By Tinishu Solomon |

An agricultural hotline designed to provide free agricultural advice to smallholder farmers about planting crops, using fertilizer and preparing land, has registered a massive success since its launch in Ethiopia only last year.

The country’s first agricultural hotline, 8028 call-in system, has achieved a major milestone, surpassing a full one million registered callers, with nearly 6.5 million phone calls received.

The hotline is a result of a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Ethio Telecom, and the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA).

ATA says the hotline is revolutionizing traditional agricultural extension services by providing smallholder farmers with direct access to “best practice” agronomic advice.

“Hitting the one million caller mark in under a year is a tremendous endorsement of the 8028 system,” ATA CEO, Khalid Bomba said.

He explained that, “out of the one million registered callers, 730,000 have identified themselves as farmers”.

Wondirad Mandefro, State Minister of Agriculture, also said it signals “a huge opportunity” to assist Ethiopia’s smallholder farmers in an innovative manner.

This, according to the minister, includes providing them with targeted information using digital technology to help them increase their agricultural productivity and improve their livelihoods.

“It also indicates the level of farmers’ awareness and capability created to utilize new technologies,” he said.

The 8028 hotline is just one of several interventions in the Agricultural Transformation Agenda with quantifiable outcomes contributing to the transformation of Ethiopia’s agriculture sector.

As an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Short Message Service (SMS) system, the 8028 hotline currently provides smallholder farmers free access to information on cereal, horticulture, and pulse and oil seed crops, as well as a wide range of general agriculture-related activities.

Automated and voice-recorded information on pre-planting, planting, crop protection, post-harvest, fertilizer application, processing, and irrigation is accessible to callers through 90 service lines.

Simultaneously, a push-based voice and SMS alert system also notifies extension workers and smallholder farmers of any pertinent agriculture issues.

According to ATA officials, the success of the 8028 hotline is attributable, in part, to this unique two-way functionality.

Farmers can retrieve practical, real-time advice available in their regional language by calling 8028 as often as they like.

At the same time, the hotline administrator can “push” customized content (such as in cases of drought, pest and disease) to callers based on crop, geographic or demographic data captured when farmers first register to use the system.

“Over 100,000 SMS messages have already been sent out, informing smallholders on using improved seeds and farming techniques to increase their yields,” explained Andualem Admassie, CEO of Ethio Telecom.

“Additionally, 400,000 IVR messages have been sent, explaining how to identify and protect crops against wheat rust and maize necrosis lethal diseases.”

“Traditionally, farmers access this information through periodic engagement with development agents,” Khalid explained.

“Now, however, this knowledge is simply a phone call away for one million of Ethiopia’s farmers.”

According to Ethio Telecom statistics, these one million registered callers are averaging 17,500 daily calls into the 8028 system.

Source: The Africa Report

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