The role of mobile phone short message service (SMS) in the provision of agricultural extension services: the case of Momulimisa in Lira district
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Agricultural extension as a service to farming communities remains critical in enhancing agricultural productivity. However, the current extension system in Uganda is generally characterized by ineffective face to face contact approaches amidst low numbers of extension workers. The mobile phone is one device whose ability to offer extension services in a variety of ways has been utilized to address the numerous challenges extension systems face in the developing world. This study sought to establish the role of mobile phone Short Message Service (SMS) in the provision of agricultural extension services taking M-Omulimisa’s operations in Lira district as a case study. Specifically the study focused on establishing the farmer characteristics that influence adoption of M-Omulimisa and the benefits obtained by farmers from the use of MOmulimisa. A case study design was employed and data was collected through questionnaires administered to 150 farmers in Lira district. The binary logistic regression was used to determine the influence of farmer characteristics on the adoption of M-Omulimisa and likert scale scores were used to determine farmer agreement on perceived benefits from the use of M-Omulimisa. Membership to farmer organizations significantly influenced the adoption of M-Omulimisa with farmers belonging to at least one farmer association or group more likely to use M-Omulimisa compared to those who don’t belong any. In the same line, farmers who had attended at least primary school were more likely to use M-Omulimisa compared to their counterparts who never attended school. The study further found out that M-Omulimisa had greatly increased access to agricultural credit, better markets and genuine inputs. Farmers had also changed agronomic practices and the postharvest handling of their crops attributed to M-Omulimisa. There was a growing spirit of trust in agricultural insurance among farmers in Lira district as a result of the use of M-Omulimisa. The use of M-Omulimisa has been hindered by a number of challenges that include poor network, shortage of electricity for charging mobile phones and limited aptitude to read and write SMS. High cost of mobile phones was also expressed as challenge by a fairly good number of farmers and some married women found it hard to use mobile phones because their husbands felt insecure when they used mobile phones. If the full potential of mobile phones in agricultural extension service delivery is to be unleashed, development partners in agriculture and rural development should come together and address the challenges farmers continue to face in utilizing mobile phones as sources of agricultural information.