Section of Youth, Literacy and Skills Development, Education Sector, UNESCO
"The Crop Specific Mobile Apps programme has evolved over time in response to changing user needs, in both content provided and the distribution mechanism. The recent analytics component shows how low literacy users contribute to data collection to inform agricultural trends and predictions."
Through the UNESCO-Pearson Initiative for Literacy: Improved Livelihoods in a Digital World, this case study is part of a series highlighting how inclusive digital solutions can help people with low skills or low literacy levels use technology in ways that support skills development and, ultimately, improve livelihoods - in contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on education. For more information on the initiative, click here. This document analyses the uptake by Indian farmers of mobile phone apps created by Jayalaxmi Agro Tech (JAT) that are designed to support dissemination of crop information generated by the agricultural extension services in order to ensure successful agricultural practices and decision-making. Because 50% of the Indian workforce dedicates itself to agriculture (data from 2014), accounting for 20% of the country's economy, JAT launched Crop Specific Mobile Apps in 2014 "as an e-agricultural extension service to provide a suite of stand-alone apps delivering material about best practices to low-literacy farmers, in English, Hindi and four regional Indian languages: Kannada, Telugu, Marati and Gujarati. In addition to the agricultural software, the programme incorporates an ‘AgriPole’ hardware device that acts as a mobile hotspot to download agricultural content and other partner-endorsed material on the topics of health care, financial literacy and education services. As of August 2017, the suite of apps had reached 170,000 downloads through partnerships with government, private and non-governmental organizations."
As stated in the document, 75 of every 100 Indians have mobile phones. JAT chose to implement information dissemination through these devices with which farmers are already familiar, developing a user-friendly interface for its n 25 apps, updated regularly, and offering "evidenced-based information on sowing and transplantation methods, fertilization and dosage, pest management, irrigation and harvesting techniques." The system also includes prompts for routine maintenance on topics such as irrigation,harvest schedules, ideal insemination periods, and vaccination cycles for livestock. The apps' design emphasises audio-visual support for low-literacy farmers.
In addition, the JAT system includes a hardware device called AgriPole for "storing and transferring data to smartphones through Bluetooth connectivity, and a cloud-based analytics platform to monitor disease or pest emergence through usage data patterns." It can be installed in remote communities as the interface with mobile phones of farmers for using the apps, as well as for gathering data on usage. As a result, JAT's platform extends the impact of the programme "to mitigate against disease and pest emergence, identify knowledge gaps among farmers, and predict market trends in crop varieties." Using big data from JAT's cloud servers, gathered from the farmer's mobile phones, JAT can also use its built-in algorithm to monitor usage patterns across all users and can track access, for example, to information on pests or diseases. Jat can then check with farmers and alert those in adjacent areas through SMS (text messages) if problems are arising. "...[T]he analytics platform has the potential to assist policy-makers and government officials to make informed decisions about their agricultural support services. "
JAT also surveys farmers to see if behaviours follow their access to information and for "changes in input cost, productivity and fertilizer use before and after use of the system." Usage in remote communities can be monitored by frequency of downloads from the AgriPole device in each community. Users also have the opportunity to rate the apps, send reviews, and give direct feedback through focus groups. An example of the user-based design cycle is the following: Some information given to farmers through the apps was based upon their awareness of their agro-climate, but users called to enquire about the agro-climate of their location. JAT followed up with a map included in the apps for identification of a farmer's climate.
"The Crop Specific Mobile Apps programme uses an integrated business model which involves the sale of a proprietary hot spot device that facilitates access to the suite of apps, while generating additional revenue and sustainability through partner advertisements." JAT started in a rural region and has expanded to other states, is partnering with Green Way in Myanmar, and is responding to interest shown from some African countries. It is experimenting with a platform intended to serve as a direct link between bulk buyers of specific crop produce and farmers. " By serving as a bilateral database for buyers and farmer it could effectively cut out intermediaries and enable farmers to obtain better profits while selling their produce at lower prices."
Lessons learned include: creating simple and intuitive software coupled with essential hardware, developing content based upon user skill-levels and feedback; defining a distribution strategy; finding a business model that will move the platform beyond a pilot phase; monitoring to see if technology adoption and behaviour change are both achieved; and staying focused on the mission of providing a solution to a basic issue.
UNESCO website, January 2 2018, and email from Steven Vosloo to The Communication Initiative on January 10 2018. Image credit: Jayalaxmi Agrotech/Anil Kumar