Realizing the potential of digital development: The case of agricultural advice

  • 19th December 2019
  • by secretary

Raissa Fabregas, Michael Kremer, Frank Schilbach (December 2019Realizing the potential of digital development: The case of agricultural advice

Meta-analyses suggest that the transmission of agricultural information through mobile technologies in sub-Saharan Africa and India increased yields by 4% and the odds of adoption of recommended agrochemical inputs by 22%.

The delivery of market information can have additional system-wide impacts, reducing price dispersion and lowering transaction costs. Given the low and rapidly declining cost of information transmission, benefits likely exceed costs by an order of magnitude. Even basic phones and inexpensive text and voice messages can influence farmer behavior. Smartphones with GPS systems create the potential for larger gains through the transmission of more sophisticated media, such as videos, and for locally customized information on soil characteristics, weather, and pest outbreaks, delivered at the appropriate time during the agricultural season.

Messages could be customized on the basis of farmer characteristics, such as education or financial circumstances. Experimentation, machine learning, and two-way communication with and between farmers could facilitate improvements of information and other services over time. Advances from behavioral science can improve information transmission and address behavioral barriers to the adoption of improved agricultural techniques. Mobile phone–based systems could increase the productivity and accountability of in-person extension agents and enhance supply chain functionality. Realizing the potential of digital agriculture will require an interdisciplinary effort to develop and rigorously test a variety of approaches, incorporating insights from behavioral science, agriculture, economics, and data science.

As smartphone use continues to expand, farmers will increasingly have the means to watch videos demonstrating new agricultural techniques or take pictures of pests affecting their crops and either request automatic identification and recommendations or raise questions with agronomists (30). Smartphones may also provide farmers access to interventions and apps that can enhance psychological well-being (31). Increased aspirations, grit, and improved mental health may boost farmer income by increasing investment and facilitating learning among farmers (3234).