Transforming agricultural extension for indigenous farmers by providing advisories in their local languages

In celebration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9) and in observation of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), Digital Green would like to draw attention to the importance of supporting indigenous people and preserving indigenous languages and their unique cultures. 

In Ethiopia, although agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, generating over 45% of the GDP and 90% of the total export earnings of the country, agriculture is characterized by very low productivity.  The Ethiopian Government has been actively pursuing agricultural extension as a key means of strengthening agricultural productivity and transforming economic and rural development. However, indigenous farmers struggle to increase their productivity because extension services are delivered using technical terms in a non-native language that is difficult for the farmers to understand and implement. 

Tegen Kars (pictured with his family) is a farmer living in Goritnamag Kebele of Bench Maji zone. Tegen used to receive agricultural extension support in Amharic. He struggled to apply what he had learned, as he is a native speaker of Bench, a Northern Omotic language spoken by about 174,000 people. According to Tegen, “No matter what kind of farmer we are, most of us do not understand technical terms, which causes the agricultural extension training to be misunderstood.”

Tegen said that receiving agricultural advisories via videos helped him and his peers better understand the agronomic practices. The videos are made in Bench language and feature local farmers just like him.  “To be honest, every farmer is happy. I learned things I did not know before and did not pay much attention to would increase productivity from the video tutorials. I am able to make a difference in my agricultural practices by getting a good education from the video extensions,” Tegen noted. 

Tegen recommended video extension services for farmers elsewhere noting, “If all farmers get video-based extension services and learn from the practice of fellow farmers they watched on the videos, they will be able to translate the videos into action. Video tutorials correct us from many mistakes as we need up-to-date lessons.” Speaking of his success, Tegen said he was able to increase his profit from maize production. 

Digital Green joins forces with government, private sector, and most importantly rural communities themselves to co-create solutions that are of the community and for the community. In order to enable more effective dissemination of information, Digital Green’s video extension approach focuses on delivering timely advisory messages featuring model farmers in their local languages and local context. In Ethiopia, Digital Green, in collaboration with the local agricultural offices, has produced more than 1,500 agricultural extension videos in 24 local languages which have reached more than 630,000 indigenous smallholder farmers in 10,000 villages. Globally, Digital Green has supported the production of more than 6,000 videos in over 50 local, indigenous languages.

Farmers’ resilience in times of crisis

Smallholder farmers contribute the most to our food systems, and yet they are amongst the most vulnerable groups in poverty. With COVID-19 posing a threat to their livelihoods, to bolster the resilience of smallholder farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Digital Green’s COVID-19 Resilience Support Program enabled efficient delivery of targeted, relevant and timely advisory recommendations, and worked on improving access to markets and market information.

The main interventions were with smallholder cashew and chilli farmers to enhance their productivity in terms of adopting best agricultural practices and increasing quality production. The dissemination of advisories for this would be done through channels like human-mediated group dissemination, Whatsapp, Chatbot and IVR, which was a hybrid communications approach which Digital Green has applied across its work in varying capacities. 

Another major intervention was to improve FPO’s ability to access competitive markets to raise farmer incomes by increasing their participation in FPO sales and with Digital Green’s Kisan Diary Enterprise (KDE), a mobile application, that would play a role in increasing FPO revenues.

This program set out to impact 75,000 smallholder farmers. Here are some remarkable stories of resilience from the field:

Resilient Spirit of Tribal Women Farmers | Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh, India

At the time of sunset on beautiful hills in tribal areas of Vizianagaram district, more than 15 women farmers – each on their tiny farm fields plots, sizes up to .15 acres to .20 acre – are always found harvesting different vegetables in a happy mood. Some of them were watering the vegetable plantations. All their vegetable cultivation plots are adjacent to each other, adjoining their village Gotiwada of Kurupam revenue block of Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh, India. All of them are small-holder tribal women farmers and they cultivate vegetables for household consumption purposes and sell surplus produce in the market in nearby Kurupam town. Every evening at Gotiwada village, these scenes of women farmers watering vegetable plants, weeding, harvesting, packing or walking in the vegetable fields and once-in-a-while friendly banter with neighboring farmers sum up shared values and intrinsic togetherness in tribal culture and community. 

In the subsequent lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and market closures, like in many other parts of rural India, these tribal farmers too faced many challenges in accessing the essential daily food requirements that they buy and sell in local town markets. In an attempt to minimize the disruption caused in supply chain by Covid-19 pandemic, Digital Green with support from International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) & Walmart Foundation and together with field partner NGOs Jattu Trust in Vizianagaram district and Velugu Association in Srikakulam district conceptualized and implemented Covid-19 Resilience Support Program in tribal areas from September 2021 through February 2022. 

