What features of mobile phones have made them so popular and so effective? What can we learn from the use of mobile phones to improve the use of other ICTs for development?
Welcome to this dialogue on ICTs in Africa. We have opened all topics so that participants can comment on each of the questions during their time zone but it will be helpful to begin with a discussion of what has worked for uptake of mobile phones, especially in rural areas. For the examples given throughout the dialogue, it will be helpful to provide context (country), scale of coverage, as well as the leader of the initiatives. We welcome a robust discussion throughout the day.
Dear all, Nice to be here. My name is Saverio Romeo, Principal Analyst at Beecham Research. I have been involved in research about digital technologies in rural areas for some time. Initially, focussing on the connectivity issues, but, during last 4 years, looking at the impact of the Internet of Things vision in agriculture, food production, and smart services for rural areas (such as assisted living). My regional focus has been the Mediterranean area in Europe, primarily, but, increasingly becoming global. Considering the decreasing costs of technologies, the IoT vision can open tremendous opportunities for rural areas globally. And, considering the context-aware nature of the IoT vision, those opportunities are there also for the African continent. In terms of connectivity, the trend is towards less expensive forms of technologies depending also on the type of data we want to exchange. LPWAN, for example, is something to take in serious consideration.
Thanks for the thoughts, Saverio. Can you provide some examples of how you have seen low power wireless networks working in rural areas and who can lead those initiaves?
The world of LPWAN is divided in two. On one side, the unlicensed spectrum solutions offered by Sigfox, LoRa Alliance, Ingenu, Weightless SIG and others. On the other side, the licensed spectrum solutins offered by operators in the form of three standards: NB-IoT, LTE-M, and EC-2G. EC-2G was defined in order to offere low power wide area network solutions for countries in which 2G is the dominant cellular offer. Those have been launched during the first part of 2017. The raison d'etre of all this is the capability of offering long range connectivity of devices that will stay in place for long time, consuming less energy, and transmitting low data rate. Therefore, if I want to monitor the position of animals in pasture, LPWAN offers a very convenient approach. You need 15KB for monitoring a moving animal. LPWAN does that at low cost. Water pipeline monitoring is another good example. Forms of assited living are others. You should also take into account that the cost of sensors is decreasing while their accuracy is increasing. This combination opens a lot of opportunities.
Hello all. I'm a faculty member at Michigan State University (MSU), and have been looking at ICTs in agriculture as part of my work with MSU's Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (gcfsi.msu.edu). From what I've read and observed about the factors driving mobile phone uptake, especially in rural areas south of the Sahara, we could discuss quite a number of things: 1) at the policy level, the introduction of competition among wireless operators helped to stimulate the build out of infrastructure in rural areas so that coverage increased, 2) the marketing of pre-paid subscriptions helped make the service more affordable, 3) the creation of a business opportunity to resell SIM cards and the resulting proliferation of intermediaries increased access even in the most rural areas, 4) the fact that phones could be shared increased opportunities to try out the service and receive benefits even without owning a phone, 5) the flood of low cost phones - many of which come from China - expanded opportunities, 6) the fact that phones could be resold so that those with the least resources could find cheap used phones, 7) the fact that phones are a multi-purpose innovation allowing flexible use for a variety of reasons and in ways that might not have been anticipated by vendors and network operators, 8) mobile phones addressed an immediate need - personal communications - that was not well addressed by any earlier systems (e.g. there was no prior fixed phone network and other methods for communicating over distances were also underdeveloped), 9) once a user has access to a phone, he or she can benefit even without new investment - e.g. one can receive an important call or flash someone and have them call back, 10) ongoing operation and maintenance costs are relatively minor for the individual users, 11) once the network is in place and people have phones, it can become a platform for many new services. This is just a start - but it seems that many other ICT in agriculture efforts may not share some of these characteristics, hindering their widespread adoption.
This is a very good point. In the case that some ICTs do not share the characteristics you mention, other factors will have to be strengthened to increase use. I believe in many cases, it may be that the product or service is deemed a public good and provision could be the responsibility of the goverment but ensuring financial sustainability and relevance then could be a challenge.
One of the features that make mobile phones popular and effective is their penetration rate which averages over 65% in most African Countries
It seems the penetration rate has been partially driven by affordability and acceptance. Would you agree? What factors were important for companies to embrace the expansion and for consumers to accept it? How could that rate increase more and expand to other technology?
