Precision Development (PxD) leverages needs assessment research to inform our agricultural extension services, and we survey our farmers to gauge their opinion of our services. Sourcing information from farmers gives us direct insight into the challenges and opportunities farmers face. We use these insights to improve the design of our services and the content of our advisory messages in an effort to align them most closely to farmers’ informational needs.
Through the course of 2021, as we designed and rolled out a new advisory service for farmers in Nigeria, we conducted five surveys to inform more evidence-based decision-making:
- Baseline survey (Jan 21)
- Dry season feedback survey (7th April)
- Wet season feedback survey (3rd August)
- Wet mid-season adoption and knowledge survey (20th August)
- End-line survey (December – analysis is ongoing)
Having a clear line of sight into the needs of farmers has been critical as the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved and created new and shifting challenges for farmers in remote areas.
At PxD we believe the information revolution and the spread of mobile technology to people living in poverty offer unprecedented opportunities for increasing access to information at scale and at a very low cost. We promote digital information-sharing systems to distribute quality, actionable and targeted information. By obtaining regular feedback from farmers through research in behavioral economics and social learning our services are improved to encourage the adoption and assimilation of practical information and improved or adapted production practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gathering Insights on Farmers’ Needs
Utilizing an emergency grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), PxD began working in Nigeria in November 2020 – eight months after the World Health Organization’s assessment of COVID-19 as a “pandemic”. PxD’s initial service, delivered during the dry season, reached more than 5,000 smallholder farmers within three months of the program’s launch. The service was then scaled to serve more than 100,000 users during Nigeria’s primary growing season, the wet season. PxD collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to implement the Nigeria Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF), funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). IFAD’s funding objective was to assist Nigeria to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers and its goal was to insulate domestic food supply by supporting access to affordable inputs and advisory to sustain production.
We believe that gathering baseline information from farmers about their needs was a critical factor that contributed to the success of PxD’s digital advisory service in Nigeria. We conducted a baseline survey in January 2021 to collect information on:
- Farmers’ socio-economic, demographic, and institutional characteristics;
- Their knowledge about dry season cultivation of crops and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs); and
- Their perception of and willingness to receive mobile advisory services.
The survey interviewed 254 farmers randomly selected from a database of over 5,000 farmers. Findings from the baseline survey showed that 95% of the respondents indicated they would be interested in planting during the dry season. The remaining five percent identified lack of water and access to land as major barriers to engaging in any planting in the dry season. The survey also revealed that a lack of appropriate inputs, pests and disease problems, personal preferences, bad harvests, distance from water, and knowledge gaps are important challenges for the smallholder farmers.
Listening to the Farmers from the ‘Get-go’!
At PxD, we prioritize offering our users valuable and practical information to change or improve farmer behaviors and farm productivity. We do this by providing information customized – wherever possible – to a farmer’s location, market conditions, and personal characteristics. To calibrate our systems effectively, it is essential that we hear from the farmers themselves to understand their needs as they relate to their socio-economic realities. The results of our dry season baseline survey provided useful insights about farmers’ crop choices as well as their previous or existing crop practices. This information was vital for informing our product development and service delivery.
Only 56% of farmers surveyed during our baseline assessment had ever attended any training or workshops on crop production techniques. The survey also revealed that rice was the preferred crop for the dry season, followed by onions, tomatoes, and other vegetable crops. These and other findings helped us develop recommendations for specific topics, crop value chains, and farmer groups.
While just over half of farmers surveyed at baseline had experienced some kind of extension outreach, the advisory content received varied. For example, fewer than 50% of farmers had received training on GAPs such as:
- Weed management;
- Harvest and postharvest handling;
- Water management;
- Nursery establishment;
- Transplanting; and
- Input selection.
Whereas more than 50% had received training on:
- Pest and disease management;
- Fertilizer application; and
- Land preparation.
Importantly, the team also learned that fewer than 50% of the respondents had applied any of the GAPs or any other training they had received.
Monitoring Farmers’ Engagement and Feedback
One crucial aspect of our work at PxD is to gather evidence on the impact of our services on smallholder farmers. We are a learning organization that rigorously tests our services through experimentation and research. We have a high level of flexibility to adapt to the complexities of the various geographies where we work. Regular monitoring and evaluation of our interventions help us understand how our services are impacting our users and give us early insights into potential problems. PxD incorporates insights from behavioral economics, human-centered design, and social learning theory, and uses A/B testing and data science to identify what types of information and delivery mechanisms work best for our users.