As part of this program, around 1800 tribal women and men farmers in both districts were supported in different ways – by providing native variety vegetable seed kits, fruit saplings, neem cake powder, cycle weeders and by paying shareholder membership fee for ultra-poor to join in Farmer Producer Organizations. Also, as a follow-up, they were provided with advisory support through our community video disseminations and interactive voice response (IVR) messages on how to grow vegetables and fruit in rain-fed or in drought-like conditions through natural farming dry sowing method which can ensure round year green cover.  

“The support we have received through this program is quite helpful especially the situation is quite difficult,” said Nimmaka Lalitha of Gotiwada village. Many of her fellow farmers echoed the same feeling and detailed the various kinds of benefits that they have received through the program. “Native varieties of vegetable seeds that have got pest and disease resistant,” said Nimmka Kavitha. “Vegetable cultivation through natural farming methods ensured us pesticide residue-free food,” said Nimmaka Mani. “Weeding used to take 10 days’ time in my tiny field. We have received a cycle weeder through this program. With the cycle weeder, I am able to remove the weed in just two days’ time. It is such a saving of my labor and time,” Pattika Naresh of Kondabaridi village. “By growing different vegetables around the year, nutrition diversity is ensured for our community members. Some of my fellow farmers are selling surplus produce and getting additional income,” said Nimmaka Dhalamma of Gotiwada village. 

The program benefits are not only limited to a few farmers in Gotiwada village. Several hundreds of poor tribal farmers in Vizianagaram district have received the complementary support from this program. Many of them have now become shareholders in local farmer producer organizations with program support. After seeing all these benefits, many of them opined that they will continue to grow vegetables in a natural farming method and share knowledge and seeds among their fellow farmers to grow their own food.  

Abundant Will of a Farmer Couple in a World of Scarcity | Srikakulam  district, Andhra Pradesh, India

Vooyaka Shanti and her husband Bhaskar Rao of Mohan Colony hamlet of Chinnabagga revenue village of Seethampet revenue block in Srikakulam district are an inspiring farmer couple. Shanti and Bhaskar Rao own a five-acre cashew orchard. Since cashew cultivation is a once-in-a-year income provider, they grow loads of vegetables on tiny pieces of land in extreme rain-fed conditions with many innovative agriculture methods and low-cost irrigation technologies for supplementary livelihood. They have three small vegetable growing plots – between .02 and .05 acres each, adjacent to their cashew orchard. 

In the first plot, Bhaskar Rao invented a technique to bring bund water, which is steep 50 feet below, to the field above to water vegetable plants through the use of battery-operated power sprayer at a cost of  two thousand rupees. In the second vegetable plot, Bhaskar Rao installed a tiny solar panel to generate electricity and connected it to a tiny water motor to take water from a small pond to their .03 acres tomato field. This cost him around two thousand rupees. In the third vegetable plot, he uses the force of gravity to bring water from a hill slope, which is half-a-kilometre away, with an underground pipeline. Making otherwise impossible plant irrigation possible is not the end of their inspiring story. It has a beautiful continuity. 

Bhaskar Rao and Shanti are one among hundreds of beneficiaries Covid-19 Resilience Support Program in Srikakulam district. Digital Green, with support from ICRISAT and Walmart Foundation conceptualized the Covid-19 Resilience Support Program and jointly implemented it with its NGO partner Velugu Association in Srikakulam district. “We have faced many difficulties during Covid-19 times,” said Bhaskar Rao. “Though we have been cultivating vegetables in the past also, there was some investment required especially for seeds and fertilizers,” Bhaskar Rao added. He further said that through Covid-19 Resilience Support Program, they have received different types of native vegetable seeds, cycle weeders and neem cake powder. “Earlier, we used to buy hybrid seeds which can’t be used as seeds the following season. Now we are going to preserve seeds from native variety vegetables for many next seasons to come,” Bhaskar Rao added.  “We have never cultivated these many types of vegetables. Our food at home is quite diverse now with many vegetables, Shanti said.   “Most importantly, we are not using any fertilizers to grow vegetables. We have learned natural farming methods through video dissemination sessions and by watching Digital Green videos on YouTube. We have also received weather information and farming practice details through IVRS*.  With less cost of cultivation in the natural farming method, we are harvesting safe and bountiful vegetables. After reaping sufficient produce for household consumption and sharing vegetables among our extended family, we have sold 1.5 quintal of tomato produce,” said very happy Bhaskar Rao and Shanti. 

They say where there is a will, there is a way. In Vooyaka Shanti and Bhaskar Rao’s story, it is like since they have a will, many things have come in their way. 

*IVRS = Interactive voice response system

Advancing the livelihoods and resilience of women farmers in India

Gender Inequalities in Agriculture: A Context

“When technology reaches a man, it serves the man. When it reaches a woman, it serves the entire family and her community. There is an urgent need to engender digital connectivity and digital technology to have a snowballing impact”

Women small-scale producers across India lack the information, and agency to lead resilient and sustainable livelihoods. As compared to their male counterparts, women farmers have significantly lower literacy rates, and lesser access to resources, advisory, and competitive markets, often receiving as little as 25% of their crops’ final sales price. The divide only becomes more nuanced when tribal communities and tribal women in  particular come into the picture. 