This is very true Allen. There are various prices for mobile phones that make them affordable for everyone and gives a wide range to choose from It is possible to get a phone for as little as 15 usd and this makes it very affordable. On the issue of acceptance mobile phones have become 'The means of communication' not just a means. Mobile phone companies have invested alot in expansion of the network coverage which is not the case for Radio and TV. Another important issue is the portability - you can carry a mobile phone everywhere
Thanks Allen and happy to be able to contribute to this discussion. My name is Mercyline Kamande based in Kigali, Rwanda. My research interests are in policy interventions that involve ICTs in general and mobile phones in particular. I have been involved in research in both Rwanda and Kenya looking at how information assymetries affect agricultural outcomes particularly prices and welfare The use of mobile phone telephony to address such issues has been made possible by the level of mobile phone penetration. When farmers are made aware of the prices that prevail in the market then they are able to make informed decisions. Research has actually shown that mobile phones do lead to better prices for farmers
Thanks, Mercyline. What factors have helped drive down the costs and the interests of mobile companies in Rwanda and Kenya to expand their networks and coverage?
The two countries have at some point zero-rated ICTs products. For instance in 2009 Kenya Zero rated the importation of mobile phones and this drove the demand significantly - Although this was reversed in 2013 with stakeholders complaining that it reversed the gains
In Rwanda ICT products are Zero rated
There is a surge in digitizatiin of government services which further drives the demand. Particularly in Rwanda having government services digitized such as purchasing electricity tokens, paying for water services, paying for some taxes drives demand
Social networks such as whatsup and facebook are free in most smart phones and are used for communication especially for the younger generation
Hi Mercyline. Can you explain what you mean when you say that ICT products are zero rated? Do you mean that they are subsidized by service providers and so provided for free to users as part of the basic pre-paid phone subscription? I agree that people are drawn to services like WhatsApp and Facebook. When we talked to rural farmers in Kenya, many mentioned wanting to know more about services like Facebook, and we were surprised at how many young people were using Facebook almost like a business platform (e.g. to help them sell goods).
Hi everyone, my name is Shaun Ferris, working with the Catholic Relief Services Agriculture and Livelihoods team. Good to join you all today in the discussions on the use of mobile and ICT's in African Agriculture. As mentioned by the other speakers, why has mobile been so successful? I agree with Charles, mobile was a totally disruptive technology, infrastructure enabled the leap frog over landlines and affordable phones provided incredible access to the products. However, my sense was that the driving force for this technology has been the incredible level of untapped demand for a low cost means of communication and the value that people and communities place on that opportunity.
In Agriculture its been said many times that for farmers the phone is now more important than the plow. Why, because, farmers can find increasing value by being phone literate, something that many achieve before basic literacy and perhaps numeracy. Unlike rural radio, which is a fantastic technology, phones allow farmers to organize. Basic two way communication, over any distance, unlocks a lot of opportunities for those who want to explore.
Farmers can tap into ideas with fellow farmers, they can reach out for help from family members, neighbours and expert advisors. They can recieve information even on a basic phone about market prices, now weather and it seems to me that the VALUE that can be achieved by a $20 phone and SIM card, is growing by the day. The reason why its so valueable is the multiple uses that it can offer and thats just with the Nokia basic phone... much more to come as farmers shift up the ladder from basic to SMART
Thank you, Shaun. It sounds like there is agreement that success is driven by demand. Other ICTs then need to be strongly linked to the information that producers find valuable and which is otherwise not accessible (which we can discuss more in Question 3).
Hi Shaun - I totally agree, we should not underestimate the value of basic personal communication, even when it may not seem to have anything to do with farming on the surface. When we talk to farmers about how they use their phones, they tell us about how important it is to keep in touch with their family when they are in the fields, or out at the market. Just this basic time savings - they don't have to stop what they are doing and walk home or walk to the market - brings enormous benefit.
Internet services are also highly subsidizedZero rating is about mobile phones being tax exempt such that they get to the end user at a fair price. This also increases supply of better priced phones. Infact the mobile phone companies not only provide the social platforms at subsidized rates but they also give free phones to users especially in corporates in order to increase customer base
Audio visual has pervasive influence towards attitudes of people including farmers. I am Ronald Kondwani Udedi from Malawi. With a lot of farmers being off the internet grid the challenges are really for them to get right infortmation in this digital era. But based on research which was conducted in 2014 it was discovered that farmers are using there GSM phones not only for talking but also for watching videos (http://www.agroinsight.com/blog/?p=592 ). During the research with my collegue Jeff Bently there is group of young people who run "Burning centers" and distribute videos even the remote areas of Malawi where there is no electricity or internet (http://www.agroinsight.com/blog/?p=581 ). We noted that farmers can watch and learn from videos on their phones without supervision of the exentesion workers.
