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Adoption of new agricultural technologies by farmers in developing countries is sometimes limited, despite the associated benefits. Potato farmers in Carchi, Ecuador rely heavily on pesticides to limit pest and disease damage, rather than adopting a more sustainable and economically viable alternative: Integrated Pest Management (IPM). One reason IPM adoption is limited is that farmers are uncertain about the benefits of the complex technology. Information provision builds knowledge that reduces that uncertainty and leads to adoption. Another reason for limited adoption is that other farming activities compete for time, and farmers may forget or delay IPM adoption. One way to transfer information and remind farmers to adopt IPM practices is through text messages.
To evaluate the impact of text messages on IPM adoption, we conducted a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) among potato farmers in Carchi, Ecuador. The RCT allowed us to identify the causal impact of text messages by comparing adoption rates and knowledge scores between farmers who received text messages (treatment), and farmers who did not (control). After attending a one-day training, the treatment received tailored IPM messages for approximately five and a half months. At the conclusion of the trial period, treatment and control farmers reported their adoption of individual IPM practices, and were tested on their IPM knowledge.
Treatment farmers adopted both simple and complex practices at higher rates than the control. Farmers who received text messages also possess more knowledge about IPM techniques than non-recipients, which is evidence of the knowledge-building effect of text messages. Furthermore, text messages were shown to be effective in encouraging the adoption of practices for which no separate inputs were required, and ineffective in encouraging practices where a separate input was required. Text messages are an positive supplement to an in-person training program because they build knowledge and remind farmers, both of which encourage the adoption of IPM, which benefits the farmer, his community, and the environment.