In the country, tribal majority areas are the most poverty stricken areas and are primarily dependent on forests, agriculture and livestock as their source of livelihood. In most cases agricultural extension and agronomic advisories do not even reach the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) in India. 

Even as gender-related inequalities continue to marginalize women in agriculture, the agriculture sector in itself is going through a change. Agriculture value chains are becoming increasingly digitized by making technology more accessible and affordable for several communities to solve pressing challenges such as access to markets, readily available information about climate, soil, and crops. The strong gender digital divide with women having limited access to technology could further exclusion of women from policy and practice.


What could be a way forward?

Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) are becoming the fulcrum for improving farmers’ bargaining power in India, and can unlock the benefits of group purchases and sales in competitive markets. Women-focused groups could potentially enhance women’s agency in decision making, bringing more equity in their access to markets, reduce production costs, and increase incomes.

At Digital Green, pairing scaleable, and high quality agricultural & post-harvest advisory and mobile coaching with our FPO strengthening and data-sharing solution Kisan Diary Enterprise could significantly improve FPO performance and support buyer discovery and aggregation of commodities for sale. This is what is taking place in the Advancing Tribal Livelihoods and Self Reliance (ATLAS) project in Odisha and Jharkhand, where tribal communities make up nearly 50% of the population. 

Digital advisories are specifically targeted towards tribal women farmers to equip them with information to meet the market demands. By building the capacities of frontline extension agents on video production and dissemination, community videos will help women get information necessary to prepare their harvests and forest products. With FPO interventions and leadership capacity building, these resilient groups of women small scale producers would also be able to confidently navigate market opportunities through collective sales.


Our Journey so far 

Since the launch of the ATLAS Project in mid-2021, Digital Green has conducted community mobilization and video production and dissemination training with Community Resource Persons (CRP) in Odisha and Jharkhand. Even at a foundational stage, the impact that these training and dissemination workshops have had on the community resource persons are commendable.

Videos that tell stories: Malati Mohanta’s Experience in Odisha

Malati Mohanta in Odisha has been a CRP under Odisha’s PVTG Empowerment and Livelihoods Improvement Program since 2019, and has majorly contributed in improving living conditions of particularly vulnerable tribal women in the field. 

Considered as one of the most competent CRPs by the block officials, her impact on the community has been extraordinary with respect to community mobilization and capacity building training of tribal women. Through conducting Self-Help Group (SHG) meetings, she educates women on relevant agricultural practices, and provides support on market linkages. In December 2021, Malati also received Digital Green’s video dissemination training.

Having previously worked on a similar project with Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), she was well versed in Digital Green’s community video approach and had already trained 200+ tribal women on videos related to vaccination and livestock farming. Then and even now, the village level communities have shown interest in the innovative approach of community videos because of how unique it is, and are eager to adopt practices that are demonstrated. 

Malati recalls a challenge she had faced – “earlier women were very hesitant and showed little interest in adopting new practices because they felt that they did not have the resources to do so.” With consistent efforts on her part, Malati has popularized the community videos within the community because this information gets shared in the form of stories which holds the interest of women.

A step towards giving decision-making power to women’s FPOs: Munita Oraon’s Experience in Jharkhand

Since 2019, Munita Oraon has been working as an ‘AKM (Ajeevika Krishak Mitra)’ in her village. This role includes mobilizing, and training her community on best agricultural practices. Until a few months ago, a major challenge was that community members did not really apply the practices they learned and there was little buy-in on technology being used for agriculture. Recently, with micro-practice-based community videos, the response has changed. “Community members now believe that what is being shown in the videos is actually applicable and possible in their settings.”

 Munita received video dissemination training in October 2021. So far, she has been able to disseminate videos, in person and via WhatsApp groups, about crop advisory, producer groups, farmer producer companies, etc. This has not just increased knowledge but has also given decision-making power to women producer group members.


Looking ahead

Over the life of the project, ATLAS will reach 50,000 women with targeted advisories and improve the participation of FPO members in group sales. Our target is also to see that at least 5,000 women participate in a transaction and get an enhanced income after selling their produce.

ATLAS is implemented with the generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“ I have witnessed the social change the video extension has brought to farmers” a reflection from a Model Master Trainer

In Ethiopia, Digital Green is training staff from the government agriculture office in video production and video dissemination. The training is delivered by Digital Green team. However, eight selected agricultural professionals in Amhara Region were trained as trainer-of-trainers (ToT) to make the training more sustainable and institutionalized with the government’s structures. These eight selected staff are also working as assistant master trainers during video dissemination training in their respective sites.   

