Technology Innovation for Sustainable Development (2011-present)

Mobile Phone-Based Agricultural Extension: Identifying Spillover Effects and Mechanisms Underlying Technology Adoption

A. Nilesh Fernando, PhD in Public Policy candidate, HKS

2014 Student Research Grant of $7,000

The rapid spread of mobile phones throughout the developing world has revolutionized the cost and efficacy with which information can be conveyed to rural communities. Our previous research demonstrated the demand for and impact of mobile phone-based agricultural extension in rural India. This research project builds on these findings by exploring the behavioral mechanisms underlying the adoption and diffusion of such technologies using a cluster-randomized experiment. The study involves 3000 cotton farmers organized into ‘learning groups’ of 20-30 farmers. The treatment group will receive free access to mobile phone-based extension that provides unbiased, expert advice on agricultural inputs, weather forecasts and farming practices. In addition, treatment respondents will be able to ask personalized questions from staff agronomists. The experimental design varies the intensity with which learning groups receive information, allowing for the identification of peer effects. The estimation of such information externalities have broad implications for policy. In particular, they inform how such extension systems can best be deployed towards supporting the rapid adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.  Understanding the mechanisms underlying adoption has important implications for the optimal design of mobile phone-based extension systems. Finally, this research will test the generalizability of previous findings across varying agro-climatic conditions.