The number of people dependent on agriculture in India is declining. Still, today, there are about 60% of people whose income depends on agriculture to a large extent.Majority of the farmers are smallholders and cultivate in a land of less than 3 acres.Agriculture has been getting increased attention, primarily because of the farming crisis.Farming related suicides has been increasing and in the period from 97 to 2005 there have been 150,000 suicides. Green revolution, which was a major event in Indian agriculture history, where India converted to chemical based farming in 1960s focused on high yielding varieties of crops.While yields have increased, there has been criticism from many quarters about it. Farmers have been using fertlizers/pesticides indiscriminately leading to rising input costs and decreasing soil fertility. There has been tension between whether to produce market oriented crops vs promoting sustainable agriculture. Lots of opinions, research, debates..
Agricultural extension is essentially the dissemination of expert agricultural information and technologies to farmers. Agricultural extension was popularized by the World Bank during the 1960s and 1970s in the form of the “Training & Visit” system. Today, India still has over 100,000 civil-service extension officers. This represents the second largest extension force in the world, but India has an even vaster population of farmers. Indeed, there is only 1 extension officer for every 2,000 farmers.
In 2003, the Government of India sponsored a National Sample Survey to understand the sources of information farmers were relying upon for new technology and farm practices. They discovered that the formal channels of extension – including, the “Training and Visit”-style extension and the government’s broadcast media programs – were reaching a small proportion of farm households. Instead, they found that farmers primarily relied on the informal channels of information diffusion that existed by “word of mouth” in their own village communities.
Inspired by Digital StudyHall’s efforts in improving rural education, we began with the premise that digital video is a technology that can be taken to the last-mile and provide significant resource-savings – particularly, since the hardware has become so affordable. A one-to-one demonstration between an extension officer and a farmer could now be digitally captured and shown to many farmers who could easily relate to a visual media.
I spent over 200 days in the field working with a grassroots-level NGO, called GREEN Foundation, which follows the classic “Training & Visit”-based approach for agricultural extension. Through iterative design, we experimented with various parameters of a digital video-based extension model.For example, we considered the background of the “actors” that are featured in videos. On one hand, an agricultural expert can present highly-quality content. But on the other, we found that farmers were not receptive to being “lectured” to by outsiders of a very different socioeconomic demographic. Instead, they preferred to watch a fellow farmer share his or her experiences in a manner similar to the informal social networks that they were used to interacting with. On distributing these videos, we initially experimented with setting up a TV in front of a public square next to a stack of DVDs that farmers could choose to access as they pleased. Though there was an initial novelty, the community quickly became disinterested as they couldn’t understand its purpose. We found that they needed a human mediator who could use the “virtual” on-screen demonstrations to engage farmers in a sustained learning and adoption process.
The process of producing the content starts by following the existing field activities of extension agents. The mere presence of the camera improves the productivity of an extension agent and a farmer’s interaction and rough “story boarding” helps reduce the need for post-production. Those extension agents or farmers that are featured in the videos know that they will be seen by others in their respective communities as role models. We want to stimulate this creation of “local stars”. The actors featured in the videos are seen not as outside “teachers”, but as local farmers who are adopting the practices or technologies within the constraints of local resources on their own fields.
We have been building a repository of this video content with our field partners for the last 1.5 years. The repository currently includes over 250 videos that average 8 minutes in length. The videos are reviewed by the experts of our partner organizations in content hubs, like Bangalore, and minor video editing and meta tagging is used to upload the content to a video database. Though these videos are mirrored online at www.digitalgreen.org, that is not how farmers actually view them. Villages are sent DVDs.
These DVDs are received by local village mediators. These mediators were chosen on the basis of local language literacy for record-keeping purposes and equitably balance genders to engage both men and women farmers. Indeed, these mediators mainly serve to engage the community by pausing and rewinding the videos, fielding questions, and encouraging group participation. Unlike broadcast programs or standalone kiosks, the mediators take the shared TV and DVD players to farmers at their choice time and place and serve as a feedback mechanism for farmers. Though we’ve seen many mediators become resource persons in their local communities, its also important to note that they are supported and monitored by the official extension system.