I started distributing the agriculture videos found on the website of Access Agriculture (www.accessagriculture.org) through the network of "Burning centers" and farmers have been watching them on their phones, the results are encouraging (. http://www.agtube.org/en/content/rice-videos-phones ). Access Agriculture is an international NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya. It showcases farmer to farmer training videos available for use as agricultural extension tools in cross cultural languages. But to enable rural learning without a personal facilitator, the videos need to be in the local language: http://ictupdate.cta.int/2016/10/01/shave-haircut-and-a-video/
This is a very interesting intervention to extension work
Just a clarification are the videos translated or is it a proposal to be translated into local languages
Thanks for bringing our attention to your work. It is great that these phones can be used to disseminate information for agricultural extension purposes. A few questions:
When you say that farmers can watch and learn from these videos, do you now whether they apply what they learnt in practice? Do you see that farmers who watched the videos start using different practices and technologies compared to otherwise similar farmers who did not watch the videos?
What is a sustainable and successful distribution channel for developing and marketing these videos: Input providers, agricultural extension networks/Ministry of agriculture, agri-buyers, financial institutions, insurance providers, perhaps the model would become more sustainble when private companies can advertise on the webpages with videos? Do you have experiencies or thoughts on that?
This is a really fun area within the ICT space and i think there is a lot of evidence out there which suggests that learning by watching others is super helpful. I think that its very common nowadays when you have a problem, to check out YouTube and see how to do something. How are others doing this? The work being done by digital green and access agriculture and many others, is showing that farmers learn from each other and that ICT can help to accelerate or amplify a good or promising practice. Phil Malone from Access agriculture was telling us last week that some of the local video sellers are now also selling memory cards for phones that have Agricultural videos on them... So along with Hollywood and Bollywood and NollyWood, there is a space for videos on how to improve your tomato production, how to save feed your goat etc.. but its showing people that are from your culture, and in your language.. i think this will become an increasingly used media for service providers and agro-dealers who want to promote better ways of farming.. at the moment is a complement to the agent model, but in the near future i think it will be a mainstream option for thousands of farmers...
This is an area that we also have focused on in our recent work. We take a somewhat "participatory" approach, in that we work with local farmers to help develop content, and use local actors speaking in the local dialect. We don't go as far as Digital Green does in having local farmers actually shoot and edit the video - instead we hire a videographer to come with us. But farmers help develop the storyboards, and rather than use fully fixed scripts, we leave a lot of room for them to improvise so that the content reflects local stories and contexts. The people viewing these videos really are engaged when they see them, and we use the Digital Green approach of setting up local screenings moderated by a village-based advisor so discussions can be in the local language. It's challenging, but people really do seem to appreciate watching something informative but entertaining with high production quality in their own language.
Hi Chip and Shaun,
You both make really good points about the value of videos that include people from your same culture and local contexts (such as Digital Green's participatory videos). However, this apporach tends to be much more expensive. This restricts how many farmers a program can reach.
On the other hand, one can think of more "general" videos (think about a generic video that can be disttributed massively across different regions). While I agree that farmers might not engage as much with these, they tend to be cheaper.
I think something that we might want to consider the cost-effectiveness of both approaches. I haven't seen this discussion in the available literature. Has any of you come across papers that analyze this issue?
All really interesting examples, with very close linkages to edu-tainment, which has been shown to have positive impacts in areas other than agriculture, for instance in health. One challenge is that the large success of edu-tainment is coming from it's large scale (e.g. a soap opera targeting an entire country or continent), so it's cost-effectiveness is driven by it's low cost per individual reached (not it's high impacts). It seems that the Digital Green and other video-based interventions in agriculture are, understandably, more focused on the local context, and still involve some mediation through for instance village-based advisors. Does this limit the opportunities of this approach, as we would fall back into some of the constraints that we see around extension services? Or is the video component strong and generalizable enough to reach large audiences at once, without critically depending on the mediation from a village-based advisor or NGO?
Yes, the video approaches we've tried are really hard to scale, and can be relative expensive compared to approaches where one video is disseminated without intermediation to large populations. Programs like Shamba Shape Up, a classic farming edu-tainment program shown in Kenya and neighboring countries, does have scale, but without local intermediaries, are more likely to be seen by people in urban areas rather than rural villages. And without any sort of local engagement, it's hard to know how much farmers really learn. Moreoever, they aren't connected to actual sources of inputs so that they can follow up on the information in the program. That's why I like coupling the video strategy to an existing, on the ground agent infrastructure. Scaling might occur by using mobile distribution - even farmer to farmer - of short video clips (or even animations such as those made by the Scientific Animations Without Borders - SAWBO) but ensuring follow-up by VBAs so they are ready to supply the new seed variety, poultry vaccination, fertilizer, storage bags for grains or whatever is discussed in the videos. The worst thing is to provide information to farmers and having them want to take action, but then not actually providing feasible access to the resources they need to follow the advice.
Maximo Torero and I worked on a paper that deals with a somewhat related issue. We were trying to use videos for agricultural extension in Peru. However, we noticed that farmers (at least in the region where we were working) did not have phones that would support videos. Also, we thought that the distribution of the videos would be somewhat complicated in this setting.
