Nashwa Khali

Organization: Vodafone Farmers Club / Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSMA)
Country: Ghana

NASHWA: GSMA1, working with a wide range of mobile network operators and civil society organisations, is launching a series of nutrition-focused m-health and m-agriculture initiatives in South Asia and sub- Saharan Africa, called mNutrition. The objective of mNutrition in mAgri is to create and scale commercially sustainable mobile services enabling smallholder farmers to improve their nutrition, yields and incomes. The product to be delivered and evaluated is the Vodafone Farmers’ Club. The service is a bundled solution offering agricultural information in addition to voice and SMS services. In order to measure the causal impact of the Farmers’ Club product, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) will conduct an external impact evaluation of the mAgri programme in Ghana in November 2016. A randomized encouragement design will be implemented. Specifically, some communities will be randomly assigned to receive additional marketing and promotion of the Farmers’ Club product and some communities will not be assigned to the additional marketing and promotion. The additional marketing and promotion will consist of price discounts, advertisement scripts, and gender targeting.

Rationale for Intervention

The rapid expansion of mobile phone access to populations at the base of the income pyramid presents an unprecedented opportunity to expand coverage of nutrition and agriculture services to this previously overlooked segment of the mobile market. Mobile phones and computer centers are the most targeted channels to provide not only technical and scientific information on crop production and nutrition, but also to support the marketing of products that can help level the playing field between small producers and traders. Agricultural extension services delivered via mobile phones can in theory promote ‘nutrition-sensitive’ interventions by creating competent and efficient farmers who are able to increase productivity by making effective use of knowledge and information which is delivered to them.

Broadly speaking, nutrition-sensitive agriculture is aimed at improving the nutritional status of a population by maximizing the impact of food and of agricultural systems, while minimizing the potential for negative externalities regarding the sector’s economic and production-driven goals. In the last few years there has been a visible trend in agricultural policies and programs to become ‘nutrition-sensitive’ by leveraging agriculture to maximize nutrition impact. Yet there is an identified need to better understand the linkages between agriculture and nutrition, and to decipher the ways in which agriculture can contribute to improved nutrition. Despite the potential of mobile services coupled with agricultural change to improve nutrition and diet quality, very few studies exist that critically assess the application of mobile phone technology for nutrition in resource-poor settings.

Farmers’ Club

Farmers’ Club is a bundled solution offering farmers agricultural and nutrition information in addition to voice and SMS services. The target market Vodafone expects to attract is about 450,000 Farmer Club users by 2016/17 across 8 regions in Ghana: Eastern Region, Western Region, Ashanti Region, Central Region, Northern Region, Volta, Brong-Ahafo, and Greater Accra. Researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are conducting a rigorous mixed-methods evaluation to estimate the impact of mNutrition and to understand how the context and the components of the mNutrition intervention shape its impact. To estimate the casual impacts of the product on farmer’s behavior, knowledge, nutrition, yields and income, a randomized encouragement design is being implemented where some communities are randomly assigned to receive additional marketing and promotion of the Farmers’ Club product and some are not assigned to the additional marketing and promotion. The additional marketing and promotion will consist of price discounts, advertisement scripts, and gender targeting.

The goal of the impact evaluation is to measure the causal impact of Farmers’ club on behaviors and outcomes linked to nutrition and agriculture. But before a full scale impact evaluation is rolled out; which is resource and time intensive IFPRI decided to do a pilot, which is the leg of the project that I was brought on to do. Essentially the purpose of the pilot was to test the assumptions of the evaluation and related encouragements before they are rolled out for the study and to test willingness to pay for the Farmer club product. As soon as I landed in Ghana I had three priority areas to work on:

  1. Build relationships with potential implementing partners and all the involved stakeholders; including Vodafone, The University of Ghana, and ESOKO2

  2. Collaborate with Vodafone to do user feedback surveys for existing Farmers’ Club customers. This would help the research team at IFPRI understand the rates of take-up of the service as well as the perceived benefits of subscribing.

  3. Set up the IRB3 protocol, as well as pilot evaluation that would allow us to answer the following research questions:

    •   How effective is the Farmer Club at increasing the knowledge and changing the behavior of farmers?

    •   What are the impacts and cost-effectiveness of the Farmer Club product on household’s dietary diversity, agricultural income, and production?

    •   Does targeting women increase impacts over and beyond the impacts of a non-targeted Farmer Club product?

  What is farmer’s willingness to pay for Farmer’s club?

The preliminary data gathered while I was in Ghana evidenced that Farmers’ Club positively enhanced the livelihoods and quality of life of smallholder farmers by improving access to information, financial services and supply chain solutions, delivered via mobile phone. Furthermore the mNutrition component of the intervention promoted behaviour change around key farming decisions and practices via mobile nutrition content.