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Social networks for Agriculture Revolution

Agriculture landscape of India

The majority of India’s rural population (some 770 million people or about 70 percent) constitute the vast majority of the poor in the country whose major livelihood is agriculture. Indian Agriculture contributes to 18.6 per cent of India’s GDP, and approximately 59 per cent Indians derive their livelihood from the agricultural sector. India’s food security depends on producing cereal crops, as well as increasing its production of fruits, vegetables and milk to meet the demands of a growing population with rising incomes.

Despite the significance of agriculture sector in India, due to the various challenges posing the sector it is declining. Initiatives to enhance the agricultural productivity, competitiveness and rural growth are being taken. Introduction of Information and Communications technology (ICT) has emerged as a major source for development in India, and especially in agriculture sector. ICT enables smooth dissemination of required information at the right time which is crucial to improve productivity, plan better, and therefore deliver better results. This revolution in information technology has made access to information easy and cost-effective.

Though ICT has a huge potential, ICT models have certain barriers. There is a huge digital divide between the urban and rural population. Most of the ICT models are based on internet and computers, which are not accessible to the rural population due to low income levels and high levels of illiteracy. Along with limits the regular reach to the majority because various reasons like insufficient power availability in rural areas, poor ICT infrastructure, ICT illiteracy, non availability of timely relevant content, non-integration of services, poor advisory services and lack of localization, and in particular non availability of agricultural information kiosks/ knowledge centers at the grass root level.

To bridge this gap the options of voice based communications technology of mobile and community radios are a powerful, feasible and effective mediums. Especially telecommunications is transforming the rural agriculture space rapidly. It plays a vital role in contributing to the empowerment of the farmers living in villages.

ICT for Agriculture boon

Mobile phones are omnipresent and cost effective means to revolutionize agriculture in India. According to the Government of India census 2011, mobile penetration in rural India stands at an astounding 51 percent. Mobile phones therefore can be effectively utilized for myriad purposes including generating, processing, transmitting, disseminating, sorting, archiving and retrieving critical information and data.

Digital Green -an NGO working to improve the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of small farmers in India has developed innovative ways to improve the Indian agriculture system.

Digital Green  has pioneered a novel process of creating local videos of farmers speaking on agriculture practices in their area. Their theory of change is that the diffusion of best practices happens faster when videos are more contextual, or the viewers can relate to them, for example by seeing their neighbouring farmer as being featured in the video. In partnership with NGOs, Digital Green screens these videos using pico-projectors in small groups of 6-10 farmers. Together with the Ford Foundation, they did a small project on using mobile phones with projectors that were given to a few key people in each village, and played videos to friends and associates of the people. 

To understand the role of rural social networks in disseminating information better, Digital Green  and Ford Foundation organized a workshop.

The workshop saw proliferation of innovative ideas and methods to improve agriculture. Different organization groups shared their insights and discussed their state-of-the-art practices, including expert advisory services like mKisan by CABI, Reuters Market Light, and IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL). Discussions for media related services included Gram Vaani’s Mobile Vaani network, and PRADAN’sinteresting experiment with using projector and mobile phones to screen local videos.

Changing the face of Indian Agriculture

At the workshop, the founder of Gram Vaani, Dr. Aaditeshwar Seth presented report on the findings from the media discussion group. The group brought out several interesting aspects of voice and video based media for agriculture:

  • Localized content available on-demand is key: Localization adds context, which helps make the messages more relevant and understandable for the people. Feedback channels to convey user demand are key to respond to user requests, by understanding their specific needs.
  • Voice and video are complementary: While voice based content is easier to create and edit, it is good for Q&A like purposes, and to get quick feedback from the community. But video is valuable when it comes to tutoring farmers on best practices. Video delivery to the last mile is however hard because of poor Internet connectivity — the voice divide has been bridged, but the digital divide still remains. 
  • Broad media systems such as Mobile Vaani are very relevant when it comes to agriculture, since agriculture does not happen in isolation. As we have seen on JMV, due to intense rural-urban migration, the face of agriculture has changed — much agriculture is done by women than by men, and in fact our findings indicate that up to 50% of the aggregate work done by women is on agriculture. This means that a discussion on improving agricultural patterns cannot happen without a discussions on gender inequality, discussions on migration patterns, the failure of livelihood based government schemes to create local employment during agricultural off season, etc. This is probably the biggest contribution that broad community media systems such as Mobile Vaani bring to any specific knowledge vertical.

All you have to do is imagine Mobile Vaani as a horizontal platform on which various innovative technologies can be deployed to address the needs of the farmers and the farming community in India to make a positive impact on this sector and therefore on the country’s GDP.

Apart from this Gram Vaani Technology offers a slew of very interesting voice based platforms that can be used for:

  • Mobile learning and training platforms
  • Information dissemination platforms
  • Setting up helplines to answer agriculture specific queries of farmers

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