Bogale Luel is one of these master trainers. He was born and raised in Gishe Rabel, North Shewa Zone. He is currently working as an Extension Communication Specialist at the North Shewa Zone Agriculture Office. In addition to his government work in this office, he is also responsible for overseeing the overall work in the districts where Digital Green operates and working as focal person. Bogale has received a full master trainer training at the regional level and he has been working as Digital Green’s  focal point since 2011. Bogale began attending dissemination and production training since he was an extension officer at the Bureau of Agriculture.

Tesfu Altaseb, Digital Green field coordinator in Amhara region, says, “From those ToT participants who became master trainers, Bogale Lule is the model. Whenever Digital Green invites him to provide video dissemination training, he is eager and ready to provide  it. He provided seven video dissemination trainings for Woreda Agriculture staff with little assistance from Digital Green to date. The feedback in every session helped him to build his skills and knowledge as a master trainer. He has now become a qualified coach which he feels confident about.  In all the Woredas where he participated as a trainer, the feedback from the trainees is always praising him for his training techniques as suitable and easy to understand.”

Speaking of the training he is providing, Bogale said, “What makes me more interested in video production and dissemination training is the fact that I have witnessed the social change it has brought to farmers. I believe that video dissemination will be expanded in all regions and woredas and if it is implemented for the benefit of all farmers, it will increase production and productivity.” Currently, Bogale is providing independent video dissemination training for participants. Tesfu said, “Although there are many trainers in the Amhara region, he has excelled and has become a coach who is known for his bravery. As such, he is a model trainer who has been instrumental in helping Digital Green effectively implement training plans in a timely manner.”


Supporting livelihoods and the environment through video extension : Experience from Ethiopia

Mohammed Aba Mecha, a 26 years old father of two daughters, migrated to Sudan in search of a better livelihood, as the production from his small plot did not cover expenses for his newly established family. After returning home to Waro Kolobo kebele of Dedo woreda, Jimma zone, Oromia region in Ethiopia with no savings, Mohammed tried to improve his production.

In 2018, video-based extension activities organized by Digital Green started in his village. Mohammed joined the Jarso 1st Development Group in Bito Genji village, which meets regularly to learn about conservation agriculture and farm-related natural resource management practices by viewing and discussing videos on how to apply the practices and their benefits for farm productivity. He was actively engaged in the video dissemination sessions for vermicompost preparation, tree seedling plantation, seedbed preparation, pit preparation, cattle fattening, and other crop management videos with his development group members, and has enthusiastically adopted the recommendations using the steps he had seen acted out in the videos. Mohammed has now fully embraced the video-based approach and taken on a leadership role in his local development group, even training other farmers on his farm.

Mohammed has planted and sold 11,500 tree seedlings for 11,500 ETB (355 USD), and used the proceeds to buy an ox for 9,350 Birr (288 USD) for fattening.

I shared my experience and the benefit I gained from the video disseminations to five youths. They visited all my sites and farming activities. Now they are encouraged and engaged in vermicompost preparation and planting tree seedlings.” Mohammed said.

Today, with higher profits from seedlings, Mohammed is expanding his farming operation by planting 2,500 seedlings on one hectare of land. Mohammed now owns a newly constructed house, a motorbike, and a number of oxen and poultry. In the future, he has plans to expand the application of different agricultural technologies in all of his engagements and is eager to become the best investor in the region, even eyeing to enter the export market.

Digital Green, with the financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, implemented the Integrating Natural Resource Management into Agricultural Extension Services in Ethiopia 2017-2019  across 15 woredas in the Oromia and Tigray Regions in Ethiopia to increase smallholder farmers’ adoptions of natural resource management practices. Through the Advancing Conservation, Agriculture and Livelihoods in Oromia project  (2020-2022) and with continued support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Digital Green and the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum (ECFF) will reach 42,000 smallholder farmers, women and youth with the goal of reducing deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss, while improving livelihoods of the forest-dependent smallholder farmers in the two target woredas of the Belete-Gera forest landscape.

How Tech Solutions are Minimizing Disruptions to Agriculture Extension

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the agricultural extension system, but digital technology has helped us minimize its effects on our outreach among farmers and extension agents. As in the case of our pilot project, funded by the Walmart Foundation, that aims to support 10,000 cashew farmers in the tribal north coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. The project had been operational for the last seven months (since Sept 2019), and since the lockdown (in March), we had been sharing short instructional videos to farmers that on smartphones and this has helped supplement the role of the extension agents during this crucial cashew crop phase.

