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Digital Green: For more productive agriculture

Sep 02, 2011

The low-cost Digital Green initiative in India prepares video DVDs of live demonstrations of agricultural practices by experts to be distributed among small farmers in remote areas. By building on existing social linkages, the initiative is ten times more cost effective in disseminating good farming practices for higher productivity.

Indian agriculture currently faces the twin challenges of meeting the rising food demand of an increasing population in a sustainable manner and making the best use of the available resources and technology for enhancing the production and productivity of the agricultural sector. 

The very nature of Indian agriculture has been based on change- increasing resource (land and water, mainly) degradation, changes in demand and consumption pattern etc. Farmers require a different type of support, like training, problem-solving consultancy, marketing advice etc., to deal with these changes in agricultural practices. 

At the same time, there is ample evidence in India to suggest that increasing debts and declining returns have led some farmers to make desperate choices including selling their land below market rates and even suicide. A major problem lies in the dearth of adequate knowledge about farming itself, which leads to poor decision-making.

A popular method used for reducing this knowledge gap is agricultural extension wherein extension agents impart farming practices and techniques to farmers through individual interaction.

In this context, started in 2009, Digital Green seeks to build on existing agricultural extension programmes by combining social organisation and technology. The Digital Green approach involves the use of videos for disseminating information about agricultural techniques that farmers can easily adopt in order to increase their productivity.

However, agricultural extension programmes are fraught with problems and, combined with the ever-more  complex nature of Indian agriculture, their actual impact varies greatly. This approach has problems of scale because of the huge number of staff required to support the programmes. Extension officers tend to restrict their interactions to the richer, larger-scale farmers in each village, who are typically more inclined to experiment with new inputs. Extension systems aim to use these farmers as models, but the field staff is hardly able to showcase the progression of these farmers to wider audiences due to social and resource limitations.

Against this backdrop, Digital Green uses simple and cost-effective technology tools for agricultural extension. It uses video to disseminate agricultural practices making use  of cost-realistic technologies, which include TVs and DVD players to do so. The main stakeholders of this approach are Digital Green, local partner organizations and the farmers.

The video-based content reduces the need for expert help for each farmer. The videos are localised to a region and cater to the agricultural practices particular to that region. The strength of the DG system lies in the way the videos are used, and the way it employs natural social dynamics to augment a single worker’s ability to evangelise agricultural practices.

Digital Green partners with local organizations that are already working on agricultural extension programmes. Currently, it is operating in 5 states and partners with 7 organizations. With more than 1650 videos in its database and a reach over 58,000 farmers, Digital Green today is ten times more effective, per dollar spent, in converting farmers to better farming practices than traditional approaches to agricultural extension.

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