Of course, a single screening is not enough. We’ve found that over time we can build trust and sustained participation in communities only by using a model for structuring the sequence of interventions. We begin the process by using the local mediator to help assess some general characteristics of his or her community, such as its socioeconomic and agroecological resources and needs. By seeding locally relevant content, an informal farmers group is created using the video programs as the focus. Then, since there is span of agricultural practices and technologies that have varying time-horizons for investment and reward, the mediators first showcase those practices that offer visible short-term rewards to gain traction in a community before showcasing a practice, like mulching, which has a longer gestation period to offering a gain in soil fertility.
These field trials allowed to converge on the Digital Green system which includes four unique components that I’ll briefly outline: (1) a participatory process for content production, (2) a video-based database, (3) locally mediated instruction, and (4) a model for sequencing content to build trust and sustained participation within farming communities.
After we developed Digital Green, we began a 9-month study to evaluate its effectiveness as an approach for agricultural extension. In 8 villages, we followed GREEN Foundation’s extension officers as they adhered to the classic Training & Visit model. In 8 other villages, we used the full Digital Green system that I have described, which includes a local mediator who is provided a shared TV and DVD player to conduct a 3 video screening each week in his or her community. You’ll notice that Digital Green still incurs the costs of being supported by the existing extension system, but its reach is extended by the presence of local mediators at the village level. Finally, as part of a preliminary study, called Poster Green, we selected four villages in which we follow the similar approach to Digital Green with a local mediator but without a TV and DVD player. Mediators in Poster Green villages hold the same frequency of regular group sessions in their communities and use posters and discussions instead of videos to communicate to their audiences.To compare these three modes of agricultural extension, we measured what knowledge was transferred to farmers, whether farmers’ attendance and interest sustained over time, and for our short-duration study, how many practices farmers ultimately adopted on their own fields. The 20 villages that were selected for this evaluation are roughly 2-hours outside of our MSR India office in southeastern Karnataka. The communities are comprised mostly of subsistence farmers that grow the staple crop, ragi, and the communities are comprised of between 50-80 households. Though most qualify for the government’s “below the poverty line” schemes, one-quarter have access to irrigation facilities and one-quarter have TVs in their own homes.
Early indications show that Digital Green system has increased the adoption rate 7-fold over classical extension. Over the last 9 months, we’ve also seen that farmer’s participation has sustained even with the frequency of 3 screenings per week in each village. I should note that these figures only count whether a farmer has adopted at least one new practice during a particularly period. Also, there are a variety of practices that a farmer could adopt, but they were sequenced uniformly across each group of villages on a calendar-basis. The key factors that resulted in the substantial gain of the Digital Green system over the classical approach include the sustained presence of a local mediator who can engage the community. The on-demand nature of video technology offers the capacity for repetition to ensure that concepts are grasped as well as the novelty that is introduced by showcasing new farmers adopting practices. We have found that some farmers are incentivized to adopt practices just to be featured “on TV”. This helps us reduce the perceived disconnect between experts and farmers, and allows farmers whose first questions are often “Who is this person in this video?” and “Which village is he or she from?” to authenticate the viability of the content.
Now, let’s consider the per village costs of the Classical GREEN, Digital Green, and Poster Green models. Digital Green is supported by the same Classical GREEN extension system and adds the costs of village mediators, TVs and DVD players, a video camera, and a PC. Surprisingly, though, Digital Green costs less than Classical GREEN on a per village basis because each higher-paid extension agent essentially reaches more villages. In terms of benefit, as we saw in the previous slide, Digital Green can potentially increase annual adoption rates by over 7-fold. And, as a result of the lower per village cost and higher adoption rates, we’ve found that Digital Green could be 10 times more effective per dollar spent than classical extension!
In addition to the cost-benefit calculations, we’ve also seen some interesting side-effects of Digital Green. We’ve found that we can take concepts of Web 2.0 to the Web-less world where the infrastructure has yet to reach the last mile. We can build an ecosystem of content around farmer education, entrepreneurship, and entertainment by just using cost-realistic technologies like TVs, DVD players, and camcorders. We can take the existing social networks that farmers use for channeling information and expose them into public view through video. In some cases, we’ve found that we can stimulate a sort-of “Farmer Idol” competition where farmers want to be seen as the best farmer in their community and are incentivized to appear “on TV”.
