On the Effectiveness of Using Low Cost Technology to Reach Farmers

Digital Green’s FarmStack is a data-sharing platform that integrates farm and farmer data to develop customized and demand-driven information and services offered to farmers via multiple integrated channels of communication (e.g., video and mobile-based channels.) IDinsight, an advisory and research organization, conducted a comprehensive evaluation of a pilot cashew use case in Andhra Pradesh, India, under which soil, weather, and farmer data were combined to deliver targeted agronomic advisories via videos and interactive voice response (IVR).  A summary of IDinsight’s evaluation results, written by Daniel Stein, Rupika Singh, and William Slotznik, was first published on Agrilinks. We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting this study. 

India has hundreds of thousands of independent farmers working in hard-to-reach areas, and it can be difficult for these agriculture producers to gather the information they need to maximize crop yields and profits. Organizations like Digital Green are dedicated to using technology to provide farmers with training, information about market prices and other extension services. Traditionally, they have done so using video, but as cellular penetration increases, there is increasingly the opportunity to give farmers customized information via mobile phone.

Digital Green is in the process of developing FarmStack – a platform that helps organizations share data with one another. This system can be used to share customized information and services with farmers, using multiple models of communication. The advisory and research organization IDinsight worked with Digital Green to assess the effectiveness of this platform. FarmStack is still under development, and Digital Green is testing out different use cases of the system in different settings. IDinsight studied a particular FarmStack use case that involved cashew farmers in Andhra Pradesh, in which farmers were given customized advisory information through video, Integrated Voice Response (IVR) and SMS.

Combining videos with customized information: Higher technology adoption

Cashew farmers in Andhra Pradesh generally have low yields, due to inclement weather and nutrient-deficient soil. To promote productivity, the government of Andhra Pradesh has encouraged farmers to adopt “Community-Based Natural Farming” (CBNF previously known as ZBNF) techniques. CBNF involves farmers using natural ingredients (such as cow dung and urine) to create chemical-free fertilizers and pesticides, which can help them achieve higher production at a low cost. The information provided by Digital Green helped disseminate these CBNF techniques developed and endorsed by the Agriculture Department.

IDinsight ran a randomized controlled trial, in which one group of farmers (“video-only”) were invited to watch informational CBNF-focused videos every two weeks. Another group of farmers received implementation of the “FarmStack” system, in which Digital Green delivered supplementary communication to farmers on their phone, along with the in-person video screenings. These messages reinforced content that appeared in the videos and also provided targeted information on weather and soil quality.

Access the final evaluation results here.

Capturing Digital Green’s evolution in a new e-book published by Michigan State University

The Michigan State University recently published a new e-book called Innovations in Agricultural Extension. This book emerged from the collaboration of extension experts attending the International Conference on Agricultural Extension: Innovation to Impact in February 2019. The book covers a wide range of topics in agricultural extension, from community outreach to the use of digital technologies. Digital Green staff Pritam Kumar Nanda and Archana Karanam, contributed to this book by authoring a chapter, The World is my Village. 

This chapter summarizes the evolution of Digital Green’s work in the digital extension realm, reimagined from the perspective of a field-level extension agent, Aarthi. Through Aarthi’s experiences and her own professional growth, the reader is able to learn about the technologies that Digital Green has been promoting to empower extension agents and create an ecosystem for an efficient flow of information to the farmers. The chapter describes Digital Green’s community video approach including video production, dissemination, and data management; the use of hybrid channels for sharing information with farmers; and virtual training platforms. The chapter concludes by acknowledging how the rapid changes in digital technologies provide new opportunities for extension agents to gain skills from the formal classrooms, as well as provide farmers the skills to use ICTs for agronomic decisions and market discoverability. 

We invite you to read The World is my Village and share your thoughts with us. Let us know how the use of ICTs and digital extension tools support agricultural extension in your community!

Impact of FarmStack for Cashew Cultivators – Research Paper

Fighting Desert Locust Together: Innovations and Solutions to Combat an Agrarian & Food Crisis

On February 3, 2021, Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) and ClimaCell.org hosted a webinar focusing on innovations and last-mile solutions to dealing with the desert locust crisis. We hosted this webinar because if it was not for COVID-19, the desert locust crisis would be the most significant challenge facing Africa this decade. The desert locust forms into swarms which are highly destructive: they can travel up to 150 km per day, damaging crops and fodder along the way and exacerbating food insecurity in parts of Africa. In 2020, swarms reached sizes as large as 1.5 times the size of New York City!

In the last few years, innovative technologies and last-mile solutions have emerged that could help prevent future desert locust attacks and support better monitoring of locust swarms and warning systems to support farmers. Georgina Campbell Flatter, Executive Director of ClimaCell.org, provided opening remarks highlighting the importance of aid to support farmers and pastoralists following locust attacks in early 2020, as well as the impressive progress and momentum in early warning and early action innovations like hyperlocal weather data, use of digital tools, and others.

Next, Marc Gilkey, Senior Agriculture Development Advisor at USAID Bureau of Resilience and Food Security, described the biology of the desert locust, how the swarms form, and swarm behavior as a cohesive entity. He emphasized the need for ongoing desert locust surveillance and control, as well as the use of technology, including locust reporting applications. Then, Boniface Akuku, Director of Information and Communication Technology of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), provided the perspective of the Government of Kenya. He emphasized the need to move from reactive to proactive approaches, including the use of digital platforms to share diverse data to predict and mitigate future desert locust attacks.

Following Ms. Akuku’s remarks, a panel discussed technology innovations for locust response. Yaev Motro, PhD, a locust expert, and Tomer Regev, CEO and Co-Founder of Alta Innovation, discussed the use of precision drone technology to identify desert locust locations and spray only those areas affected by locusts, while also minimizing the use of pesticides. They also talked about a recent trip to Ethiopia to share these technologies and coach Ethiopian locust warriors on how to use drone technology, sprayers, and use protective equipment. Dan Slagan and Rei Goffer from ClimaCell Inc. discussed the use of hyper-local weather data, integration of data sources, and specialized models to add precision to identifying when it is best to spray locust swarms. ClimaCell’s platform provides timely recommendations on when it would be the right day to spray based on numerous factors and conditions, as well as alerts via SMS or WhatsApp.

A second panel honed in on the last miles solutions to reach farmers. Emmah Mwangi, Agriculture Climate Research Manager for the Kenya Red Cross, recommended localized and context-specific data to strengthen early warning early action systems, as well as collaboration between diverse stakeholders and ongoing pilots to inform system development. Henry Kinyua, Head of East Africa, for Digital Green, talked about the use of customized videos as a way to reach farmers with information. He discussed the use of videos in the local language to disseminate information to fight the mango fruit fly in Kenya and how these videos can be delivered via multiple channels, including the trusted KALRO application. Ritika Sood, Senior Partner Relations Manager for Arifu, talked about their digital advisory platform, providing farmers with relevant agricultural information at no cost to farmers. She emphasized the need to work in partnership to get the subject matter content and customization needed to appropriately reach farmers.

Mr. Gilkey provided closing remarks, noting the importance of moving from analog to digital technologies and working in pluralistic partnerships to mitigate the multiple needs that emerge from the desert locust crisis. The webinar recording is accessible here.