This 40 day period (late March and April) was very important in terms of cashew harvesting, drying, marketing, and post-harvest orchard management activities. Since the extension agents could not go for field visits to educate farmers and provide appropriate support due to travel restrictions, Digital Green explored available options of communication with farmers and here’s how we reached out to the farmers at this critical time:


As part of the project intervention plan, we were already using the Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) to send actionable advisories to farmers and follow-up reminders to extension agents. Given the lockdown measures in India, we continued using IVR to share Government schemes and subsidies as well as other useful information from the Rural Development Department regarding livelihood support. We have also developed scheme-wise voice messages (of 30 to 60-second duration) which have been broadcast to all 1,000 target farmer groups and functionaries of Farmer Producer Groups in four districts of Andhra Pradesh.

The messages include contents that relate specifically to cashew harvest such as Precautions for cashew harvesting, Cashew collection procedures, Drying and quality standard as well as information related to Subsidies on Farm implements, Sprayers, Tarpaulin sheets, Convergence activities with MGNREGS such as trench construction in the orchards and basin formations.


Under this project, we’ve been using a video-based extension approach to educate farmers on community natural farming methods. Before the lockdown, we had deployed 100 pico projectors to conduct regular video disseminations among farmer groups but now that was not possible. So we started using WhatsApp to monitor, guide, and support farmers and extension agents by sharing season and crop-related videos on WhatsApp groups.

We were able to identify 800 tribal farmers in 8 clusters of East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts who owned an Android smartphone. We formed 124 WhatsApp groups each dedicated to a village in these two districts. These groups are moderated by Field Animators (FA) at the village level.

Short videos on cashew harvesting protocol, drying, quality checks, post-harvest garden management practices, and raw kernel removal practices were shared on WhatsApp along with their YouTube links. The farmers were able to access the content directly in the group, and the Field Animators followed up with a call.

We also developed a training module for Field Animators to be able to moderate these groups more effectively and ensure that farmers who are part of these groups get the most out of the information shared and community cross-learnings.

Mobile Courseware

Our modus operandi includes first and foremost building the capacity of frontline workers in a sustainable and scalable manner. Our teams are trained on adult learning principles and Human-centred Design and while we have very exhaustive in-person training modules, we have been building a strong online component along the lines of a virtual training institute now called Mobile Courseware. Our digital training curriculum combines mobile-based courseware, practical instructional videos that guide and enhance extension agents’ knowledge of the practices.

Currently, we have courses on community natural farming methods and Cashew POP available. Data accessible via the courseware’s dashboard shows 120 extension agents from East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, and Srikakulam districts have been successfully enrolled in the courses and 60% of them have completed more than 70% of the courses.

Zoom Conference Call

We also introduced the extension agents to the Zoom conference call app and its features since the lockdown and they are now familiar with the application and attending various calls regularly to keep in touch with each other and also update us on the progress in the field.

Market Linkages:

Tribal farmers of the Eastern Ghats of the four north-coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh depend almost entirely on the income from the sale of raw cashew nuts. Since they don’t have proper storage facilities, they usually store the harvested cashew in their homes, which exposes it to faster rot, increased chances of post-harvest loss and reduction of quality; and as a result reduced price realization in the market.

Thus, we worked with our grassroots partner, Kovel Foundation, and conducted extensive mapping of cashew yields and the location of local traders by contacting individual farmers in East Godavari and Vishakhapatnam districts over the phone.

Our team found that there were 330 tonnes of cashew harvested in Vishakhapatnam and 268 tonnes in East Godavari; and there were around 40 local traders and cashew commission agents in these two districts. Kovel Foundation got special permissions from the ITDA and Horticulture Departments to transport the cashew harvest amidst the lockdown.

We were together able to mobilize 8,950 kgs of (almost 9 tonnes) of raw cashew nuts in Bangarampet and Pinakota clusters of Vishakhapatnam district and sold it at INR 94 per Kg (higher than the market price INR 89-90 per Kg).

The farmers were happy with this price which was higher than what they made the previous year and the traders too were happy to access the large quantity of the produce at a single stock point.


Digital technology has helped extension agents maintain physical distance while continuing regular follow-ups with farmers and supporting them. Farmers too have gained uninterrupted support and guidance on farming methods and access to markets. Could this be a lasting legacy of the COVID-related disruptions?

Video-based Agriculture Extension in the Time of Physical Distancing

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected all walks of life. In India, despite some relaxation for agriculture activities during the lockdown, farmers all over the country faced challenges in selling their Rabi produce (winter agricultural season), especially access to markets and the drop in prices.

In Jharkhand, Rabi is not a prime cropping season, and farmers here worried about the upcoming Kharif (crops sown in the monsoon); specifically about access to and availability of inputs and fertilizers for Kharif crops.

Through rapid surveys early in the lockdown, Digital Green reached over 250 smallholder farmers across Jharkhand to get a pulse of the situation with the purpose of figuring out the means and ways we could continue supporting them in a more targeted manner. The findings from the survey conducted in April 2020 were discussed with our partner JSLPS and the team brainstormed on alternate ways of providing agricultural extension support to the farming community.

