Digital technologies already serve an important role in the delivery and communication of agricultural information, complementing and expanding the reach of conventional extension services. However, sophisticated digital platforms and their applications in learning environments offer new opportunities which may significantly enhance agricultural knowledge exchange.
This paper reports on a project that uses cutting-edge advances in virtual world technologies to develop web-based virtual ‘discussion-support’ tools for the rapid sharing of targeted climate information. These tools are designed to provide a stimulus for discussion, enhanced decision-making and improved climate risk management on farms. The project uses the Second Life virtual world environment to create customized scripted video clips (machinima). These feature real world settings and lifelike avatar actors who model conversations about climate risk and key farm operational decisions relevant to the lives and practices of specific groups of farmers. The system has been trialed with Indian cotton farmers and Australian sugarcane farmers. Further large scale evaluation in a range of agricultural systems will inform continual improvement of the approach.
With improved internet access and uptake of mobile technologies, these tools have potential to provide new cost-effective options for real-time information exchange at local, regional, national and even global scales. Such tools may enhance rapid and effective needs-based knowledge sharing, capacity building and online learning opportunities within the agricultural sector; provide increasing opportunity for discussion around risk, decision-making and implementation of sustainable farming practices; and enable agricultural industries to become lead innovators in blended digital and ‘in person’ extension and outreach. Improved climate risk decision-making and management in agriculture is critical to the well-being and long-term sustainability of farming communities and future global food security.