Digital Green, an organization that uses ICT to boost the effectiveness of traditional extension services, was established in 2006 in India. Knowing that the gains made by technologies introduced into smallholder farming during and after the Green Revolution were, in some cases, difficult to sustain or scale, Digital Green pursued opportunities to use ICT devices to build capacity and increase outreach to poor farmers. Before the program started, surveys found that farmers learn about innovation most effectively through sharing with community members who face the same constraints, and are often less inclined to adopt innovations when an external actor was demonstrating the improved practice or technology.
Using this knowledge, Digital Green began to develop a video-based extension system that would complement existing services (rather than create an entirely new system). Videos were selected for a number of reasons. For one, the videos capture dialogue and activities between local extension agents and local farmers, and even just between local farmers, which is a more participatory and “seeing-is-believing” approach. The videos are simple as well—saving on costs, human resources, and time. They are also accessible for illiterate farmers.
In order to disseminate effectively, the organization found that novelty and curiosity about the videos was not sustainable. What if the farmers have questions? What if they do not understand a particular aspect of the improved practice? As a result, Digital Green uses community mediators that are available during the video and participate in dialogue and feedback thereafter. In addition and more recently, the organization—working with Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley—began using an interactive voice response system for participating farmers. Three parts make up the system:
- Question and answer: after a user calls and leaves a message, an expert will call back and provide a recorded response (calls are made multiple times in case the farmer misses the first call);
- Announcements; and
- An audio conference of the video so they can access the course at a later date.
To date, Digital Green has collected almost 2,000 videos that are each 8-10 minutes long, reaching almost 66,000 farmers. These videos are provided on an online database (as well as youtube.com) and are indexed by type, topic, locale, season, crop and other categories. Local mediators and extension agents can access the videos through the database both on- and offline; where no broadband exists, memory cards are used to store the videos.
The videos are recorded by local participants and Digital Green staff. They are played on DVD players and Pico projectors, which can be battery operated. Mediators show videos each week—usually in the evening—and continue discussion with farmers in groups of 15-20. This boosts the long-term effectiveness of the program as well as adoption rates (a one-time viewing does not often lead to adoption). A variety of videos are taped about the same practices, but with different twists (e.g. different farmers, demonstration plots vs. individual plots, a farmer using a practice in a slightly different form). Watching similar videos builds an image of a critical mass of farmers using the practice, which can also boost adoption rates. When a farmer is videotaped, she or he also provides their name and location, providing users with deeper and useful connections to the practice or technology demonstrated on the video. Most importantly, the videos show practices and technologies with both short-term and long-term rewards that increase motivation.
A recent impact study conducted in Southern Karnataka shows positive impacts. The study was carried out over 15 months in 21 villages with 1,000 regular viewers and participants. Using control groups, the study found that Digital Green approach leads to adoption 7 times more often than traditional extension programs do. It also revealed that even though more equipment is needed, because extension agents are not as stretched as they are in traditional systems (community mediators act as community agents), Digital Green is at least 10 times more effective per dollar spent than traditional extension. In the first 8 months, adoption of improved practices led to increased incomes of US$ 242 per year on average.
The costs of Digital Green are fairly manageable. Video devices cost US$ 100-150 each. The cloud computing done through Amazon and Google services –which holds the database of videos--is free to the public. This system also collects analytics on the videos (e.g. which are downloaded most, which are not, and from what regions). Digital Green is also seeking to form a more self-sustaining business model: charging a farmer 2 Rs per video watched can cover the reoccurring costs of the entire system and charging 4 Rs can cover the initial capital investment. Advertising might also be introduced. Input dealers could pay Digital Green to have an ad in a video on the local seed they sell. Cost and idea sharing is currently met by public and private interest parties. Digital Green may soon start moving into Bangladesh and the Philippines. Be on watch for their next move at digitalgreen.org. See also Module 6 for more information.
Source: Social Development BBL Series: Building and Applying Technology to Amplify the Effectiveness of People-based Agriculture Extension Systems. July 7, 2011. Speaker: Rikin Gandhi, Executive Officer at Digital Green.