EXECUTIVE SUMMARY — This paper evaluates a new service that provides mobile-phone based agricultural consulting to poor farmers in India. For decades, the Government of India, like most governments in the developing world, has operated a system of agricultural extension, intended to spread information on new agricultural practices and technologies through a large work force of public extension agents. Evidence of the efficacy of these extension services, however, is limited. This paper describes a randomized field experiment examining the potential for an alternate route to improving agricultural management. Specifically, the authors evaluate Avaaj Otalo (AO), a mobile phone-based technology that allows farmers to call a hotline, ask questions, and receive responses from agricultural scientists and local extension workers. Findings show that AO had a range of important, positive effects on farmer behavior. This paper may be the first rigorous evaluation of mobile phone-based extension and, more generally, the first evaluation of a demand-driven extension service delivered by any means. Key concepts include:
- Farmers with access to the service were more likely to switch to a pesticide that is both more effective against pests, and dramatically less toxic to humans.
- Farmers receiving advice were also quicker to adopt high-value cash crops, planting more cumin and demonstrating more knowledge about it.
- The paper presents the first rigorous evidence that a low-cost agricultural extension service (costing as little as $.60 per farmer per month) can change behavior.