Cultivating Knowledge: Bridging Agriculture, Technology and Indigenous Wisdom

As we observed International Indigenous Languages Day this week, we reflected on the unique intersection of language, agriculture, and technology and how these elements combine to support farmers around the world, particularly in culturally rich regions like Ethiopia. Farming embodies a heritage interwoven with the cultural and linguistic fabric of communities. Recognizing this, Digital Green champions the use of indigenous languages in delivering agricultural advice. This approach not only respects but also revitalizes the deep-rooted connections between traditional practices and contemporary farming wisdom.

Improving Access and Adoption with Local Language and Videos

Language barriers can significantly hinder access to vital agricultural information. By offering advisories in the local languages of farmers, these barriers can be removed, paving the way for a more inclusive and accessible exchange of knowledge. Digital Green’s commitment to this cause is evident in our extension services, available in over 24 local Ethiopian languages. 

By delivering advice in the indigenous languages and dialects of a variety of regions, we provide farmers with advice that’s not only linguistically accessible but also contextually relevant. Utilizing video-based extension services, we bring agricultural practices to life in the most relatable way possible — in the farmers’ own languages. This method not only improves comprehension but also fosters a sense of belonging and community among farmers. They can see and hear practices in action, narrated in the familiar cadence of their mother tongue by a local farmer they already know, which significantly boosts the chances of these practices being adopted successfully.

A Prosperous Future for All Farmers, No Matter the Language 

Beyond video, Digital Green employs a variety of technological solutions like an AI assistant, mobile apps, voice messages, and interactive platforms, all adaptable to deliver content in indigenous languages. This ensures that crucial advisories reach farmers everywhere, even in areas where internet access might be sporadic.

Our vision at Digital Green is to create a future where every farmer, no matter their language, has the knowledge and resources to thrive. By honoring linguistic diversity, we’re not just sharing agricultural advice; we’re nurturing a global community of informed, connected, and empowered farmers. Let’s celebrate language’s vital role in preserving cultural heritage, fostering community, and advancing sustainable agriculture.

A Youthful Vision of the Future of Food


This week as the world celebrates World Food Day and International Day of Rural Women, the global community will come together to collectively focus our attention on strategies to achieve zero hunger by 2030. We’ll highlight the challenge of climate change, revel at the promise and possibilities of new technologies, and again remind ourselves of the urgency if we are to sustainably nourish a population of 9.7 billion by mid-century. But some very important actors will largely not be part of these conversations: the children and youth that will be shouldering these burdens and marshaling solutions in the decades to come, when many of us have stepped back. Of course, engaging youth in agriculture isn’t just something to plan for in the future, it’s something we need to do to meet today’s challenges. In sub-Saharan Africa where the population will double by 2050, there are already an estimated 12 million new jobs needed per year to absorb the new entrants to the job market. So what do we do to go beyond the rhetoric of inspiring and including youth to actually engaging them and employing them to create solutions?

Today we have a new resource to help us: I have the pleasure of announcing the launch of a much-awaited report from the Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project entitled: “Engaging Young Agripreneurs: Options to Include Youth in Private Sector Extension and Advisory Services in Rwanda and Uganda”. This study reviewed 37 initiatives engaging youth across extension and advisory services (EAS), both as providers and as recipients of these services. These included a range of models including agripreneurship training, internships, paraprofessional services, fee-based services and financial services. The report contains rich analysis and 10 key recommendations to achieve better outcomes when engaging youth. Some highlights include: appreciating the diversity of approaches to engagement and their unique contributions, encouraging a supportive policy enabling environment and recognizing and designing for the diversity of needs and experiences contained within the ‘youth’ category (often spanning 15-25+).  

While this report focuses on employment and opportunity, some argue we should begin even earlier when it comes to including youth. Yesterday, I moderated a panel, on the sidelines of the World Food Prize, focused on school-based agriculture education and panelists discussed plans to spark a movement to increase access to this engaging, exciting and unique approach to learning. The methodology discussed at this event, modeled after the Future Farmers of America, has been adapted and adopted in several locations throughout the world. It not only focuses on the ‘hard skills’ and science of agriculture, which is often brought back home to the farm, but also the ‘soft skills’, like leadership, preparing young people to succeed in the future, whatever they pursue. 

What is clear is that more holistic, coordinated and deliberate inclusion of youth is needed in the decision-making shaping our future food system. We need the energy, youthful proclivity to adopt technology and try new things, and so many other talents of young people to meet the rising challenges we’re all facing.

If you’d like to read more about youth in extension or explore the broader body of work of DLEC, check out the DLEC project page here and on Agrilinks.

Extension and Advisory Services Role in the COVID-19 Crisis

This post is written by Kevin Chen, Mark Leclair, Esmail Karamidehkordi, Carl Larsen, and Suresh Babu for DLEC and published first on Agrilinks.

