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31 Jul 2017 | Himalica

Smarter Cardamom Farming Using SMS Advisories

As part of the Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica) pilot project, the Environment Conservation and Development Forum (ECDF), ICT for Agriculture (IFA), and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have been operating an SMS-based advisory service targeting cardamom farmers from three areas in Taplejung—Phungling, Phurumbu and Sikaicha—since October 2016.

The main objective of the advisory service is to help cardamom farmers get better at what they do with up-to-date information on good farming practices and markets for cardamom so that they are able to reap maximum benefits.

Harish Chandra Chilwal & Sibjan Chaulagain

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Cardamom Farmers discuss crop management techniques Photo: Ghanashyam Sharma

Presently, more than 200 cardamom farmers subscribe to the service. Almost every day, they receive SMS advisories in the Nepali language on their mobiles. They receive three types of advisories: a) current market price of cardamom in the nearby market, b) weather information, and c) information on cardamom-farming and extension services.

Twice a month, interested farmers can call on experts for advice. Farmers can call the experts on their mobile numbers. Or they can send SMS inquiries. The experts’ responses to the SMS inquiries received are then shared with all the farmers subscribed to the SMS advisory service.

Cardamom market price information in Birtamod and Taplejung is sourced daily from both the Nepal and District Chapters of the Cardamom Entrepreneurs Association. Local weather forecast information is sourced from AccuWeather and checked against data provided by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology before it is issued. Advisories on good practices related to cardamom farming, pest management, and government schemes and extension services are sourced directly from the cardamom manual published by ICIMOD, cardamom research scientists working in the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) office in Fikkal, and the Cardamom Development Centre in Phidim.

Recently, IFA and ECDF jointly conducted a training for farmers on how to use the SMS service available on their mobile phone most effectively to communicate with experts with their queries and requests for advice. They learned to send a specific query or comment to the expert as an SMS using the assigned code. Farmers love this SMS advisory service as they don’t have to rely on local traders for market price information for their cardamom. They can access market prices at any time on their own and also consult experts through the SMS service available.

In order to assess the efficacy of the SMS advisory service, the IFA and ECDF conducted a user feedback survey among 120 farmers in three different sites to improve the service. The survey looked at four aspects. The findings are summarized in the table below.

Question Finding
What are the types of mobile sets used? Close to 95% of the farmers carry simple feature phones. Internet connection is very unreliable.
Have the advisories have helped the farmers get better? Most replied yes.
Among the three types of advisories issued, which is the most sought after? Cardamom price information was most sought after (39%) followed by advisories on good practices associated with cardamom farming (38%).
Do they want the advisory service to continue after the Himalica project ends? Farmers want the service continued even after the Himalica project ends and 92% are willing to pay for the service.
1. Photo: Sibjan Chaulagain/IFA 2. Photo: Sibjan Chaulagain/IFA

Not surprisingly, the Nepal Cardamom Entrepreneurs Association (NCEA), the key source of cardamom market price information in Nepal, has shown interest in using the SMS advisory mechanism established under the Himalica project to circulate the market price of cardamom among entrepreneurs and farmers all over Nepal on a daily basis.

ECDF has initiated a discussion to seek cooperation from NCEA and municipalities to scale out the SMS advisory mechanism and ensure its continuation beyond the Himalica project term.

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