Digital Green uses a novel tactic to spread good farming practices in rural Indian village: make educational videos in which area farmers star.
According to Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green, traditional agriculture training tools have been beset by two flaws: “The programs are either too generic because they aim to be highly scalable, or too costly because they require experts to provide advice on an individual basis.” Digital Green is trying a third way. Launched in 2006 under the Microsoft Research India umbrella, and turned into an independent NPO in 2009, Digital Green uses a novel tactic to spread good farming practices in rural Indian villages: locally made educational videos in which area farmers are the stars. “We were inspired by a sister project, called Digital StudyHall, that used video in improving primary school education in India,” Gandhi says. Both are built on the theory that there’s no substitute for visuals, especially in communities with high illiteracy rates. “A mantra of extension systems is ‘seeing is believing.’”
But it’s not just any kind of seeing—it’s seeing your friends and neighbors. Participation is the key to Digital Green’s system. Their team trains community members to produce the videos with low-cost cameras—shorts showing local farmers reaping the benefits of new techniques. These are screened on battery-operated pico projectors at village gathering points like bus stands and schoolhouses by paid “community facilitators,” who encourage dialogue. As important as the content are the subtle cultural tics that build trust. “Farmers perceive relevance ... based on audio and visual cues,” Gandhi says. In one case, “a plastic drum used in a demonstration turned away some farmers because they possessed only earthen urns.”
So far, the team has produced close to 600 videos, and they’re hoping to expand not only within India, but also in Africa. According to Gandhi, a bit of human nature has helped their work: “The appeal of appearing ‘on TV’ is incentive enough for some farmers to adopt a new practice.”