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Digital Green: rethinking extension

Digital Green trains small and marginal farmers via short instructional videos (© Digital Green)
Digital Green trains small and marginal farmers via short instructional videos
© Digital Green

Gauravva Channappa Morabad is a hard working woman who lives in Kamplikoppa village in the Dharwad district of Karnataka. She is part of a women's self help group, called Shri Kariyamma Devi. Morabad has attended each of the 50 meetings that the group has held to screen Digital Green agricultural training videos. These videos, which feature improved agricultural practices, are produced by farmers from the region with the assistance of Digital Green's local partners. Morabad has taken up many of the farming and livestock related practices demonstrated in the training videos on her one hectare farm. One of these practices is a low cost method to produce vermi-compost that can be harvested every 90 days. Within six months, she harvested 1,700kg of vermi-compost and sold it for about US$75.

India's current agricultural extension system often fails to effectively communicate with small and marginal farmers. Over several decades, public investment in agriculture has fallen. Some of this decrease has been offset by the private sector, but such investment tends to concentrate on larger, more mechanised farms. But Digital Green has demonstrated that a participatory process of engagement with small and marginal farmers, coupled with the production and screening of training videos born out of that process of engagement, is a more effective method of transmitting low cost agricultural innovations.

Extension through video

Digital Green is an organisation that works to increase agricultural productivity by training small and marginal farmers via short instructional videos. The organisation collaborates with local partners to train rural communities to produce videos by farmers, of farmers, and for farmers, and promote the exchange of information on agricultural practices. These videos, about 2,400 copies of which have been produced, are shared among small groups of farmers on a weekly basis using portable, battery-operated projectors.

Videos are shared on a weekly basis using portable, battery-operated projectors (© Digital Green)
Videos are shared on a weekly basis using portable, battery-operated projectors
© Digital Green

The videos are tailored to meet locally relevant agricultural needs, and are always produced in the local language. About once a week, village residents, who have been trained as video mediators by Digital Green, facilitate the screenings to engage groups of farmers with the videos and with one another in an interactive learning process. In pilot studies, the Digital Green model was found to be at least ten times more effective and seven times more likely to encourage farmers to adopt new practices compared to conventional agricultural extension systems, such as Farmer Field Schools, or Training and Visit extension.

"Previously we weren't even able to grow 800kg of grain," remarks Sugna Bai, a farmer in Madhya Pradesh. But after watching a video on organic pest control methods for wheat cultivation, her yields increased substantially. "Now we harvest 3,000 to 3,500kg of wheat. When we see videos and do it, then we can believe in it. Belief comes by doing, not just by seeing. So after seeing the video we have to practise it. Then we can believe it," she adds.

Strength in numbers

Digital Green partners with NGOs and government organisations that employ conventional agricultural extension methods to improve the efficiency and reach of their on-going extension efforts. In the case of Bai's village, for example, Digital Green partnered with Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS), a rural welfare NGO that has been active in Madhya Pradesh for nearly 15 years. Such partnerships allow Digital Green to avoid the challenges and pitfalls of working in unfamiliar contexts, while amplifying the reach of SPS through access to more efficient diffusion methods.

Data management allows Digital Green to track the location of each video screened (© Digital Green)
Data management allows Digital Green to track the location of each video screened
© Digital Green

Careful data management allows Digital Green to track the location of each video screened, the mediator who presented the video at each screening, the farmers who have viewed each video, those who have asked questions about the new techniques, and those who have ultimately taken them up on their own farms. As a result, Digital Green is able to capture the interactions of participating farmers, right down to the questions that they've asked.

Mithila Mohanta, a farmer in the Keonjhar district of Orissa, for example, has adopted over 30 practices which she saw on Digital Green videos, including mushroom cultivation and preparation of mango pickle. While expressing an interest in the pickling process, Mohanta asked where she could get preservatives. The tracking of such questions enables Digital Green and its partners to learn how their videos can better address commonly asked questions.

Expansion

Because the Digital Green approach is not specific to any particular crop, geography, or sector, the method has the potential to be scaled across diverse regions and intervention types. "We envision the model being used for interventions across multiple fields, such as health or sanitation," says Rikin Gandhi, the founder and CEO of Digital Green, "The approach has the potential to scale sustainably, founded on the ability of communities that are well organised and have observed gains in their productivity and incomes to contribute towards the program's operating costs."

Digital Green has reached 1,200 villages and over 110,000 farming households (© Digital Green)
Digital Green has reached 1,200 villages and over 110,000 farming households
© Digital Green

Digital Green began as a project at Microsoft Research India in 2006 and became an independent organisation in 2010. Digital Green has since expanded to seven states, reaching over 1,200 villages and over 110,000 farming households, and is now expanding to work elsewhere in India, Ghana, and Ethiopia to share sustainable agricultural practices to increase farmer productivity and reach farmers in a timely, cost efficient, and targeted manner. By the end of 2015, Digital Green plans to extend its model across 10,000 villages in India and involve over 1 million farming households as a part of the Government's National Rural Livelihood Mission. "Given these numbers," Gandhi notes, "we look forward to working with many more farmers both in India and beyond."

Written by: Ritu Raj and Kerry Harwin

Date published: September 2012

 

Have your say

the production of videos for farmers is a noble idea ,howev... (posted by: rono vitalis)

 

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