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What Works in Development – a Critical Look at Avaaj Otalo and its Relevancies in Kyrgyzstan

Agriculture is the primary source of income to the farmers who contributed to almost all economy of the people who live in the not easy to reach region. According to FAO[1], more than 3billion of the world population lives in the rural communities and these people, who are roughly 2.5billion derived their livelihood from agriculture. In the “hear our voice video”, the poor people demanded of the international development communities to provide them with opportunities and empowerment.

While giving opportunities to the world poor who are majorly farmers, the international development communities need to understand what these people needed and how best to reach them. While the poor are hard to reach, it is astounding to know that majority of them have access to feature phones which can open a new opportunity paradigm for these underserved people.

The story of how M-Pesa revolutionized the way the poor save and move money is probably one of the most successful stories in international development; while there are many factors that contributed to the success of the initiative which is well documented, one of the most important factors was how the farmers themselves have been able to make use of this medium to its fullest.

If the majority of the people who are unreachable are farmers and they have mobile phones, how do we make use of the technology that they are used to, mobile phone, to empower them to produce more and how do we use this medium to empower and provide them with more opportunities? These are questions that needed critical answers, and at that, Avaaj Otalo (AO) proves that we can use the mobile phone as an agricultural extension medium for the farmers while considering that majority of them do not have numeracy skills and likely illiterates.

While farmers still rely on the old extension method which is proven to lack accountability and effectiveness couples with myriad challenges[2] that render it ineffective.  AO comes to change the way extension is delivered to the farmers, and its primary goal is to learn about the impact of mobile-based agricultural extension service for farmers[3].

Avaaj Otalo is a mobile-phone based information and communication technology initiative by the Development Support Centre to empower farmers with access to relevant and timely information in a participatory and interactive manner[4]. The project uses a Voice Response System (IVR) to deliver input (pest control, fertilizer user, weather information, seed related information, etc.) and output (market pricing information) relevant information to the farmers. The mobile phone as a medium to disseminate information to the underserved farmers will be a big thing as the majority of the researches in this area already observed that farmers preferred to receive information from their mobile phones (Babu et al., 2012; Cole & Fernando, 2012; Anderson & Birner (2007)). It should be noted that this intervention is cost-effective as (Cole & Fernando, 2012) observed that the cost of the response is quite low at an estimated monthly price of approximately USD 1.13 per farmer (including all airtime costs, staff time, and technology fees).

AO presented a new way to deliver information to the unreachable poor by using the technology they are familiar with which is the mobile phone, and without doubt, this will likely have the same impact as M-Pesa, if well explored.

As a report by ITU observed that the ranking of Kyrgyzstan improves in ICT penetration of the country from 108 in 2015 to 113 in 2016[5] and also since the majority of the ICT scenery in the country is monopolized and managed by the KyrgyzTelecom, this may be a blessing to the implementation of AO in the country. Since the internet penetration of the country is limited to the urban center, this will further help the farmers who are the major users of feature phones and who live in the rural area of Kyrgyzstan to have access to cost-effective agricultural extension solution through the AO platform.

Since technology is still at its infancy in the country, entrepreneurship in the country is focused in the city that has access to the internet, and most of the startups are focused on service-oriented businesses leaving the remote part of the country to deal in agriculture[6].

Although technology has changed the way the poor do many things from savings to spending, education and health, AO will be more applicable in Kyrgyzstan since the majority of their population still dwell in the rural communities which this can be traced back to the history of the country as a nomad.

I understand this may sound utopian, but I do know that the Fishermen of Kerala in India were empowered through the use of mobile phones to confirm market pricing and this alone changes the look of the way fish was sold in the region and a part of what contributed to that is because Kerala is disadvantaged because of the distance from the village to the market[7]. Geography is a big part of embracing of technology by the farmers and people from underserved societies, and the same geography is also one of the significant challenges faced by the remote region of Kyrgyzstan. Hence, they can also benefit from the use of mobile phone technology as an agricultural extension tools in the country.



Anderson, J., and R. Birner (2007): “How to Make Agricultural Extension Demand-Driven?: The Case of India’s Agricultural Extension Policy,” IFPRI Discussion Paper

  1. 2.1

Babu, S. C., Glendenning, C. J., Asenso-Okyere, K., & Govindarajan, S. K. (2012). Farmers’ Information Needs and Search Behaviors. International Food Policy Research Institute, Paper, 1165, 1–37.

Cole, S., & Fernando, A. N. (2012). The value of advice: Evidence from mobile phone-based agricultural extension.

[1] http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e01.pdf

[2] http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y4973E/y4973e06.htm

[3] http://www.developmentoutlook.org/2012/12/a-short-message-from-avaaj-otalo-project.html

[4] https://yourstory.com/2012/02/avaaj-otalo-mobile-services-to-empower-farmers/

[5] https://www.itu.int/net4/ITU-D/idi/2016/#idi2016countrycard-tab&KGZ

[6] http://pages.kiva.org/node/8681

[7] http://www.economist.com/node/9149142

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