Pradesh, India, under which soil, weather, and farmer data were combined to deliver targeted agronomic advisories via videos and interactive voice response (IVR).  A summary of IDinsight’s evaluation results, written by Daniel Stein, Rupika Singh, and William Slotznik, was first published on Agrilinks. We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting this study. 

India has hundreds of thousands of independent farmers working in hard-to-reach areas, and it can be difficult for these agriculture producers to gather the information they need to maximize crop yields and profits. Organizations like Digital Green are dedicated to using technology to provide farmers with training, information about market prices and other extension services. Traditionally, they have done so using video, but as cellular penetration increases, there is increasingly the opportunity to give farmers customized information via mobile phone.

Digital Green is in the process of developing FarmStack – a platform that helps organizations share data with one another. This system can be used to share customized information and services with farmers, using multiple models of communication. The advisory and research organization IDinsight worked with Digital Green to assess the effectiveness of this platform. FarmStack is still under development, and Digital Green is testing out different use cases of the system in different settings. IDinsight studied a particular FarmStack use case that involved cashew farmers in Andhra Pradesh, in which farmers were given customized advisory information through video, Integrated Voice Response (IVR) and SMS.

Combining videos with customized information: Higher technology adoption

Cashew farmers in Andhra Pradesh generally have low yields, due to inclement weather and nutrient-deficient soil. To promote productivity, the government of Andhra Pradesh has encouraged farmers to adopt “Community-Based Natural Farming” (CBNF previously known as ZBNF) techniques. CBNF involves farmers using natural ingredients (such as cow dung and urine) to create chemical-free fertilizers and pesticides, which can help them achieve higher production at a low cost. The information provided by Digital Green helped disseminate these CBNF techniques developed and endorsed by the Agriculture Department.

IDinsight ran a randomized controlled trial, in which one group of farmers (“video-only”) were invited to watch informational CBNF-focused videos every two weeks. Another group of farmers received implementation of the “FarmStack” system, in which Digital Green delivered supplementary communication to farmers on their phone, along with the in-person video screenings. These messages reinforced content that appeared in the videos and also provided targeted information on weather and soil quality.

Access the final evaluation results here.

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