There is increasing concern that the COVID-19 pandemic will have dire consequences for food security unless adequate safeguards are established. Food supply chains must continue to function; the health of food system workers must be protected, and measures to ease the economic blow from lost incomes must be taken. Information, advice, and coaching for rural — as trusted rural communication and education institutions — are a critical piece of emergency response to such a crisis, providing credible information about the virus and farming advice to adapt to various shocks.

In this post, we gather lessons from past emergencies and show how Extension & Advisory Services (EAS) have adapted their education and communication for COVID-19 among regular and continued outreach. We also make recommendations for EAS for future emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time EAS have been called to action in an unfolding disaster. As an institution with trained technical staff who are trusted by communities, and with local reach and communication skills, extension has supported efforts and educated communities during crises such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, avian influenza, natural disasters, and pest infestations.

Past experience

The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa caused 11,325 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and had widespread economic and social consequences. UNICEF’s communication for development (C4D) work during the Ebola crisis identified working with local journalists and community radio — part of the broader EAS community — as the most effective and flexible way to share information, allowing real-time rapid feedback from communities. In Sierra Leone, extension agents received social communication training to encourage preventive and behavior change messages through community sensitization meetings and radio discussions. Liberia developed stronger health protocols that could now help manage COVID-19.

Lesson: Capacity strengthening and the right tools and channels are necessary to provide tailored EAS messages.

Extension was instrumental in controlling another viral disease that jumped from animals to humans in Asia — avian flu. In Vietnam during the 2005-2007 outbreak, extension officers helped detect positive cases, coordinated the establishment of quarantine zones in collaboration with local authorities, and supervised the culling and destruction of infected flocks and the disinfection of affected farms. They then helped reestablish post-disaster production. Their swift and effective action helped minimize loss of human life in Vietnam caused by the H5N1 virus.

Lesson: EAS must support local producers throughout the process and along all areas of the value chains; this means they need a broad set of capacities.

Present response

In the days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, EAS responded quickly to provide COVID-19 information to rural communities and to adapt their regular outreach to the “new normal” of social distancing and noncontact communication.

In the pre-COVID-19 world, radio was already a trusted source of information for rural residents. Radio reaches over 70 percent of the world’s population and is used by EAS to reach rural people with information and advice. Evidence shows that listening to radio increases knowledge and leads to adoption of new technologies and practices. Research by BBC Media Action showed that radio consistently occupies an important informational and community-building function in disasters. Similarly, a meta-analysis by Hugelius and colleagues showed how humanitarian radio plays a major role in fostering community resilience and recovery.

Now, as many people shelter in their homes and/or try to limit contact with other people, the radio work of journalists and extension agents has become a crucial means of health and safety communication. Farm Radio International is currently working with over 1,000 radio broadcasters in Africa to ensure that myths and misinformation about COVID-19 are challenged over the airwaves, bringing critical information to listeners who may lack other credible sources.

A couple of EAS country responses to the COVID-19 crisis show how extension staff are working to spread information about the virus while continuing to share vital agricultural knowledge.

In China, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) established an EAS big data platform linked to the National Cloud Platform for Grass-Root Agricultural Technology Extension (NAECP) to mitigate the pandemic’s economic impacts, especially during spring planting season, in three ways:

  1. Providing training and technical support for spring ploughing, ensuring that agricultural production is on time. For example, Jiangxi Province utilizes online extension platforms for technical guidance and online expert consultation to help farmers under quarantine. Before February 15, over 2,100 technicians and 100 experts provided online services, answering 27,000 questions.
  1. Promoting delivery of online market information to guide farmers on crop selection to maximize economic benefits. For example, an expert team in Yongqing, Hebei evaluated vegetable growth periods, time to market, and projected supply and demand, identifying lettuce and sprout as priority crops this season.
  1. Contributing to pest monitoring and prevention. Agricultural experts predicted the fall armyworm would cause more severe damage this spring season. The National Agro-Tech Extension and Service Center published timely forecasts and early warning and prevention and control measures.

Extension officers’ smartphones allow ubiquitous connection to the NAECP for knowledge sharing, management, performance appraisal, and data collection. This system requires minimal face-to-face contact between the extension and farmers, a key advantage during the outbreak.

The platform is now targeting farmers, agriculture enterprises, destitute households, and low-income families for further effectiveness during COVID-19. Local platforms such as one in Shanghai has a “fighting COVID-19” module, providing health advice for farmers.

