Farmers call a helpline and speak to agricultural experts who can provide quick and accurate answers to agricultural queries. The experts and researchers can use information on the issues raised to improve their understanding of agricultural trends and the challenges facing farmers. Using their mobile phone, farmers call a helpline staffed by agricultural experts to ask about problems they are facing, such as the appearance of new pests or the use of chemicals. They could also send photos via their mobile to get more specific advice, particularly on identification and treatment of pests and disease. Experts answer their queries immediately if possible, or call back when they have found an answer.
Farmers benefit from cheap and immediate access to advice which is more reliable than word-of-mouth and local community knowledge that typically informs local practices. This service provides expert sources of information to illiterate people – more than half of the adult population in less developed countries, many of them women36 – who cannot benefit from printed material. Access to this advice improves agricultural productivity as farmers can grow crops more efficiently. Data on subjects raised in calls and sources of calls can provide agricultural specialists and research organisations with direct exposure to problems facing smallholder farmers. This data can help improve understanding of the challenges farmers face, help specialists to compile trends for different regions and develop effective responses.
Our analysis estimates that 58 million farmers could be using helpline services in 2020, generating an additional US$18 billion in agricultural income. With farmers using better techniques, machinery and products, and using fewer agricultural inputs, 0.6 Mt of carbon could be saved in 2020.