The Impact of Digital Channels on Behaviors During Emergency Response Efforts

July 31, 2021

The COVID-19 and desert locusts interlocking crises threaten smallholder farmers’ health, livelihoods, and food security in East Africa. Illustrative of what can be achieved in an open content environment, a wide array of smallholder farmer-focused digital partners and other agencies came together to deploy farmer-friendly digital tools and original content to support public health messaging, desert locust public service announcements, citizen reporting efforts and a productive recovery for food systems. 

The goal of this COVID-19 and desert locust emergency response was to rapidly mobilize a range of digital content and channel providers to immediately inform farmers across the region of COVID-19 and desert locust threats and the measures they could take to protect themselves and their families. Mercy Corps AgriFin acted as the catalyst organising the response effort. In six months, the programming implemented reached over 16 million smallholder farmers (by multiple channels including TV, SMS, WhatsApp, IVR Call Center) with 75% of farmers reporting they received critical information to ensure they stay healthy and productive.

To understand the impact of this rapid mobilization of public health information and desert locust content over a wide variety of channels, behavior change research experts from Busara studied  the effectiveness of the approach. Three case studies were selected to evaluate behavior change and digital channels in emergency scenarios:

  • Combined SMS + In-person Campaign in Kenya (WeFarm & Producers’ Direct)
  • Combined SMS + TV Campaign in Kenya (iShamba & Mediae)
  • IVR Campaign in Nigeria ( Viamo and Airtel)
  • Combined IVR + SMS + Agent Campaign in Ethiopia (Agricultural Transformation Agency)

Summary Findings

Farmers reported by 75% that the information they received across channels improved their knowledge of and attitude toward COVID-19, and agreed that they are exhibiting some preventative behaviors. In one case, the combined knowledge, attitude and behavior (KAB) scores changed significantly. Meanwhile, SMS and TV channels were found to be more effective and trusted by farmers. Over the course of the engagement,  farmers evolved in their information requests,  shifting demand for COVID-19 information to a greater emphasis on agriculture and livelihood content – an expected outcome as the initial shock of the pandemic subsided. 

Registered channels (where farmers have been registered by a partner digitally) appear to have a greater impact in combination with open (unregistered/mass media approaches), but the interaction of registered vs. unregistered and partners with combined communications (for instance SMS with TV) require deeper research to fully understand the impact on KAB. 

See the original post here on the Mercy Corps Agrifin's website.