Digital Green A Visual and Analytical Approach

India is a country of farms. Agriculture plays a vital role in Indian economy. Over 58 percent of rural household indulge in agriculture as their principle means of livelihood. Agriculture along with fishery and forestry is one of the largest contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Many times we are considered as the largest exporter of various commodities, but still we are under the category of under developing; why we are not considered as developed? With only arable land, technology and other resources we cannot solve this issue. The key factor behind this issue is lack of knowledge. Our farmers are not educated; they just practice what others are practicing. Lack of knowledge can be considered in terms of using machines, buying seeds, marketing tactics and various other problems. Farmers while working at the farms using machines either do not know how to use them properly or they are not updated about the latest innovations in the market. For this we have to make a platform where they can connect with farmers globally and can sort their issues and highlight their success stories. After observing various issues an organisation known as Digital Green stepped into this to make a better world by improving the living standard of farmers and helped for a good cause for our nation.

Digital Green’s early roots were formed as a Microsoft Research Project in Bangalore in 2006. The project was a part of an effort to test different ways of using technology for social development. This project focused specifically on testing the use of participatory videos as a means of agricultural extension. The approach was substantially more effective as a means of extension than existing conventional agricultural extension programmes.

Digital Green’s video-enabled, knowledge-sharing model has small-holder farming communities at its core. Small farmers in low-income countries like India and Ethiopia typically make do with dated and abstract agricultural information in the traditional top-down extension scheme. Digital Green’s bottom-up approach leverages existing rural social networks such as women’s self-help groups and farmer groups to create and share localised content on best practices related to farming, livelihood, health and nutrition through short videos using low-cost and durable technology.

The use of videos for agricultural extension was by no means a new approach and Digital Green was inspired by a number of different projects. These can be broadly categorised as information technology for agricultural development, video in agricultural extension and mediated instruction for effective training with video. Digital Green weaves together the best of these three strands into a novel system that maximises the impact of agriculture extension workers and adds the critical element of community engagement and participation throughout the process. Based on the success of the project, Digital Green was formally established as an NGO in 2008. Digital Green currently has projects in nine states in India, and in 13 other countries including, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Tanzania, Mozambique, Senegal, Malawi and Guinea.

Digital Green partners with key government departments and NGOs that have functional extension systems at the community level as well as research organisations, and its video-enabled approach complements existing extension services, while amplifying the impact of the development efforts. A community video production team of four to six individuals in each district creates videos, averaging eight to ten minutes in length, which are screened for small community groups twice a week using battery-operated Pico projectors. The practices promoted through the videos are locally relevant and evidence-based, produced in the regional languages. The short videos cast local community members, thus ensuring the viewers’ instant connection with the messaging. Subject matter experts review the video content before it is finalised for screening. A trained village resource person mediates discussion around the video screenings by pausing, rewinding, asking questions, and responding to feedback. Regular verification visits are scheduled for measuring the effects of the screenings on adoption of actual practices.

The entire approach is designed to be responsive to community feedback, channelling data and feedback received from community members into the video production and dissemination processes and overall programme performance. Trained extension agents record farmers’ attendance at video screenings, interests, queries, comments and any changes in their behaviours as a result of adopting a new practice/technology. The farmers share their thoughts on anything they choose, from the videos they would like to watch to the viewing experience to the challenges they face in their daily lives. This feedback is used to inform further iterations of the videos, and also of essential background processes such as storyboarding, the messaging, or even the way a screening is organised.

In a project site in Amethi district of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, for instance, extension staff concluded the reason for farmers’ reluctance to adopt a new way of treating seeds was because they didn’t fully understand what the associated video described. On further examination, they found that it was a challenge for the farmers to remember the measurement for trichoderma, an important seed-treating agent, which was communicated in grams per unit volume of wheat.

When the measurement unit was tweaked from grams to approximate teaspoon measurement, the farmers were able to understand and retain the concept. Digital Green’s near-real-time system of data management helps ensure that this data and feedback is collected, presented and analysed on a timely basis.

The feedback is aggregated through a web-based information management system called Connect Online | Connect Offline or COCO, which functions even in locations with poor internet connectivity. The aggregated data helps in trend analysis, in performance assessment and in measuring the outcomes of the intervention.

From collecting individual farmer feedback to aggregating and visualising the data, generating trends and making programmatic course corrections based on field-level observations, the Digital Green approach underscores the value of employing a bottom-up approach to designing community interventions.

Case Study – A Good Farmer and a Neighbour

Kinu Yadav, is a local hero and inspiration for farmers in and around Dumaria village in Madhepura district, Bihar, India.

A marginal farmer who depends on farming as his primary source of livelihood, Kinu Yadav used to practise traditional methods of farming, like others farmers of his area, which did not help him meet ends for a family of seven, that includes his three sons, two daughters and wife. When he was younger, he used to migrate to other states for daily wage labour in the lean season. Now, his eldest son migrates to earn additional income as an unskilled labourer. His contribution helps Kinu’s family to cope in times of adversity.

In 2013, Kinu Yadav started working with Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society (BRLPS) locally known as JEEViKA as a village resource person (VRP). He received training on SRI (system of rice intensification, an improved rice cultivation technique) as well as on sharing information on this practice with the didis (women farmers and members of self-help groups). He assisted the self-help group (SHG) members in adopting the SRI method. He adopted it in his own fields as well and his yield for that particular season was 120 kilograms per kattha (1 acre is 22 katthas), which used to be 40-60 kilograms before SRI. The SHG members who adopted the practice also experienced a similar increase in yield on their farms.

In 2014, he was trained by Digital Green (in partnership with JEEViKA) to share information on best practices using videos. Apart from rice cultivation, Kinu Yadav learnt about improved ways of cultivating vegetables and other improved agriculture practices. He started adopting best practices such as seed treatment and maintaining space between seeds that he learnt from the videos. He took special care in adopting the key points as explained in the videos.

Kinu Yadav adopted many practices such as cultivating lady finger (okra), brinjal (eggplant) and sack farming. In two katthas of land he earned INR 4,000 in four months by selling okra. He grew brinjal on one acre and earned INR 60,000 within four months from selling only a part of the produce.

Videos helped him learn about sack farming and growing vegetables in sacks. The bitter gourd he cultivated using sack farming five months ago has yielded 300 kilograms of the vegetable which he sold in the market.

Kinu Yadav also learnt about and adopted the practice of producing organic fertilisers and insecticides like jeevamrutham, ghanjeevamrutham, brahmastra and agniastra. He also prepared vermicompost after watching videos. Apart from adopting the featured practices himself, he also inspired other farmers to adopt these practices. And not just poor farmers like him, but rich farmers of his village also adopted and benefited from the practices shown in the videos.

"It is easier to share information with farmers through videos and the adoption of the best practices is also more feasible this way. I will continue working toward disseminating information on best practices provided by JEEVIKA and Digital Green to more and more farmers to help enhance their productivity and income," says Kinu Yadav.

Contributed by Digital Green.