Research Projects

Investigating Rural Farmers’ Use of Mobile Phone-based Market Information Systems
Based on a series of interviews with small-scale farmers in Western Kenya, we investigate awareness of and use of M-Farm, a mobile phone-based market information system. We explore how farmers obtain information about market prices, as well as their use of mobile phones more broadly in their farming endeavors.

Research Team:  Susan Wyche, Charles Steinfield, Dominic Nangea
Location: Bungoma and Homa Bay Counties, Kenya
Project Funding: MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, funded by USAID’s Global Development Lab and Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).

  • Wyche, S., & Steinfield, C. (2015). Why Don’t Farmers Use Cell Phones to Access Market Prices? Technology Affordances and Barriers to Market Information Services Adoption in Rural Kenya. Information Technology for Development, (ahead-of-print), 1-14. DOI:10.1080/02681102.2015.1048184  (pre-publication pdf)
  • Steinfield, C. and Wyche, S. 2013. Assessing the Role of Information and Communication Technologies to Enhance Food Systems in Developing Countries. Global Center for Food Systems Innovation ICT4D White Paper, Michigan State University, East Lansing USA, 39p. (link to pdf).

Using Participatory Video for Smallholder Farmer Training in Malawi

This project investigated the effectiveness of an approach known as participatory video for helping to educate small farmers on such topics as new farming techniques and improved farm management. In this method, local actors are recruited to help develop and act in short, low cost videos, which are then screened to groups of farmers in a local community. Two videos – one about nutrition and one about conservation agriculture – were produced and tested using a quasi-experimental design contrasting live instruction with video-only and video plus live instruction in three villages in central Malawi.  Before and after knowledge tests demonstrated the effectiveness of the participatory video approach.

Research Team: Charles Steinfield, Susan Wyche, Tian Cai, Hastings Chiwasa and Kirk Mason (videographer)
Location: Dedza District, central Malawi
Project Funding: MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, funded by USAID’s Global Development Lab and Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).

  • Tian Cai, Hastings Chiwasa, Charles Steinfield, and Susan Wyche. 2015. Participatory video for nutrition training for farmers in Malawi: an analysis of knowledge gain and adoption. In Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, , Article 29 , 5 pages. DOI=10.1145/2737856.2737878
  • Tian Cai, Charles Steinfield, Hastings Chiwasa, and Susan Wyche. 2015. Information spillovers from extension training: the effectiveness of participatory video. Presented to the Association for International Agricultural and Extension Education (AIAEE), Wageningen, the Netherlands, April 27-May 1.
  • Steinfield, C., Wyche, S., Chiwasa, H., Cai, T., and Mchakulu, J. 2015. Using participatory video for smallholder farmer training in Malawi: A report from the GCFSI and LUANAR ICTD Project Team. Global Center for Food Systems Innovation Technical Report, Michigan State University, East Lansing USA, 28p. ICTD Malawi Video Project Report-July2015-v2

Simu Shape Up: Edutainment to Shape Up Cell Phone Use Among African Rural Farmers
This project aims to increase device literacy and the effectiveness of mobile applications that send weather reports, best agricultural practices and crop pricing information, with an ultimate goal of improving the livelihoods of rural farmers in Kenya.

Delivering pertinent information to smallholder farmers via mobile phones has the potential to help them grow more crops and make more money. Yet despite the tremendous value of mobile applications, only 5 percent of smallholder farmers in Kenya use these services.

The project is implemented in partnership with The Mediae Company, the East African producers of “Shamba Shape Up,” a Kenyan reality TV show about rural farm makeovers. The show, now in its fifth season, provides an existing, cost-effective and scaleable multimedia communication platform that can be used to deliver tailored and factual “edutaining” content to an existing audience of 11 million and to monitor impact. In the project, Mediae produced short video clips based on input from MSU researchers, and in collaboration with and for rural Swahili-speaking women in Western Kenya. To test the effectiveness of the clips, they were both integrated into the regular TV broadcasts of “Shamba Shape Up” and screened locally in community-based workshops to reach off-grid households. A mixed-method evaluation focusing on adoption of new handset practices, increasing mobile agricultural service subscriptions, and monitoring online viewer feedback via the show’s Facebook page is underway.

Research Team: Susan Wyche (PI), Charles Steinfield (co-PI), Tian Cai, Nightingale Simiyu, Martha Othieno
Location: Kenya
Project Funding:  USAID Development Innovation Ventures program

  • Susan Wyche, Charles Steinfield, Tian Cai, Nightingale Simiyu, and Martha Othieno. 2016. Reflecting on Video: Exploring the Efficacy of Video for Teaching Device Literacy in Rural Kenya. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD ’16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, DOI:  (link to pdf)

Applying a Participatory Video Approach to Promote Knowledge of Climate Resilient Maize Varieties in Areas Affected by Climate Change

The purpose of the project is to test the effectiveness of a promising technology to bring new agricultural practices and techniques to farmers in climate-vulnerable regions. Participatory videos integrate community members in all facets of the production process, insuring culturally relevant content in the local language. In many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, maize farmers are struggling in the face of shorter and less predictable rainy seasons and higher temperatures, among many other challenges. To address this problem, research centers have developed new maize varieties that exhibit drought tolerance (DT) and other climate resilient characteristics. These new varieties have been provided to seed companies and are now commercially available in many areas. Yet, many smallholder farmers continue to plant older maize varieties that provide poorer yields with each season. Development agencies such as the US Global Development Lab have made the diffusion of climate resilient maize (CRM) a priority to help address global food security.

Our project contributes to this effort by focusing on strategies to increase smallholder farmer demand for CRM. We do this using an approach to smallholder farmer education and training that relies on participatory video as a primary communication tool. The basic steps in the approach include: 1) in-depth interaction with farmers to help understand how they choose the type of maize to plant, their awareness and perceptions about new maize varieties, and the factors that constrain their demand for these varieties, 2) developing a narrative concept for a video to help enhance demand and address farmer concerns, 3) recruiting and working with local farmers to refine the narrative and produce an entertaining video in the local language that highlights the benefits of adopting CRM, and provides information on good agricultural practices that should be followed, 4) village-based screening of the video to groups of farmers supported by local agricultural extension providers who are able to moderate discussion in the local language, and 5) sending mobile voice recordings with timely reminders about the video content throughout the growing season. The video provides highly contextualized information, informing farmers of the specific varieties that are available and appropriate for the region.

We are currently testing the effectiveness of this approach in Machakos and Makueni Counties, Kenya, in an area that has experienced less rain and less predictable rainfall in recent years. A 33-minute video has been produced and shown to over 600 farmers in 16 test villages, using battery-powered projectors for locations without electricity. Baseline data on maize growing practices have been collected in these villages, as well as in an additional group of villages serving as control sites. A post-test survey is planned at the end of the growing season to assess the effectiveness of the approach in getting farmers to try out the new varieties.

Research Team: Charles Steinfield (PI), Jennifer Olson (Co-PI), Tian Cai, and Tara Mock
Partners:  CIMMYT, FIPS-Africa
Location: Kenya
Project Funding: MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, funded by USAID’s Global Development Lab and Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).