Over the last 2 years, the tribal communities that we’re working with in five Indian states have produced over 400 short videos that are by the farmers, of the farmers, and for the farmers. The content spans a variety of topics and genres and includes step-by-step demonstrations, testimonials, and interviews. Some farmers even compete to appear “on TV” in a “Farmer Idol” sort-of program to be seen as the best farmer and generates motivational “currency” doing so. The first two questions that farmers often ask when they watch these videos is “What is the name of the farmer in this video?” and “Which village is he or she from?” to authenticate that the content comes from a source that they can relate with before considering a change in their behaviour.
Digital Green Overview
Agriculture in India600M agriculture-dependent livesMajority small landholders (<3 acres)<$2 a day ($750 a year)Growing debts ($300 per year per farmer)Earlier technology intervention… – Green revolution had mixed results • Increased yields, but… • Led to rising input costs, declining soil fertility • Due to excessive use of A farmer from Yellachavadi village, fertilizers/pesticides outside of BangaloreIndiscriminate use of technology partiallyresponsible for current agrarian crisis 2
Agricultural Systems? farmer expert Low literacy in local lang Expensive No unique IDNo bank account Credit card credit Poor roads Market Quantity Poor quality buyers control Computing device and connectivity not enough!
Agriculture Extension Dissemination of expert agriculture information and technology to farmers “Training & Visit” extension popularized by the World Bank in 1970s – Face-to-face interactions of extension officers and farmers 100,000 extension officers in India – Extension agent-to-farmer ratio is 1: 2,000 – 610,000 villages in India with average 1,000-person populationExtension officer “commuting” between farms 4
Agricultural Social Networks ? Main source of information about new technology and farm practices over the past 365 days (India: NSSO 2005) 5
The ProblemHow can the speed and effectivenessof agriculture extension be improvedat a reasonable cost? Extension officer on-field demonstration 6
Digital Video for ExtensionVideo provides… – Resource-savings: human, cost, time – Accessibility for non-literate farmers 7
Early ExperimentationEarly ExperimentationParameters Varied Background of actors in video, Types of content, Background of actors in video, Types of content, Location and timing field trying various combinations Six months in of screening, Method of dissemination, Over 200Degree of mediation,Background of mediator, etc. design Degree surveys, ethnographic investigation, and iterative days of of mediation, Background of mediator, etc. 8
Digital Green SystemParticipatory Content ProductionIntroduction to innovations – Standard extension procedureRough “storyboarding” – Repetitive pattern; easy to learn – Minimize post-productionLocal farmers on their own fields – Reduce perception of “teachers” – Promote “local stars” 9
Digital Green SystemVideo DatabaseOnline videodatabasehttp://www.digitalgreen.org>2,100 videos of 8-10 minutes eachQuality-control, minor video editing,and metadata taggingIndexed by type, topic, locale,season, crop, etc.Distributed via memory cards 10
Digital Green SystemMediated InstructionLocal mediator – Performance-based honorariumHuman engagement – Field questions, capture feedback, encourage participation – Balance gendersOn-demand screenings – Choice time and place – Not “stand-alone” kioskSupport and monitoring – Daily metrics and feedback – Official extension staff 11
Digital Green SystemStructured SequencingCommunity Practices with Practices withAssessment short-term longer-term visible rewards visible rewards Group ParticipationAudienceAwarenessSeasonLocation Time 12
Digital Green System1. Participatory content production2. Video database3. Mediated instruction4. Structured sequencing 13
