Skip to main content

Newsletter Article, Issue #18: Avaaj Otalo: Evaluating the effectiveness of a mobile-based extension service

Author: Ishani Desai

It is estimated that more than half of the Indian labor force is engaged in agriculture.  Given this, India’s productivity in agriculture is still quite low.  For example, India is the second largest producer of cotton in the world, after China.  Yet, Indian cotton productivity ranks 78th in the world, with yields only one-third as large as those in China.  Many factors, such as access to credit and insurance may contribute to differences in productivity; but a key possibility is that farmers lack information about ways to increase their productivity.

Agricultural research institutions in India generate a large amount of practical scientific knowledge; however, little of this information actually reaches farmers because of inefficient or nonexistent agricultural extension systems.  The Government of India spent nearly $60 million USD on public agricultural extension programs from 2009 to 2010.  Despite this, a nationally representative survey shows that just 5.7 percent of farmers report receiving information about agricultural technologies from public extension agents in India.
With the growing access and availability of mobile technology, the ability to deliver timely and relevant information to farmers through mobile phones is easier than ever before.  It is estimated that 36 percent of those working in agriculture have a wireless subscription and could access agricultural information via mobile phone.  Mobile technology, then, has the potential to revolutionize the way farmer’s access information and do business.

The Study
The CMF study “Avaaj Otalo: Investigating the Impact of a Mobile-based Extension Service” study seeks to evaluate a mobile-based intervention that provides farmers access to weekly agricultural advice messages as well as to a service where a farmer can ask questions and receive responses from an agricultural expert and access a database that stores responses for a period of two years.  Working with the Development Support Centre (DSC) and Awaaz.De, 800 farmer households were randomly assigned toll-free access to AO, of which 400 also received traditional physical extension outreach.  The control group for the study is comprised of another 400 households.  The 1,200 farmers who are participating in this study are located in the Surendranagar district in Gujarat, own a mobile phone, and grow cotton.  In addition, on average, they earn $288 USD a month and have 4 years of education.    

With more than half of the treatment farmers calling into Avaaj Otalo in the first seven months, it is evident that there is substantial demand for such agricultural advice services.  Results from our phone surveys indicate that farmers offered the service turn less often to other farmers and input dealers for agricultural advice.  We also observe an increase in the adoption of more effective pesticides and reduced expenditures on less effective and hazardous pesticides.  These early observed changes in behavior and investment decisions seem quite promising.

The Future of AO: Policy Implications
The Avaaj Otalo study demonstrates that informational inefficiencies are real and that there is a considerable demand for high-quality agricultural information.  Mobile-based technology platforms present an opportunity to improve the frequency and relevance (seasonal and geographic) of agricultural extension services which in-turn has the potential to dramatically increase on-farm efficiency and improve rural livelihoods.  The service is also inexpensive, with a cost estimate of approximately $3.00 (Rs.150) per year per farmer to cover the cost of airtime and labor required to administer the service.  Administered independently or coupled with traditional extension services, the innovation has the potential to reach a much larger population of farmers at a fraction of the cost required for traditional extension services.  The current evaluation aims to understand the effectiveness of such non-traditional extension services as well as how information is best relayed and then subsequently transmitted or diffused within farmer communities.  Also, given that the service is currently free, important next steps will be to gauge the demand price or a farmers ‘willingness-to-pay’ for such a product and the impact of the service on yields.


Popular Posts

Vocationalisation of education in India: Current Scenario, Key Challenges and New directions

“Every handicraft has to be taught not merely mechanically as is done today, but scientifically. This is to say, the child should learn the why and wherefore of every process.” - Gandhi’s Philosophy of Education

The greatest challenge in Indian education system today is to provide skill based education to the youth. This is exacerbated by a mismatch in demand and supply for the skilled workforce. The penetration of vocational education and training remains poor not only in rural areas, but also in urban regions where there is a higher installed capacity to impart the same. This post is an attempt to make the readers understand the need of vocational education in India. Also, this is an attempt to summarise a few recommendations on the same. 
A recent survey (61st round) conducted by the NSSO found that:

1. The percentage of population that completed primary education was 70%, but less than 10% went on to complete a graduation course and above. Almost 97% of individuals in the age bracket…

Rockstar of Financial Inclusion: Business Correspondent Model of India

About Author:  Jatinder Handoo is a social business enthusiast and a branchless banking practitioner. Currently works at FINO PayTech Ltd and is based out of Mumbai. He is reachable at
India is a hot bed of financial exclusion. A country which houses nearly 16% of the global population  has more than 65% of its people outside the formal financial system (Global Findex 2012). The Indian banking system has adopted multiple approaches to make universal financial inclusion a reality right from early days Indian post-independence banking system. Be it bank nationalization in 1969 or formation of Regional Rural Banks. Formation of NABARD or fostering microfinance through Bank-SHG linkage programme in early 90’s. A shimmering ray hope was rekindled with the growth of JLG based microfinance, however later studies made it clear that the model is credit led, concentrated predominately in the southern region of India thus could not be seen as painting complete financial…

A Platform for Knowledge - Enabling people to learn ..

I received a rather interesting link/website via my email today. The link read as MR University and all I could think of was, "Ok, this must be another website portal of some university or college". Well, on clicking the link and looking through the contents of the site, I was pleasantly surprised. The site is an online education portal or platform that allows users or teachers to upload short videos on topics or lessons they wish to impart. First topic that I come across is Development Economics.
The intent of the website is eloquently put out by the two economists, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok in the intro video. What started as a blog focusing on economics and its various implications in understanding why things are the way they are around us, has now an interesting addition. A video portal titled MRUniversity or Marginal Revolution University that focuses on online education with subjects pertaining to economics. It brought back to my mind,…