In Nigeria, a feedback survey was conducted at the end of the 2021 dry season to assess farmers’ perceptions and use of the push call services, and to analyze factors that influenced their engagement with the service. The sample comprised 700 farmers randomly drawn from the seven states where the service was provided (Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara). The sample distribution was 500 farmers from the ‘high participation’ group (with a more than 50% average listening rate) and 200 farmers from the ‘low participation’ group (with a less than 50% average listening rate). The survey results indicated that 88% of respondents, or a member of their family, recalled listening to any of the push call messages, while 86% reported “continuing to listen” to the calls (a proxy for continued engagement). This was particularly significant as it was the first season of the PxD program in West Africa.
Furthermore, a knowledge and adoption survey conducted in August, during the wet season campaign, indicated that 85% of respondents reported adopting at least one GAP, while 95% of respondents correctly answered one or more of the five knowledge questions asked in the survey. The survey also measured service satisfaction. Analysis of the survey results revealed a positive net promoter score of 39 (on a scale of -100 to 100), indicating that a majority of respondents (53%) said that they were likely to promote the service to other users, while only 14% of the sample reported being unlikely to recommend it or continue using the service.
To achieve behavioral change, the information conveyed should be accessible and of practical use to rural farmers. Ninety-four percent of respondents to the wet season feedback survey answered ‘Yes’ when asked: Were the messages clear and loud enough so that you could understand their content? In addition, 96% confirmed that they or a household member adopted the agronomic advice during the planting season.
Research shows that access to extension services is a key driver of technology adoption. Farmers are usually informed about new technology and its effective use by extension agents (Genius et al., 2010). Furthermore, the extension agents form a link between the researchers and users of the information, which helps to reduce transaction costs incurred when passing on the information about the new technology to a large heterogeneous population of farmers (Genius et al., 2010).
However, in-person extension services are expensive and time-consuming to deliver, and very difficult to scale. One can’t copy-and-paste trained extension agents, or their means of transportation, or guarantee that when extension agents make contact with a farmer the information they carry with them will be temporally valuable or practical. As evidenced by feedback from our farmers, very few Nigerian smallholder farmers have benefitted from extension services in the past. Feedback from farmers suggests that PxD’s model of digital agricultural extension in Nigeria, implemented in collaboration with partner organizations to maximize scale and at very low costs per farmer served1 Our Nigeria service was delivered at an average annual cost of $3.45 per farmer served, which compares extremely favorably with the costs of in-person extension services. With further scaling, we expect this number would fall further, and more closely align with PxD’s average cost per user served which at the time of writing was $1.61 per user per year., was considered by farmers to be valuable and relevant. Many farmers reported implementing the advice we broadcast to them. Digital delivery channels meant that we were able to deliver extension services under pandemic conditions when human movement and personal interactions were limited or prohibited.
The success and rapid scaling of our Nigeria service were built on strong partnerships, a portable and customizable in–house technology platform, and a service delivery model that we constantly update with information sourced from the farmers we serve, the results of surveys and experimentation, and rigorous evidence on the impact of our work. We look forward to building on our Nigerian successes and further assisting farmers in need as they confront wide-ranging challenges in very difficult conditions.
We would like to acknowledge the RPSF financial support of IFAD. Many thanks to the Nigerian team for their collective effort in drafting this post, and Emmanuel Bakirdjian, Theresa Solenski, Moira Levy, and Jonathan Faull for their contributions.
Balana B.B., Oyeyemi M.A., Ogunniyi A.I., Fasoranti A., Edeh H., Aiki J., and Andam K.S. (2020). The effects of COVID-19 policies on livelihoods and food security of smallholder farm households in Nigeria: Descriptive results from a phone survey. IFPRI Discussion Paper 1979. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). https://doi.org/10.2499/p15738coll2.134179
Mungai L.M., Snapp S., Messina J.P., Chikowo R., Smith A., Anders E., Richardson R.B., and Li G. (2016). Smallholder Farms and the Potential for Sustainable Intensification. Front. Plant Sci. 7:1720. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2016.01720
Paul A. Francis, John T. Milimo, Chosani A. Njobvu, and Stephen P. M. Tembo (2013). Listening to Farmers. Participatory Assessment of Policy Reform in Zambia’s Agriculture Sector. https://doi.org/10.1596/0-8213-4025-5
Genius, M., Koundouri, M., Nauges, C., and Tzouvelekas, V. (2010). Information Transmission in Irrigation Technology Adoption and Diffusion: Social Learning, Extension Services and Spatial Effects. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aat054