USAID’s Agricultural Value Chain (AVC) project in Uzbekistan, implemented by DAI, began in 2008 in partnership with commercial horticulture producers, processors, traders and exporters to increase technical expertise within the sector. AVC first published manuals for partners, but they were costly and cumbersome. Seeing that 78 percent of Uzbeks are expected to be online via mobile by 2020, the team developed the MEVA (“fruit” in Uzbek) mobile app in 2012. MEVA improved information distribution but still could not facilitate two-way engagement and primarily benefited producers. To facilitate two-way information exchange along the full value chain, AVC began creating multimedia social content in 2015, then turned to Telegram in 2017.
AVC does not host its own Facebook group, but works with a local horticulturalist who manages a longstanding horticulture Facebook group. AVC monitors the group for frequent questions, then creates and shares YouTube and Mover video responses and other technical content. The group has grown from 3,000 to 14,000 members and receives 7,000 monthly comments. However, with such high traffic, 25 percent of which is from outside Uzbekistan, AVC struggles to ensure its content reaches relevant audiences. Therefore, in 2017, AVC decided to shift to Telegram, the most popular messaging app in Uzbekistan. AVC believed that smaller, private, special interest groups would enable more efficient peer-to-peer information exchange, while a one-way broadcast channel would enable better distribution of technical content to farmers. Telegram’s use of user phone numbers would also allow AVC to monitor users by country.
AVC created its first Telegram group with 30 production partners to provide technical information and enable discussion of regional issues. The group was later expanded to more than 600 partners, some of whom now use it as a marketplace. To reduce noise and maintain information, AVC decided to co-create and administer separate groups by function, beginning with a group on cold storage. The project also began helping production partners create, administer and populate crop-specific groups. In July 2017, AVC created its first Telegram channel to share content with the full spectrum of farmers while restricting comments and replies and to preserve content over time. Across groups and channel, AVC uploads and posts its videos for users to forward and/or download to their devices for offline sharing.
More than 1,600 subscribers joined the AVC Telegram channel in three months, and more than 50 subscribe weekly. Only 21 percent are female, but this rate is higher than in the Uzbek horticulture market generally (3 percent female). AVC attributes the channel’s growth to Telegram’s forwarding feature, which provides a link to forwarded media through which the recipient can discover the channel or group from which it was forwarded. This has allowed viral growth and for farmers to discover the channel. For AVC’s partners, DAI reports that Telegram groups create a feeling of connectivity with the program and help form professional bonds across the country. However, Telegram currently provides few analytics. AVC gained access to a panel of Facebook user analytics when its Facebook group surpassed 10,000 members in 2017 but has not used the Telegram API to mine user data. The team is using the API to internally test a chatbot to provide automated responses to frequent questions.3Mover is an Uzbek video sharing platform that hosts content on Tas-lx, a free national network that enables mobile users in Uzbekistan to visit locally hosted sites and upload, download and stream videos for free, without incurring mobile data charges.