ADDIS ABEBA – The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) said it has incorporated and deployed COVID 19 health as well as livestock sub sector advisory contents on its 8028 Farmers Hotline.
The use of the hotline to disperse the information is a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ethio Telecom, Ethiopian Public Health Institute and Mercy Corps Ethiopia.
Apart from health information, the agency has availed key contents regarding livestock information for farmers in five local languages – Amharic, Afan Oromo, Tigrigna, Wolaytigna and Sidamigna.
The agency announced the availability of the two advisory’s in its hotline on Monday.
Cognizant of the challenges of the current pandemic, the ATA said it has launched the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) service on COVID-19 for 8028 Farmers Hotline system users.
Users can now get COVID-19 health advisories focusing on Safe Farming, Family and Community Interaction, Handling COVID death and Myths, according to ATA.
Official of Mercy Corps Agri Fin program, John Mundy, said the role of digital channels has been critical in addressing COVID-19 information gaps with smallholder farmers, especially those living areas difficult to reach.
“With this in mind, we have teamed up with ATA’s 8028 Farmers Hotline Project team to deliver best ways of maintaining one’s own health as well as keeping the community safe from COVID-19,” Mundy said.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia has the second highest covid cases (123,145 cases, 111, 870 recoveries and 1,912 deaths).
Although most of these cases are registered in urban settings, health officials say increasing cases are being reported from rural areas in recent times.
The new service is expected to be key in arresting this and effectively delivering health lessons to remotely located farmers without any need for appearing physically.
ATA has initially launched the 8028 agronomic advisory IVR/ SMS service in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and Ethio Telecom in 21 districts across the nation in 2014.
With six years of uninterrupted service, Users of the 8028 Farmers Hotline and help desk system have been accessing information about 21 crop types across cereals, pulses and oilseeds and household irrigation crops across a wide range of agricultural activities with content length of up to five minutes.
Apart from Covid, the agency has integrated information about the livestock sub sector into the system this week.
ATA CEO Khalid Bomba, said farmers across Ethiopia should have easy access to crucial and relevant information for them to make informed decisions regardless of their locations.
Moreover, they should also have updates regarding the current pandemic that is challenging the world so that they can protect themselves, their families as well as their community,” he said.
“Hence, we have decided to team up with our partners to ensure delivery of important and up-to-date livestock and COVID-19 information to our smallholder farmers using 8028 farmers toll-free hotline services in a way they can easily access it.” Khalid Bomba added.
Farmers are now getting necessary information in four major livestock categories involving Dairy, fattening of Cattle and small ruminant, Apiculture, and poultry of small scale commercial poultry and Improved household Poultry.
The advisory service also makes the consumption of technologies with improved management practices in feed resource production and utilization of proven technologies easier with little demonstration and engagement of dedicated extension workers which has become difficult following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ATA.
Officials have welcomed the start of the service in the country that has the highest number of livestock in Africa. The sub-sector currently contributes nearly 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 15 percent of export earnings, according to the UN Food Agriculture Organization.
Officials said the livestock supports the livelihoods of about 80 percent of rural Ethiopians.
“It is highly important to provide smallholder livestock producers with the necessary information and updates on improved production and management practices, and COVID19 prevention mechanisms,” said Dr. Fikru Regassa, State Minister for Livestock Development at MoA.
“That’s why we have partnered with our key stakeholders to ensure that farmer get the proper advisory service while at the same time protecting themselves from the current pandemic,” Fikru added.
Since its launch, the 8028 Farmers’ hotline has received approximately 46.5 million calls from smallholder farmers that have been provided by Ethio Telecom as a toll-free service.