RESET recently chatted with Rikin Gandhi of DigitalGREEN for our TIMES Pieces series to look at how technology is benefiting farmers in India.
The aim of DigitalGREEN is to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers in India through information sharing by training farmers in rural areas to use video cameras and editing software to create short videos. These are then screened at community gatherings and, for those with web access, can be watched online on the website or via its Youtube channel, which has had over 950,000 views so far this year. These videos cover many topics including seed selection, irrigation, how to transplant crops and other topics.
In just five years, Gandhi is seeing fantastic results with 40 percent of all viewers adopting at least one of the practices they saw in a video. More than 150,000 farmers have watched 2,600 videos in more than 20 languages. With a presence in 2,000 villages in seven states, DigitalGREEN is growing and plans to bring its ambitious methods to even more farmers across the country.
How It Started: Using Technology to Help Farming Communities
Rikin Gandhi previously studied computer science and aerospace engineering and harboured ambitions to become an astronaut. He came to India to work on a biodiesel project which never really got off the ground.
While researching for Microsoft in India, he wondered why some farmers were struggling and others were thriving despite having access to practically the same resources. It soon dawned on him that some farmers had simply stumbled across successful farming methods by chance and that perhaps if these techniques and methods were shared among a community, others could learn how to emulate the success of someone living and working in similar conditions as them.
He quickly got to work and set up DigitalGREEN, an independent, non-governmental organisation which now has a 65-member team and a presence in seven of India's states. Working with government officials and other NGOs, a number of individuals are trained on how to produce short 8-10 minute videos using basic recording equipment. They learn how to use video cameras, storyboarding and editing skills.
Most communities have no access to the internet so group screenings are common in many areas. Using handheld pico projectors and a micro SD card, screenings can take place where farmers can gather to learn from the videos and then offer feedback during a question and answers session afterwards.
Rikin learned early on the role the presenter in a video can have and that having a person from a similar background as other farmers is important.
“The fact that these are local videos helps, people are always curious about who is presenting the video and want to know which village he or she comes from. They want to see what clothes the person is wearing and what language they are speaking. The farmers like it that the advice they are getting is from someone from their own setting,” said Rikin.
Literacy rates in rural India tend to be lower than in urban areas and consistent access to information is difficult making learning new farming methods troublesome. However, utilising the medium of video has allowed them to learn through demonstration.
“The visual nature of the videos really helps farmers. For example, an issue relating to water or organic farming can be difficult to explain but being able to see what the farmer is doing really helps,” he added.
In rural India, farming is the number one form of employment. Most people are involved in cultivating the land in some way and it accounts for 14 percent of India's GDP. It is valuable on so many levels and by sharing information, farmers can learn from each other and thus improve their yields.
The programme also places an emphasis on sustainable agriculture and teaching renewable environmentally friendly methods.
“Some farmers are organic by default but just need some help getting the best out of their land, others are very reliant on pesticides and non-organic fertilisers and perhaps are too reliant on them. It is all about sustainability, and learning how to get the most out of the land without exploiting it.”
Further ambitions: expanding DigitalGREEN in India and beyond
So far Gandhi and his team have made massive strides in providing farmers with a beneficial framework to improve their holdings. However, he intends to expand and bring the DigitalGREEN philosophy to even more villages.
“We want to go from working in 2,000 villages to 10,000 villages, and we don't want it to just be about agriculture, we want to share knowledge about government initiatives, social issues, health, nutrition and hygiene.”
They have also relaunched the website, breaking up the videos into different areas and structuring it more so as a learning experience, very much in the same vein as Khan Academy. Rikin is also looking at overseas expansion and work has already begun in Ghana and Ethiopa.
“There are a lot of differences in infrastructure, connectivity and culture; we are trying out the approach and seeing what we can learn from it,” he explained about the tentative early steps in another country.
DigitalGREEN has helped improve the lives of many farmers. By training them to use various media and promoting the sharing of information, farmers can learn to overcome obstacles which previously hindered them. Their productivity can increase and an increase level of yields is not only good for the farmers, it is also beneficial to India as 60 percent of the country depends on agriculture for a living. With a growing population, the country needs to produce more food, and perhaps learning how to make the most out of their land and using technology to share information could be of vital importance in years to come.
Find out more about DigitalGREEN on their website.
TIMES Pieces is a monthly editorial series on RESET.org where we speak with people who are employing TIMES principles (Telecommunications, IT, Mobile, E-Commerce, Service Provider) for social and environmental good. Read more in the series: TIMES Pieces