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February 6th, 2018 / SciDev.net

A review of research on how information services based on mobile phone technology can improve the lives of farmers has found only patchy evidence of success.

The review, which looked at 23 studies of such services in Africa, Asia and Latin America, found that although users often reported improvements, these were perceived benefits not always borne out by tangible evidence, such as changing trading patterns and price gains.

Mobile phone services for farmers comprise text message services, helplines and apps that provide information on training or weather forecasts, as well as accessing markets, financing and inputs such as fertilisers.

Developers of these services, funders and others believe these services hold promise for developing world farmers — to help them improve their yields, for example, or achieve stronger negotiation positions when taking goods to market.

But Heike Baumüller, a researcher at the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn in Germany, who conducted the review, says that developers’ failure to look at the context in which farmers use these services means many are under-utilised. Some of the data shows usage rates dropping among women, for example, or recommendations not acted on due to logistics.

“There are only a few studies looking at who is using these services and what the needs of users are,” explains Baumüller. “If developers don’t understand how a service fits into farmers’ lives, it can easily happen that these services aren’t effective.” Read more