Conover Studies Text Messages for Farmers
“The impact of receiving SMS price and weather information on small scale farmers in Colombia,” co-authored by Associate Professor of Economics Emily Conover, was recently published online in the journal World Development.
Conover and Adriana Camacho of Columbia’s Universidad de Los Andes said that small-scale farmers in developing countries tend to make production and sale decisions based on imprecise, informal, and out-of-date information sources including family, neighbors, and tradition. They said that the lack of timely and accurate information often leads to inefficiencies that can affect farmers’ revenues and well-being.
In a randomized controlled trial, they sent 500 farmers approximately eight messages with regional pricing data and customized weather information each week. They looked at whether the messages changed farmers’ behavior, sale practices, and welfare.
The results showed that compared to a control group, these farmers thought the messages were useful for planting and selling decisions. Conover and Camacho also found that on smaller farms the farmers tended to plant more crops for which they had price information, whereas on larger farms the information was used to seek new markets and increase conversations with other producers.
Though the results appear promising, the authors said that messaging did not necessarily result in “a significant difference in farmers reporting a price, price differential with the market price, or sale prices received.” They said the “findings indicate that prior to a large-scale implementation it is necessary to better understand what prevents farmers from more directly profiting from this new information.”