Interactivity, Awareness, and Adoption: The Impact of Mobile Phones on Agricultural Innovation in Africa

16 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018 Last revised: 21 Aug 2018

See all articles by Heather Hudson

Heather Hudson

University of Alaska Anchorage - Institute of Social and Economic Research

Date Written: March 16, 2018


In the past decade, mobile phones have proliferated in the developing world. Mobile penetration is 39 percent in sub-Saharan Africa; rural residents may also access mobile phones through other household members or extended families. At least 75 percent of households in developing countries worldwide have access to broadcast radio. This paper presents results of evaluation of projects in sub-Saharan Africa that are designed to learn whether radio campaigns combined with interactivity using mobile phones can increase adoption of farming techniques that can enhance food security. The projects used a suite of interactive digital tools called Uliza developed using open source software to help radio stations connect with their audiences. Listeners can sign up for specialized services such as SMS advisories or automated weather forecasts. They can also use an IVR (interactive voice response) system to provide feedback using mobile phones to make responses to questions from the radio programs, and can also trigger an automatic callback to record comments and questions. For broadcasters, Uliza gives real-time access to the results on a digital dashboard. The paper presents the results of evaluations of participatory radio campaigns that used both community listening groups and mobile phones to engage farmers. In a fifteen-month project in four countries, farmers who participated interactively learned more and were significantly more likely to adopt at least one of the practices discussed in the radio campaigns than farmers who listened without interactivity and farmers who did not hear the programs. In a second project, 15 radio stations in four countries used the participatory method to encourage farmers to plant and consume orange sweet potatoes to overcome Vitamin A deficiency. Again, farmers who listened and engaged interactively were significantly more likely to grow and consume the potatoes than passive listeners and nonlisteners. In Uganda, a project called “Her Voice on Air” used similar techniques, paying particular attention to the information needs of female farmers and engaging them in listening groups and interaction. The listening frequency was correlated with implementing practices discussed, with more than 90 percent of respondents participating in the interactive programs implementing the practices promoted on the radio. In each project, evaluation was based on surveys of a random sample of respondents that included interactive listeners, passive listeners, and non listeners the radio programs. The results of this research are important because they are among the first since studies in the 1970s that found that personal interaction resulted in greater knowledge and adoption of new practices than simply listening to or watching mass media. The implications are significant because they show that interactivity using readily accessible mobile phones and open source applications can also increase awareness and adoption, and can contribute to scaling innovative practices for rural development. Thus policies to extend mobile phone service to rural areas can make possible cost-effective strategies to engage rural populations in economic development. These techniques and strategies could be applied in other sectors such as health care and community development, and in other developing regions.

Keywords: mobile phones, rural, sustainability, Africa, development, policy

JEL Classification: O, R, F

Suggested Citation

Hudson, Heather, Interactivity, Awareness, and Adoption: The Impact of Mobile Phones on Agricultural Innovation in Africa (March 16, 2018). TPRC 46: The 46th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2018, Available at SSRN: or

Heather Hudson (Contact Author)

University of Alaska Anchorage - Institute of Social and Economic Research ( email )

United States
4154200871 (Phone)
4154200871 (Fax)

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