Preliminary EvaluationExperimental Set-Up15-month study21 villages in Karnataka: Classical GREEN (8) – Language: Kannada Expert Same as usual – Crops: Ragi, banana, mulberry, coconut Digital Green (9) Research Assistant – Population: 50-80 households 3 sessions per week – Irrigation: 10-20 households with access Extension Cost: Rs. 9,500 ($240) for TV/DVD – Television: 15-20 households Officer per village PC / camera costs shared Extension officer sharedMetrics: Mediator salary – Knowledge: Before-and-afterLocal Mediator Local Mediator Local Mediator Accountability: – Attendance: Farmers at each screening Daily metrics and feedback Official extension staff – Interest: Intent to take-up a practice Poster Green(3) – FarmingAdoption: Number of households Farming up Farming taking Same as Digital Green with local each new farming practice or technology Community Community Community mediator, but no TV/DVD Mediator makes posters and holds regular group sessions Audio Green (1) Same as Poster Green with MP3 audio tracks from videos 14
Digital Green: Early Results7 times more adoptions over classical extensionSustained local presence 90 80Mediation 70 Adoption Rate (%) 60Repetition (and novelty) 50 Classic GREEN 40 30 Digital GreenIntegration into existing extension Poster Green 20operations 10 Audio Green 0Social homophily between mediator, Jun-07 Oct-07 Jan-08 Mar-08 Jun-08 May-07 May-08 Apr-07 Jul-07 Aug-07 Sep-07 Feb-08 Apr-08 Nov-07 Cumulative Dec-07actor, and farmerDesire to be “on TV”Trust built from identities of farmers 15 months:and villages in videos 13 villages, 3 nights a week, 1,000 regulars 15
Cost-Benefit Cost (USD) Adoption (%) Cost/Adoption System /Village/Year /Village/Year (USD) Classical GREEN $840 11% $38.18 Digital Green $630 85% $3.70 Poster Green $490 59% $4.15 Note: Decreasing amortized cost of hardware with time and scale Digital Green is at least 10 times more effective per dollar spent than classical extension! 16
Incremental Adoptions, Incremental Incomes$250$200$150 In first 8 months, adoption of improved practices increased the incomes of farmers by$100 an average of $242!$50 $0 Jun-10 Jul-10 Aug-10 Sep-10 Oct-10 Nov-10 Dec-10 Jan-11 Chili - NurseryChili Line Beans Line Sowing Bitter Gourd Pest & Ginger Rot Potato Line Sowing, Tomato IntercroppingSeed Poultry Rearing Raising, Sowing, Beans FertilizerRice Intensification System of Application Management _ Improved Onion Improved 17
Digital Green SystemNetwork EffectViral Web 2.0 in the Web-less world - Content ecosystem: education, entrepreneurship, entertainment - Cost-realistic access: pico projectors, TVs, DVD players, and camcordersReinforce existing social networks to diffuse innovations through communitiesLocal “idol” competitions to be a better farmer 3 1 19 2
Digital Green SystemPlatform Online Offline (no/low connectivity) Browser-based input Cloud-based central database Data stored in local database Synchronized with local databases Synchronized when connectivity available 21
Digital Green SystemCOCO | Connect Online, Connect Offline digitalgreen.org/tech
Digital Green SystemPlatformRobust system to share, track, and analyse data to manage operations andtarget interventions over timeAnalytics dashboard built on top of a simple yet robust dataentry system that can toggle between online and offline connectivity modes http://www.digitalgreen.org/ 100,000 simultaneous offline users Offline mode 10x faster than online 23
Digital Green SystemAnalytics analytics.digitalgreen.org
Digital Green SystemAnalytics analytics.digitalgreen.org
Non-Non-Profit Digital GreenSubsidize agriculture Digital Green’s value to farmers is established – viewers contribute Rs. 2-4extension with ads? per screening. Could DG also be supported by ads? Advertisers get access to a distributed, captive audience with demonstrated interest in better agriculture. Ads follow Digital Green’s distribution channels. To do: – Scale Digital Green – Devise mechanism for ensuring appropriate ads – Quantify ad effectiveness Digital Green DVD title screen – Quantify ad value to advertisers
Digital Green SystemWonder Village apps.facebook.com/wondervillage
Agricultural Systems? farmer expert Low literacy in local lang Expensive No unique IDNo bank account Credit card credit Poor roads Market Quantity Poor quality buyers control Technology not enough!
Technology magnifies human intent and capability.Technology itself requires support fromwell-intentioned, competent people or organizations.Successful technology interventions work as a part ofwell-intentioned, competent organizations.