Through the surveys also found that the farmers needed technical extension information on Kharif crops and non-pesticide management (NPM) practices to plan for their Kharif activity at the earliest and reduce their dependence on inputs from markets and supply chains which were affected by the lockdown.

In this situation, when guidelines issued by the Government would not allow community meetings (for our classical video dissemination), we explored WhatsApp, a popular Internet-based messaging platform.

We started sharing the relevant videos (which were repurposed for sharing on WhatsApp) from the 1st week of May 2020 to the frontline workers or agriculture extension agents and farmers who had smartphones. We managed to reach farmers in all 12 districts in the state where we are working with MKSP-JSLPS. The extension agents also reached out to farmers who were not smartphone users and disseminated the videos through their own mobile in a smaller group while maintaining social distancing norms. Currently, we’re sharing two videos every fortnight with the farmers and the extension agents.

In this project funded by Oracle, we have reached over 400 extension agents who have in turn reached and disseminated the information to over 7000 farmers, either through WhatsApp or direct dissemination. 8 videos on improved agri-practices of pigeon-pea and NPM practices have been shared so far.

It is very encouraging to see that the adoption of disseminated practices have started taking place. Farmers are now actively preparing NPM inputs for their Kharif crop and have started sowing the pigeon pea crop.

We plan to reach over 40,000 unique farmers during 2020-21, with multiple interventions, including pigeon pea, NPM practices, Agri-Nutrition Garden during this Kharif season and with mustard, wheat and potato during the upcoming Rabi season.

We’re keeping a close eye on the ground and as the situation evolves, we hope to be able to support the smallholder farmers through ICT channels that are most accessible to them.

COVID-19 and Agriculture: Resources and Recommendations

Updated 16th June 2020.

Digital Green has been closely following the effects of COVID-19 on farmer livelihoods and resilience, food security, agricultural market systems in order to adapt digital extension approaches to best support beneficiaries under these unprecedented circumstances. While this pandemic presents many challenges, it also creates an opportunity for digital extension to continue to serve farmers and be adapted to support public health responses and new agricultural needs that arise. Digital Green staff have been in close communication with stakeholders on the ground to understand their concerns and adapt digital technologies to their current needs under COVID-19. Furthermore, Digital Green’s Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project organized a webinar on extension and advisory services’ role in crises and emergencies, including COVID-19. Digital Green blogs are showcasing specific actions that Digital Green has already taken to support beneficiaries during COVID-19.  

Below we have listed a compendium of resources addressing agricultural challenges surging under this pandemic and responses from various actors.

Impact on Food Security

Many of Digital Green’s partners and collaborators are at the forefront of the analysis regarding COVID-19 and its effects on agriculture and food security.  The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has been curating resources covering COVID-19. IFPRI suggests that the impact of COVID-19 in the agriculture sector will be felt unevenly; farm operations may be spared the worst, but small and medium-sized enterprises in urban areas will likely face considerable problems. They recommend addressing food security impacts stemming from reduced incomes or unemployment.

In India, the food-based safety net is providing rice or wheat and pulses to families, which helps families meet their cereal requirements, but there are concerns over exclusion of the urban poor, maintaining food quality, and the long-term effect of relief that may depress prices and affect farmers’ incomes in the long run. IWWAGE put together a study with qualitative evidence from 1331 mandis to show that by comparison to last year, only 6 per cent of wheat sold during the first three weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown. Economic & Political Weekly, a peer-reviewed policy journal,  published an article that highlighted COVID-19’s high transaction costs and uncertainty in India’s transformed food supply chains: food security is at risk as 92% of food consumption in India is purchased; 80% of food consumption by value is non-grain, which means a shorter shelf life and a need for a continuous supply; and more than 60% of Indian rural incomes are linked to the post-farmgate food supply.

In Africa, COVID-19 related lockdowns are affecting informal urban food trade. Better communication between political leaders and market leaders, as well as ensuring that safety nets reach these market actors, can help mitigate effects on informal traders and markets.

The United Nations (UN) University released estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty, showing that COVID-19 poses a challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030; global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990.  Furthermore, non-monetary indicators such as undernutrition and malnourishment, could also be seriously hit. 

In a blog, the World Bank recognizes that it is imperative to keep food moving during these times of pandemic. They recommend addressing the domestic issues that affect food supply in stores. Secondly, countries should not issue export bans, as these would only exacerbate economic losses. This is of particular importance, as some countries are starting to place export restrictions already. Lastly, safe and affordable methods to get food from field to table need to be implemented, including cash transfers for farmers, ensuring the availability of key agricultural inputs, and developing health screening protocols.  Furthermore, the World Bank is emphasizing modernizing government-to-people payments as a social mechanism to deal with COVID-19’s effects.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition reports the effects of COVID-19 on food systems on low- and high-income populations, along with mitigation and adaptation systems. Main concerns include food prices and shocks to the most vulnerable. But they offer hope: this is an opportunity to focus on and prioritize food safety issues.

