A new information hotline is giving smallholder farmers across Ethiopia access to best practice agronomic advice revolutionizing traditional agricultural extension. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), and Ethio Telecom, the 8028 hotline was created by the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), who placed the extension information typically provided to agricultural Development Agents directly on a technology platform that can be accessed by anyone at any time. Twelve weeks after its launch in the Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and SNNP regions, the hotline has received nearly 1.5 million calls from 300,000 farmers.
The Interactive Voice Response (IVR)/Short Message Service (SMS) system currently provides smallholder farmers free access to information on cereal, horticulture, and pulse/oil seed crops, as well as a wide range of agriculture-related activities. Currently 90 service lines connect smallholder farmers to automated and voice-recorded information on pre-planting, planting, crop protection, post-harvest, fertilizer application, processing, irrigation and weather content. A push-based voice and SMS alert system also notifies extension workers and smallholder farmers of any pertinent agriculture issues.
Khalid Bomba, Chief Executive Officer, ATA, attributed the success of 8028 to the unique two-way functionality of the service. “Farmers can “pull” practical, real-time advice available in their regional language by calling 8028 as often as they like. At the same time the hotline administrator can “push” customized content (such as in cases of drought, pest and disease) to callers based on crop, geographic or demographic data captured when farmers first register to use the system. For example, there is currently a concern about the possibility of wheat rust in certain parts of Ethiopia. With this IVR system, we have been able to send voice recorded messages to all wheat farmers registered on the system about strategies that they can use to minimize the impact of wheat rust on their crops.”
According to Khalid, “the mandate of the ATA is to support the implementation of targeted interventions that will have an immediate impact on the agriculture sector. With over 35,000 calls made daily to 8028, this initiative is one of several interventions in the Agricultural Transformation Agenda that is having a quantifiable impact in assisting smallholder farmers every day.
Tefera Derbew, Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture, says he is delighted with the popularity of the hotline. “Many smallholder farmers are benefiting significantly from this new service which gives them information they would otherwise have only got through extension workers, whom they may only meet with periodically. With this system farmers can access the information they need at their convenience and as often as necessary.”
“The IVR system offers users information relevant to the key cereals and high value crops, but I envisage that in the near future there will be the opportunity to upscale the service to include content relevant to all of the major agricultural commodities in the country, including livestock,” His Excellency said.
Andualem Admassie, Chief Executive Officer, Ethio Telecom, on his part said that development of the hotline presented a unique opportunity for three distinguished organizations to work collaboratively for the benefit of Ethiopia. “This is a landmark initiative and one that has tangible benefits for farmers and their communities. Ethio Telecom is proud to be part of this project and assist where there is a real need in our country,” said Ato Andualem.
Additional support from the ATA’s development partners, The Royal Netherlands Embassy, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) Canada, was critical to the success of the project.
“The 8028 information service is the first initiative of its kind in Ethiopia,” stated Lidi Remmelzwaal, The Netherlands’ Ambassador to Ethiopia. “That it received 1,000,000 calls during two months of operation is indicative of the project’s impact potential on the country’s agriculture community in the months to come.”
David Usher, Canadian Ambassador to Ethiopia added, “The content made available through this project is vital in assisting Ethiopia’s farmers to maximize productivity, improve income earning potential and transform livelihoods.”
The ATA is currently working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ethio Telecom and other partners to scale up the initiative. Plans are underway for the deployment of a further 30 service lines and expansion of the hotline content to cover all aspects of agricultural information pertinent to Ethiopia’s smallholder famers.
Cover Photo: Khalid Bomba of ATA briefing journalists