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Digital Green: Training Farmers with Videos and Social Networks

Last week in London, the Omidyar Network, the UK Department for International Development, and WIRED magazine hosted a one-day conference on transparency and open government called Open Up!. You may have seen this post where we encouraged you all to send your ideas of how technology can help open government to #OpenUp12 on Twitter.

One of the many impressive groups that presented their work at Open Up! was Digital Green. Digital Green is a technology-centric grassroots campaign focused on increasing the effectiveness of smallholder farmers in the developing world, in order to improve their farming methods and their lives.

Digital Green is taking advantage of technology to increase the reach of the lessons smallholder farmers can teach each other. Starting with farmers in India, and later with farmers in Ghana and Ethiopia, Digital Green has developed a video-based system for sharing farming knowledge, encouraging adoption of new techniques and tracking the adoption of the new methods. Local “facilitators” – village farmers –share appropriate how-to videos to their communities using cheap, portable pico projectors. The database of more than 2,500 videos is sorted by crop, region and method. Crucially, Digital Green’s method of using 8-10 minute videos allows the significant illiterate populations (more than 40% in India, 30% in Ghana, and 60% in Ethiopia) to benefit from the lessons. You can find the videos on YouTube here, or search for them on Digital Green’s website. But while the technology is impressive, and useful for helping to share the videos, facilitators are instrumental in ensuring that farmers are watching and understanding the lessons illustrated in the videos, and that local farmers are using effective techniques.

Digital Green is currently working in 1,500 villages with more than 125,000 farmers, approximately 70% of whom are female. Digital Green noticed that the video screenings started conversations about who the “teacher” farmers were, where they were from and what they grew. This curiosity and desire to connect resulted in the Farmerbook social network, where farmers have profiles on a map, that track progress made through screenings, questions, and adoptions of more effective farming methods. Farmerbook allows Digital Green to see just how many people the videos are reaching, and how effective they are at improving farming methods.

Digital Green’s focus on data – to ensure that their programs are working – is impressive. Their analytics page is chock-full of data about who is doing what, where, and how successful those efforts are. But Digital Green is raising the profile of small farmers in other innovative ways.  The feedback and data from the screenings are stored on Digital Green’s Connect Online/Connect Offline (COCO) platform, which allows even remote areas with limited Internet and electrical connectivity to update the database. Digital Green’s video-based educational approach may be able to reach more people – more cheaply – than more traditional methods. Historically, agriculture extension workers are trained to teach smallholder farmers new and better farming techniques. However, this is a very labor intensive process. By building bigger networks and using video technology, Digital Green may have hit upon a more efficient way to scale up farmer education.

To provide a bridge between these farmers with their social network and those in urban areas who use more mainstream social networks, Digital Green created Wonder Village, a Farmville-like Facebook game that allows players to connect with their friends and Digital Green’s small farmers to build a healthy, thriving agricultural village. It’s an inspiring example of how technology can make the world a little bit smaller, and enable knowledge and awareness to educate people all over the world.

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