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Spread the farmer’s word

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Microsoft, along with GREEN Foundation, is helping farmers improve agricultural practices through videos that they can share and contribute to.

Field work: (from left) GREEN Foundation extension officer (Lingaraj) and a village mediator (Jairam) use Digital Green videos to bring farmers together three nights a week, in the village of Gulaganahalli, Karnataka. They use the video to ask questions and to get feedback from the farmers in an interactive learning format. GREEN Foundation extension officer (Ramachandrappa) and a village mediator (Ramegowda) are preparing to record a video in which a farmer (Byragowda) demonstrates the benefits of mulching banana leaves on his field in Bhanavasi, Karnataka.
Field work: (from left) GREEN Foundation extension officer (Lingaraj) and a village mediator (Jairam) use Digital Green videos to bring farmers together three nights a week, in the village of Gulaganahalli, Karnataka. They use the video to ask questions and to get feedback from the farmers in an interactive learning format. GREEN Foundation extension officer (Ramachandrappa) and a village mediator (Ramegowda) are preparing to record a video in which a farmer (Byragowda) demonstrates the benefits of mulching banana leaves on his field in Bhanavasi, Karnataka.

Shamik Paul

It is a talent hunt all right but there is a twist in the tale that makes all the difference! To pick winners is definitely the motive, but the greater goal is to share with others the recipe for the winner’s success.

Welcome to Digital Green, a project of Microsoft Research India’s ‘Technology for Emerging Market’ team.

Digital Green is about creating awareness about better agricultural techniques and practices among farmers who have little access to information.

The project involves making videos of farmers who follow certain best practices and showing these videos to others, hoping they would adopt the techniques. It’s kind of a “Farmer Idol” says Rikin Gandhi, Assistant Researcher, Technology for Emerging Markets team.

Microsoft Research India has partnered with GREEN Foundation, an organisation that has been working for about 15 years with the local communities and individual farmers to conserve biodiversity and improve food security. At present, the Digital Green project is spread across 13 villages on the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu border.

Members of the Digital Green team ensure that the content of the videos is produced locally. Gandhi says the local mediator sometimes helps them to decide whom to film. Sometimes they choose a progressive farmer who follows the newer techniques and practices. They try to choose somebody who would not alienate the others.

“We now have about 300 videos, each of duration of about eight-ten minutes. The content is about general livelihood for the farming community, including sustainable agricultural practices. It is scientific as well as practical for the small farmers,” says Gandhi.

The videos are shown about three times a week, in the village community hall. At times, the television is carried from one part of the village to another.

When the video is played, there is a facilitator who engages the audience and ensures the audience understands what is being shown. Gandhi says the videos are entertaining as well because the subject of the video is known to the audience; he is from their village or from a neighbouring one.

Also, farming practices vary from region to region. Since these videos are produced locally, they are directly relevant to the farmers.

The project has helped to extend the efforts of GREEN Foundation. Raghavendra Rao, Chief Executive, GREEN Foundation, says they were doing it in the traditional way.

They had field managers who went from farmer to farmer. But since they did not have too many staff, their reach was limited.

But now because of Digital Green, they can reach out to more farmers.

Rao says the response from the farmers has been good and the project has taken off well.

Emboldened by the success, Rao now wants to make videos for specific crops such as lentils and millets.

Shamik.paul@thehindu.co.in

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 7, 2008)
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