We decided to bypass this by providing agricultural extension videos to teenagers in local high schools. Teenagers in rural areas: (a) increasingly have access to computers and internet due to public investments in ICTs in schools; (b) are very familiar with agricultural chores because they help their parents quite a bit in their farms. So we provided the videos through school computer labs and interviewed the farmers a year later (without the children being present during the interview). We set up a field experiment (where teenagers in the control group watched a placebo video that encouraged oral hygiene).
We did find that parents whose children watched the extension videos had better knowledge of particular agricultural techniques highlighted by the intervention. We also find evidence of increased (self-reported) adoption of new practices.
Great idea to work through schools and reach scale. However, the point still remains that often we want to adapt videos to the local setting, and within a country, you can have a lot of different agricultural zones. In your setting, did you actually cover most of the agricultural regions in Peru or you piloted this on a more regional base? And to go to a higher scale, would you have to adjust the videos and make different series, or the practices promoted were so generic that you think local adjustment would not be needed?
Really good point about the different agricultural zones making it hard to have the same content work across areas. It's important to take that into consideration when using the video approach.
Indeed, this project was part of the Happy Faces Initiative . The geographic coverage of the program was very small.
The videos did target problems that were prevalent in our setting and included some pictures of local crop damage (to help teenagers identify a particular agricultural problem). Having said that, many parts of the video were pretty generic. We used an actor (that posed as a scientist) to explain the agricultural practices we encouraged. The videos also had tons of animations. Unfortunately, we have not been able to upscale this yet (would be definitely interesting to do this in the future, though).
R.e. your question about upscaling, I think this is one of the issues missing from the current literature. I posted this question a little earlier in the forum. Farmers are more likely to engage with videos that have local content (e.g., local actors, specific settings, etc.). However, this approach is expensive. On the other hand, generic videos may not be as engaging, but are much cheaper (based on per-user costs). I haven't come across evidence testing the cost-benefit of both approaches.
I haven't seen any studies that contrast the hyper-local vs generic video approach either. Time to propose one?
These are good points and the examples are appreciated. Given the costs, one way to provide locally-adapted videos may be to work with local partners, perhaps using a video that can be used in multiple locations and training partners to prepare voice-overs that better meet their needs. I am not sure if there are groups that have attempted to do this but it would be great to hear of any.
I am MaryLucy Oronje and happy to join this discussion forum. I am working with Plantwise a global project that focuses on improving the access and quality extension services by samll scale farmers. We are currently piloting and rolling out the use of ICT tools for extension services. One of the most key aspect of ICT tools is the costs of intitial purchase and accessories and maintanence. Zero rating the ICT tools e,g tablest and smart phones will enhance adaptability, maintanence an sustainability. this should also be the case of addedd services such as insurance, data costs to enable users to explore existing platforms to their benefit.
If these products were zero rated, do you think that businesses would still be interested in supplying this information or who would sponsor this so that it could continue long-term?
What is zero rated are the gadgets (tax exempt).
The information shared have to be paid for but by who and at what rate calls for some collaborative efforts
This is a common phenomenon that most phones are not rugged enough for use e.g in the field during extension work. There is lots of breakage, and need of replacements from time to time. Some of them even go obsolete and the program has to factor this. Let say the programme was an App based platform, it may not able to take in the newer versions and improvements made. thei reduces the uptake or continuity of these important tools.
HI MaryLucy: This is Alan de Brauw from IFPRI, I've done some research related to ICTs in agriculture. Agreed on this point- a real challenge is to keep the tools updated once they have been disseminated- extensionists or lead farmers have to be trained in how to update and that can fail, making the tools less useful over time.
Any experiences with demand driven technologies that might not face that difficulty?
Hi Alan, i think this is a challeng that many of the technologies will face, extension included. Planning with this in mind at the idea conceptualization and how this will be tackled including colllection and disposal of the obsolete gadgets , replacement and updating of the ICT platforms e.g Apps. In ICT there is demand of something new within the platform so upgrading of Apps is constantly done to provide users with their increasing demands/needs.
As you both note, this updating is important to remain relevant. The need for longer-term public funding is clear to support these efforts in cases where there is not a strong business interest. Are there examples you are aware of in which this has been done (even within a region of a country)?
Thanks for this post! I think that there are a number of lessons learned from the adoption of simple mobile phones that we can think about for other ICTs.
These are good points here that will have some strong relevance for other ICTs. It will be important to make sure they beneficial and relevant, easy to use, locally-adapted and easily accessible, and if possible, create spillover effects.
I agree - this is a great summary. It's really important to make sure we take the time to learn from users. With flexible technologies like mobile phones, we will see uses evolve that we hadn't anticipated, but that become catalysts for future service innovation (e.g. sending airtime becomes a basis for mobile money, flashing becomes a basis for "please call me" services, etc.)