Amela Begum in Rangpur believes she could have saved her goat if she knew the right steps to be taken when cattle and poultry catch high fever. That was eight months ago.
Since then, she has learned how to treat domestic animals when they fall sick.
“Eight months ago, I did not know how to treat my goat for fever. But now I do,” said Amela, who owes her knowledge to a new mobile phone-based service.
Grameenphone’s mAgri Initiatives launched a hotline in December last year to provide expert advice on livestock and agriculture. This service has not only benefited Amela; other inhabitants of Godai village in Rangpur’s Kaunia upazila have also been benefited in one way or other from this service.
Fifty-year-old Abu Hanif, a farmer of the village, was completely at a loss when his crops came under sudden attack of pests.
“All I did was call the hotline 27676, and they gave me expert suggestions,” he said.
Hanif was able to save almost his entire harvest of green chilli by acting according to the advice he received. He hailed the initiative of Grameenphone and lamented that the Department of Agricultural Extension seldom provides such instant services that come in handy at the time of need.
This new service has the potential to reach a wide range of people within a short period, in light of the fact that mobile phone penetration rate in the country is high.
“Now sitting at home, I get solid and effective advice on my mobile phone,” Hanif said, explaining the convenience.
Hanif was not only able to save his crops but made hefty profits that he could not make before. He invested around Tk46,000 and sold his chillies for about Tk96,000.
But at times, the hotline is disrupted by technical glitches, causing farmers who depend on the service to suffer.
Hanif said he had not been able to talk to experts in the last one month and a half. “The call keeps getting disconnected after a few seconds.”
Primarily, a subscriber can register his Grameenphone number for Tk5 per week for the service. During this period, two voice messages on the subscriber’s topic of choice are sent to his number every day while consultation services come at an additional Tk3 per minute.
Shefali Rani of the village said Tk5 per week was too much for her. “Tk2 would have been better.”
But few of the subscribers know that a subscription comes with 20 minutes of free consultation, with the option of suspending and resuming the service at their will.
Tapas Ranjan Chakraborty, Oxfam Bangladesh’s ICT and development coordinator, said: “We have been trying to provide this service with an aim to create easy access to information for farmers.”
“The initiative is jointly run by Grameenphone and Oxfam, alongside a host of other organisations. Hopefully, farmers will become aware of the service across the country and it will gain popularity gradually.”
Tanvir Ahmed, Grameenphone’s communication officer, said technical glitches were being worked upon. “Those will be fixed over time, and we will also solve other problems as they arise in the future.”
The service provides information and advice on 22 subjects, including crops, livestock and fisheries through voice and text messages. It currently has a bank of 144 voice messages and 305 text messages.