Digital Green’s collaborators are sharing their concerns stemming from this pandemic. For example, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) published recommendations for addressing COVID-19’s effect on Indian agriculture. In India specifically, the agricultural cycle dictates when farmers make most of their income; therefore, ensuring proper storage, access to seeds and inputs, and allowing for intra and inter-state movement would allow farmers to sell their products or store them appropriately in order to prevent income losses.

Role of Digital Extension

Organizations in the digital space are rethinking how to adapt their work and approaches in light of COVID-19. ICT Works, a community for international development professionals committed to utilizing new and emerging technologies, is providing resources specific to digital responses to address COVID-19. The Skoll Foundation, which focuses on social entrepreneurship, adapted its annual Skoll World Forum into a virtual forum. A session on climate-smart agriculture digital tools addressed concerns with locusts and COVID-19 in East Africa, leveraging WhatsApp and machine learning on food security and locust interventions, as well as insurance, cash transfers and market support.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other stakeholders organized a virtual Global Digital Development Forum  to mobilize COVID-19 digital responses and address long-term challenges to build an open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystem. Digital Green presented on learnings from digital agricultural extension from the DLEC project and applicability to COVID-19. USAID has also issued guidance on COVID-19 preparedness and response digital technologies and data systems.

Arghyam, a foundation focusing on sustainable water solutions in India, recently released a “content store” with information from partners and government agencies on handwashing, social etiquette, and government relief schemes in the form of videos, posters, and audio.

Donor Responses

Many donors in the agriculture and nutrition sector are taking active steps to overcome COVID-19 challenges. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced funding to develop vaccines and treatments of COVID-19, which will be critical for saving lives. The World Bank has launched a $160 billion USD COVID-19 emergency response to protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.

The World Bank has organized an agribusiness management and resilience task force in Uttar Pradesh, India, with the purpose to help farmer producer organizations address the challenges related to pre- and post-production operations stemming from COVID-19. This multi-stakeholder initiative includes the participation of the Government of Uttar Pradesh, the Water Resources Group 2030, the BioEnergy Board, civil society organizations, microfinance institutions, private sector logistics and agri-business solution providers, ICT companies, amongst other key stakeholders.

USAID has pledged $274 million USD in health and humanitarian assistance to help countries respond to COVID-19. The agency has released guidance to implementing partners on how to deal with implementation disruptions resulting from COVID-19.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has policy tools to help decision-makers, including a food and agriculture policy decision analysis and food price monitoring analysis. The FAO recognizes its role in supporting the emerging needs stemming from COVID-19, and plans to ramp up field implementation to support access to agricultural inputs for farmers and herders; distribute kits, seeds, and/or small stock in communities with higher prevalence of undernutrition; and stabilize access to food by supporting purchasing power through cash distribution. In a paper focusing on the role of extension and advisory services at the frontline of the response to COVID-19 to ensure food security,  FAO indicates that extension and advisory services plan an indispensable role in minimizing the impact of COVID-19 in rural areas. They recommend adapting the delivery mechanisms of extension and advisory services, including going digital and joining forces with emergency response actors.  

How are you and your organization adapting your approaches and the way you support beneficiaries during this pandemic? If you see opportunities to collaborate with Digital Green, please reach out to us too! Share your ideas and feedback at

Remote Tribal Cashew Farmers Use the Digital Advantage

Kunjam Manganna Dora is a 67-year-old farmer belonging to a remote tribal village of Vedurlakoda of Addateegala Mandal in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, India which comes under the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA). His village is far from the district headquarters and has limited access to transport, communication and even extension services.

He owns 1.5 acres of cashew orchard with 105 plants that are roughly 35 years old. He is a member of the Farmer Producer Organization (FPO) formed two years back by Digital Green’s implementation partner organization, Kovel Foundation.

“This cashew plantation is my family’s primary livelihood. Other than this we manage to gather some forest produce and in the peak of summer, I go to look for work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) of the Government of India,” shared Kunjam whose approximate annual household income amounts to a meagre USD 600.

When I met this gentle old farmer, dressed in the traditional way of the tribal community he belonged to, I was surprised by the wealth of information he had to share about the cashew orchard. He was one of the 12 cashew farmers in this village that our partner had identified to work with under a project funded by Walmart Foundation, which aims to connect farmers with actionable information delivered through an automated system, called FarmStack, which develops these advisories from multiple sets of data, like information related to the crop, geography and soil and weather data all combined.

“Very rarely have we seen any government officers in our small habitation. When they come, that is to distribute pensions and grains under the Public Distribution System. I am not aware of extension officers and so far, no one has visited our fields for any crop-related suggestions,” shared Kunjam.

