Mobile Phones for Agricultural and Rural Development: A Literature Review and Future Research Directions

Richard Duncombe


This paper provides a systematic review of the potential and the limitations of mobile phones in the delivery of rural services for agricultural and rural development (ARD) in developing countries.  Evidence from published research is framed according to the design, uptake, usage and impact of mobile phone-based innovations through a critical review of the literature encompassing both academic and practitioner sources.

The review indicates a rapid expansion of research in recent years, and a growing number of primary research studies that have developed rigorous methodologies for data collection and analysis, with welcome contribution from developing country institutions and researchers.  There is positive linking with mainstream research disciplines and specific attempts to develop new theoretical understandings.

Gaps in the literature suggest areas where future research priorities may lie, relating to assessment of information and service needs, consideration of indicators of sector performance and productivity, assessment of broader impacts at the community level, greater focus on methodologies that emphasise user involvement, and expansion of qualitative approaches which could form the basis for theorising and greater geographical diversity.  There is also need to investigate new trends that are emerging due to the convergence and integration of new information and communication technologies.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Why are mobile phones growing in importance for the delivery of agricultural and rural services in developing countries?  [Section A]
  2. How does the temporal lifecycle model help to categorise the research, and what other categorisation frameworks are used in the review?  [Section B]
  3. What does the mapping of the articles in Fig 1 suggest about the make-up of the research area?  [Sections C & E1]
  4. How are conceptual approaches categorised in the review?  How does the review differentiate approaches to theorising?  What are the different research methods represented in M4ARD research?  [Sections D & E2]
  5. What are the key research gaps identified in M4ARD research?  What are the recommendations for future research directions? [Section E]

Development questions

  1. What is your own viewpoint on the use of mobile phones in agricultural and rural development in developing countries?  How might your viewpoint affect any research you do on the subject?
  2. Why do you think, at this stage, this area of research is skewed towards assessing outputs and impacts rather than assessing needs?
  3. From amongst the theoretical approaches discussed in the paper, which can make the most useful contribution to: a) M4ARD research? b) M4ARD practice?
  4. How would you compare the contribution of the quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches of the studies surveyed?
  5. What topics/research questions do you think should be prioritised for M4ARD research over the next five years?
  6. In what other ways could M4ARD research be approached?