Malian farmers access more information with mobile phones

posted on June 28, 2017 3:20pm

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Mobile phones can be extremely effective at disseminating information about agricultural inputs. But getting farmers in developing countries to adopt mobile phones is often a matter of perception.

Mobile phones are one example of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) being studied by Macire Kante, a Malian doctoral student in information systems at Kenya’s University of Nairobi.

Kante, pictured at right, is a scholar in the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development program. The goal of BHEARD, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

According to Kante, studies have shown that farmer perceptions of ICTs influence whether or not they use them to access information about agricultural inputs. Such inputs – including seed, fertilizer, planting techniques and advice – can boost yields and increase production.

Kante and his co-researchers decided to conduct their own ICT study in the Sikasso region of Mali in 2016. They gathered data from 300 respondents, mostly small-scale cereal farmers, in May and July. The main goal was to learn how respondents perceive ICTs, and how that perception affects their use of the technology.

The mobile phone is the most dominant ICT channel in Mali. According to Kante’s research, the country had 10.3 million mobile phone subscribers in 2014, compared to only 6,375 in 1999. Currently, two ICT services disseminate agricultural input information. Senekela has a call center with agronomists, who give advice to farmers in French and Bambara (a local language) on things like planting methods, seeds to use, sowing time and fertilizer application. Senekela had 180,000 customers in 2014. The other service, myAgro, enables farmers to purchase high-quality agricultural inputs on layaway. It also gives them access to information about modern planting techniques and to simple machines that can make their work more efficient. myAgro had more than 18,000 customers by 2016.

In Kante’s study, there were more female respondents (75.23%) than male (24.77%). Although the man was the head of household in most cases, the woman was chosen to address the questionnaire.

Results showed that 80.18% of the respondents were using ICTs, as opposed to 19.82% who were not; 95.13% of users said they would continue to use ICTs, while 75.84% strongly agreed that ICTs make it easier to access agricultural input information.

Kante’s study concluded that relative advantage, compatibility and simplicity were the main factors determining farmer perceptions of ICTs. In other words, if farmers decided that accessing information through mobile phones would boost their productivity, fit their values and needs, and keep things simple, they were much more likely to use them.

Kante, who previously worked at the African Institute of Management in Mali, plans to defend his dissertation in October 2018. He will return home after that, where he hopes to build on his research skills and start a broad-based academic career that includes teaching, research and management responsibilities. He also would like to implement his ICT research model to enhance farmers’ use of agricultural inputs and boost their yields. 

– Matt Milkovich