Assessing the Impact of Iska SMS on Agriculture in Ghana

Written by Rebeka Ramangamihanta

I spent my summer as an M&E Field Evaluator for Securing Water for Food (SWFF). SWFF is a Grand Challenge for Development initiative that sources and accelerates innovations that will enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

I was assigned to Ignitia A.B Ghana, a Swedish company operating in West Africa. They send farmers simple weather prediction SMS called Iska which lets farmers know whether “it will likely to be dry this afternoon” or “it will likely rain tomorrow,” for example. Farmers can choose to receive the messages during the rainy season, monthly and/or daily for eight pesewas or a little less than two cents per message. As an M&E Field Evaluator, I designed a questionnaire to assess the impact of the product on their daily lives as farmers and their communities. I collected and analyzed the data to allow SWFF to:

  • Verify that a representative sample of paying customers are experiencing the benefits promised in the innovator’s application to the program.
  • To determine, based on feedback from end users, how the innovation can be improved/adapted to maximize benefits for the end users.
  • To provide innovators with outcome data that can be used to communicate with external audiences.

Meeting with fifty-four farmers was the highlight of my trip.

Meeting with fifty-four farmers was the highlight of my trip. I got a first-hand account from the farmers about what the Iska messages means for them. Iska helps farmers plan their day so they can optimize the resources they have to maximize their yields and minimize their expenses on inputs. Many of the farmers that I met with could save money by optimizing their fertilizer, spray use, and the amount of labor they hire. I was also able to discover the kindness, the helpfulness, and authenticity of the Ghanaian people. I was able to talk about the politics, the history, the culture with the people I met. After the interviews, many of the farmers would give us some of their harvest as gifts.  They would give us eggs, pineapples, cassava, and in one instance, a piece of cloth.

I also had really deep political conversation with the farmers. The one that personally marked me was one interview where the farmer complained about the lack of social services in Ghana. I quickly compared Ghana to Madagascar where I come from; I defensively shared how much better off Ghana was. I pointed out to the big buildings, universities, and roads. I told him that it only took me three hours to get from Accra to the Volta region which would have taken eight hours or more in many parts of Madagascar. I also told him how some roads that I saw in the USA are far worse than those I encountered in Ghana. He made me realize that even the economic development of a country should not lower our quest for accountability from our governments and the leaders of our countries. Ghanaians should not lower their standards and expectations because an African country like Madagascar is doing worse or even though inefficiencies also happen in the USA.

My experience in Ghana was also full of laughter and surprises. I was a source of intrigue for Ghanaians. People wondered if I was  a darker Caucasian, Chinese, Indian or Korean and greeted with “Niihau”, “Namaste”, “Konichiwa” and so forth. With my Malagasy features, I am considered as a somewhat Asian even though I am also African. Ghana is also making a lot of progress in terms of city planning and have some very unconventional names for their streets. I happened to live on “Apple Ave.” It is not too far from “Jungle Ave” or “Coffee Drive.” I got to even use Uber many times in Ghana. Throughout my travels in the Southern part of the country the very small towns had working street lights! Although , these lights would go off when the power is out. A Few Do’s and Dont’s” for Future M&E Field Evaluators:

  • Have an open mind and open heart. If you have prejudice about a country, a project, or a culture you would not be able to listen and understand people’s narrative and stories.
  • Be kind to yourself. If your body is tired and sick, do not challenge it more. Make sure you drink water, eat safe fruits and vegetables. Sleep. Your body is the one doing the work, if it’s not 100% rested and well, you won’t be able to do anything.
  • Be courteous and polite. You are the one who is taking the farmer’s’ time and you need their help for the interviews. The least you can do is be respectful and thank them for helping you. If they cancel, that’s okay. Prepare for contingency.
  • In case of doubt, ask. Especially during the interviews, if you are not sure what the person tells you, ask in a different manner. Do this even if your translator is annoyed. The farmers that I met did not mind reiterating their answers.
  • Always think about your report and the data that will be analyzed. There were  many times when I did not ask how many kilos are there in a bag of okra, for example. I have to know this to analyze this data. I usually did not ask this in my in person interviews and had to follow up with messages  to  many people to get this data. In some cases I could not make graphs out of the data because most of my data was a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data.  . I had to manually upload each number on Excel.
  • Be flexible. In the beginning of the interviews, I scheduled 7-8 farmers to interview for each day. I realized that 4 people per day was good number and 5 interviews was a stretch. An interview can take up to 1hour and 30 minutes when you had only planned for  30 minutes. You can get  lost many times or your next interview can be 50 km apart from your current location. .
  • Don’t be too adventurous with the unfamiliar food until your body has adjusted well enough.

Lucy, her son, and me (Rebeka) after the interview


The article was written by Rebeka Ramangamihanta, University of Berkeley, who served as an M&E Field Evaluator in Ghana for the Securing Water for Food Technical Assistance Facility. The SWFF TA Facility works with partners along the food value chain to provide acceleration services that help address one of the world’s most pressing development challenges – how water is being used for agriculture.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributed to The Kaizen Company, USAID, the USG, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Government of South Africa, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.