5 months ago, some people from Kovel Foundation and Digital Green organised a meeting with a group of 12 farmers and explained how we wanted to work with the FPO to share new knowledge related to cashew cultivation and undertake some activities such as soil sample collection, video dissemination, IVR calls and Farmers Field Schools (FFS).

“I was happy to hear about these initiatives and eager to participate and learn something new,” shared Kunjam.

“We all participated in soil sample collection, which was a tedious but interesting process. We then enrolled for the video disseminations and so far, we have watched 12 different practices related to cashew crop. We also enrolled for IVR calls but we faced some constraints as we don’t have good mobile network but our extension agent recorded those calls and played the audio clips during our group meetings,” he shared.

“As for the adoptions, we wanted to test the practices promoted, so we started preparing the Neemastram (an organic pesticide) and prepared 100 litres of it twice and applied it on the crops once during mid-December and again in the first week of January. We also prepared 300 litres of Panchagavya (organic fertilizer) and applied it on the crop 3 times and stored 50 litres to spray it later in two intervals – at the time of fruit setting,” shared Kunjam. He also built 15-inch-deep trenches around the twenty plants and filled dried leaves as mulch to help retain moisture – another best practice shared through the videos.

To test these practices, he selected 20 plants that had given a comparatively lower yield in the last season or those that were not flowering and fruiting for the last 3 years to apply the organic concoctions. “I was surprised and happy to observe that there was early flowering, and more flowering, early fruit setting and much less T-mosquito infection in those plants,” he shared. “The dried plants also rejuvenated and I observed new tender leaves in them,” he added.

These farmers had never used any chemical sprays on the orchard before but since last five years Kunjam has been applying Urea and DAP. This year too, he continued applying Urea and DAP to the rest of the plants. Kunjam and his fellow farmers faced difficulty in spraying the organic preparations as foot sprayers were not available anywhere around their villages. Recently, all the FPO members have requested the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (the local authorities) to make available required foot sprayers and drums.

Since our intervention started 60-70 days too late from the time when the agricultural season started, we had crossed a crucial period in the season wherein the farmers could have adopted, bush clearance, pruning, and also adopted Ghanajeevamrutham and Dravajeevamrutham practices which would have helped in increasing the soil fertility. Also, by the time we started introducing the practices of creating the organic concoctions that require huge amounts of water, the water ponds in the hill areas and village areas where the cashew orchards grow had dried up and carrying water from the village to farm was very tough but they showed great strength and determination to do this.

Looking at the orchard’s current condition, Kunjam and his family are expecting a better yield this year than the last year, that too with a lower expenditure. His family was thrilled about the opportunity to learn about managing the cashew orchard through the medium of videos. They would like to adopt these practices in all of their orchard in the next season. “I am also looking forward to share the Zero Budget Natural Farming practices with other farmers in my village,” added Kunjam.

Videos Open Up Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow

I met Aregash Desta while I was in the field to collect data to compile the successes and lessons learnt from the Agriculture, Livelihood and Conservation (ALC) program implemented by Digital Green in Jimma zone of the Oromia region.
Aregash, one of the target beneficiaries of the ALC program, is a middle-aged woman who lives in Shashemene Kebele of Seke Chekorsa Woreda in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. She lost her husband three years ago. Before her husband passed away, she used to work with him on their farm, which was their main source of livelihood. Now the land has been divided among her children and she owns only a quarter of the 1-hectare land, a cow and a bull.

We met Aregash in a small green compound where she was busy preparing organic compost (vermicompost). She explained to us patiently the process – how she mixes the various things and checks the degree of decomposition of organic matter which she fed to the worms a few days ago.

Aregash shared that she had attended a training on preparation of vermicompost organized by the Zonal Department of Agriculture a year ago but she did not feel confident about doing it by herself until earlier this year. “In April 2019, I attended a video dissemination organized by Digital Green where the video explained step-by-step how the mixture has to be prepared and what to watch out for to make sure it is ready for use in farming,” shared Aregash. “I started making the vermicompost immediately,” she added.

Aregash shares that this batch of the vermi-compost she is busy preparing is for sale. She explains that the compost is mainly sold to coffee farmers and avocado seedling producers, and occasionally to woreda’s Office of Agriculture. “I earned over Birr 4,000 (USD 136) from sales of vermi-compost which helped me buy Teff for consumption and Ewe (female sheep) as livestock,” she shares happily. “Income from sales of vermicompost has become my main source of livelihood and given me hope for a brighter future,” shares Aregash, who is now keen to expand the business.

“These days, there is a high demand for Verme compost. I have planned to expand the production with a more advanced mechanism and scale. Moreover, I am also considering selling the worms to local farmers soon,” said Aregash.

I was impressed to see myself how powerful the digital extension system is in transforming the lives of farmers by equipping them with the necessary and applicable set of skills for livelihood improvement.