Using Communication Technology to Help Farmers Become More Productive: Digital Green

Digital Green (DG) has been a revolutionary example of how communications technology can change the lives of many. Digital Green has succeeded in providing opportunities for communication between people of a targeted interest, specifically, farming. Their aim is to impact the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the developing world through the targeted production and dissemination of agricultural information via participatory video and mediated instruction through grassroots-level partnerships.

Digital Green is unique in that it has used social networking to improve farming knowledge. It has created “Wonder Village,” a virtual game for getting acquainted with rural realities and various farming techniques, as well as “Farmerbook” an online social platform for farmers to upload videos, share insights and create venture opportunities.

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A video in the process of being shot

The DG system provides structure to a traditional, informally-trained vocation. Small and marginal farmers have come together like never before from across seven states -Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh in India. Recently the organization has extended its work to Ghana and Ethiopia, as well as sending a research team to work in the Philippines with the partnership of International Rice Research Institute.

The Digital Green model promotes inclusive growth by diffusing sustainable, high-productivity agricultural methods to all interested members of a community, regardless of class or caste. And it works. The DG model has been found to be 10 times more effective per dollar spent and 7 times more impactful when compared to conventional agricultural extension systems. Further, a preliminary sample analysis found that in the first eight months in which the Digital Green system was deployed, there was an average cumulative increase in incomes of US $242 per farmer relative to control sites. Hence it is no surprise that Digital Green has gained attention from US-Secretary General Hillary Clinton. Addressing a US-India Innovative Solutions seminar earlier this year, Clinton commented: “For decades, scientists, engineers and social innovators from India and United States have worked side-by-side, the most famous example perhaps are the agricultural improvements that led to the Green Revolution. Today I met entrepreneurs from an organization called ‘Digital Green’, who are carrying on that work. Using technology to share agriculture-based practices with farmers themselves (it) is now possible…for farmers to be in their villages (and) look at videos about agricultural techniques that they can apply in their own work.”

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Rikin Gandhi (CEO, Digital Green) explaining DGs model to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, India on May 8, 2012
Ingredients involved in the making of Digital Green involve a video-centric database, farmers and distribution management. India is an agriculture-based economy where over 60% of the population relies on home production for livelihood. However due to rapid social, economic and environmental change, farming has been unable to make money as well as maintain its inherited traditions. The video based approach therefore has many advantages for both economic and cultural reasons. Farmers can now watch comprehensive video content without the barriers of language, expert terminology, grass-root practicalities or a sea of scattered media. Aside from the online platforms, means of disseminating content from the Digital Green database is shipping DVDs to a village. Villages are provided a minimum of a TV and DVD player that is operated by NGO field staff and managed by local farmers.
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Screening of DG carried content with a TV and DVD player that is operated by NGO field staff
In the next three and half years Digital Green hopes to expand its out-reach to 500,000 small and marginal farmers in partnership with the National Rural Livelihood Mission. In future, this initiative will be co-funded by the Government of India and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and will eventually transition to larger alliances of partners, donors, and supporters coordinated by Digital Green. Visit www.digitalgreen.org to know more or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

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Iliana Foutsitzis is a recent graduate of Northeastern University’s Political Science curriculum. Before embarking on a law degree Iliana is spending a gap year in New Delhi, India interning with the Niiti Consulting team. Contact Iliana at ifoutsitzis@gmail.com.

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