About 600 million people in India depend directly on agriculture for their livelihood. Rikin Gandhi, chief executive officer of Digital Green, demonstrated that simple videos featuring local farmers are capable of disseminating innovative agriculture practices. In an exclusive interview with The Baltic Review, he explains how this approach successfully creates incentives among farmers to adopt new ideas.
– You were able of creating a group of well-coordinated partners centred on the mission of videos “by farmers, for farmers”. Where did you get such an idea?
I initially came to India in 2006 to work with some college friends who were starting up a biodiesel venture in Maharashtra. Though that venture didn’t work out, I did give me an opportunity to visit rural India and meet Indian farmers for the first time. It was clear that there were some farmers who were more “progressive” and were seeing increasing returns to their agricultural activities, whereas others were still at a subsistence-level. I then joined the Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets group where we researched and developed Digital Green. We observed some work by a sister project, called Digital StudyHall, which was using videos to improve primary school education in India.
As we started producing videos, we found that the first two questions that people were asking were, “what is the name of the farmer in the video?” and “which village is he or she from?”. In a controlled trial, we also found out that the approach was ten times more cost-effective, per rupee spent, than a conventional extension system.
– According to your Annual Report, the Digital Green network reaches more than 85,000 farmers every week. Who are these farmers; who is benefiting from the project?
We currently work across seven states in India and parts of Ethiopia and Ghana. We engage over 150,000 farmers (of which 70% are women) in more than 2,000 villages, with over 2,600 videos produced in 20 different languages till date.
– The Digital Green network grew from 10 villages to more than 2,000 villages throughout the world in 6 years. What is your key strategy?
Essentially, our approach involves working with NGO and government agencies that are training farmers already. We then serve as a ‘trainer of trainers’, building the capacity of their field professionals and community-level intermediaries to produce and share locally produced videos, to improve the efficiency of their existing operations, and broaden the participation of the communities that they work with.
– What are your future plans for Digital Green?
We have partnered with the Government of India’s National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), which is led by the Ministry of Rural Development, and are extending our approach to 10,000 villages by the end of 2015. We are also extending our approach into new geographies — mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa till this point, but we are also considering partnership possibilities in other parts of South Asia. Widely applied in the context of agriculture and livelihood, we are also thinking the approach is also being piloted in new domains such as maternal and new-born health and nutrition.