Iran — which has been especially hard-hit in the pandemic — reported the first case of COVID-19 on February 19 and declared an emergency. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education led the outbreak’s control. A public awareness approach — including engaging EAS — through mass and electronic media (radio, TV, social media, text messages) informed the public about the virus and its prevention. The Agricultural Education and Extension Institute at the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization of the Ministry of Agriculture-Jahad established a national working group on March 10 to use EAS to prevent COVID-19 in agricultural, rural, and nomadic communities. They produced materials, apps,  electronic pamphlets, videos, and text messages for training and information on the outbreak.

Initial feedback from local extension staff shows that these communications reached over 7,500 extension agents, local leaders, and community-based organizations. According to Agricultural Extension Administrations, most farmers received information from mass and social media and village posters and public boards. Radio and TV programs are broadcasted several times a week to cover all communities. Extension agents use social distancing measures, postponing regular face-to-face contact, and mass media and electronic devices.

Future lessons

As shown above and elsewhere, quick action from governments coupled with credible, regular information is critical in dealing with emergencies such as COVID-19. As a critical actor in providing such information to rural areas, EAS can do several things globally to help mitigate the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. FAO gives some guidance on this, including raising awareness about COVID-19, advising local producers in dealing with value chain disruptions, and facilitating gender-sensitive social support.

EAS can offer support during uncertainty and sudden changes that come with the pandemic, and strategies to bounce back from shocks and enhance resilience. Some markets, such as fruits or vegetables, may disappear when flights are reduced or food export bans are enacted. Extension agents can help farmers to come up with “Plan B” (or even “C” and “D”)––as was the case in Kenya, where horticulture farmers switched to varieties in demand from local rather than international markets.

What happens after the COVID-19 crisis passes? Given the likelihood of future disease outbreaks, we must build more robust and effective extension programs that continue to function seamlessly in a crisis––helping with disease management efforts while continuing to support agricultural operations and averting food insecurity.

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

Fighting FAW With Video-Based Agriculture Extension

Ato Abraham Megersa is a farmer in Toke Kutaye woreda, West Shoa Zone of Oromia Region, Ethiopia. Born in 1978, he has 4 sisters and 2 brothers. Ato Abraham is a father of 5 children (3 daughters and 2 sons). Except one, all his children are going to school. Ato Abraham had to discontinue his schooling after 9th grade when his father passed away in 1994 and had to start working to support his family.

Farming and animal rearing are the main sources of income for Ato Abraham’s family who are subsistence farmers. The major crops grown on his 1.5 hectares are Teff, wheat, and maize. They have 15 domestic animals, including goats, cows etc. Apart from his own farmland, he rented another 2.5 ha of irrigation land in 2018-19.  Four oxen and his family labor to till the land.

Ato Abraham had had very limited contact with the Development Agents (agricultural extension agents of the government) and had little knowledge about the existing government extension advisory services. Which resulted in a knowledge gap around package-of-practices such as row planting, optimum plant density planting, use of the recommended amount of fertilizer, UREA side-dressing, herbicide application, and spraying of pesticides to control insects like African ball worm and others.

“Ato Abraham attended a few video dissemination sessions in 2010. He planted 1 hectare of land with maize using the full package of practices, such as the use of improved seeds, row planting and the like. However, despite using the improved practices, the production was lower than ever before due to a severe attack by Fall Army Worm (FAW) in the region,” shared Solomon Bayisa, extension expert of Toke Kutaye woreda.

Observing the damaged crop, Solomon Bayisa suggested Ato Abraham attend video disseminations on FAW identification and management to effectively control the damage.

Ato Abraham attended a series of video dissemination sessions on identifying, scouting and managing FAW. He was able to scout and manage his maize crop from seedling to the silking stage. He picked up FAWs with his plastic gloved hands and put them all in plastic bags that gave no room to the FAWs to escape and put them in boiling water, killing the worms effectively and arresting further outbreak. Moreover, he was able to squash eggs beneath lower leaves, which range from 150 – 200 eggs/plant. Timeliness of these practices has helped him control the worm effectively before they could bore into the stem, where they are no longer visible and stay protected.

As a result, Ato Abraham was thankful to the DA for the video dissemination program that helped him protect his maize crop from this devastating new worm in his area. ‘’I have gotten the highest yield that has not been obtained in the area,” shared Ato Abraham during the interview. He added that “Learning gives power and wisdom to overcome problems.”

Ato Abraham planted maize seedlings on 1.5 ha of land as seen in the picture above. His crop stands impressively as compared to other fields in his area. This is a proxy indicator of highly improved productivity and production. Ato Abraham has understood the difference made by video-enabled learning. “I am committed to sharing the best practices with fellow farmers who have no opportunity to attend video screenings,” he added.

The Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project is led by Digital Green in partnership with organizations such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), DLEC is an action-oriented, evidence-based learning project. In this pilot (refer to engagement Factsheet) we worked in partnership with the Ethiopian government, Agricultural Transformation Agency and FinTrac to test a multipronged, digital data-driven approach to mitigate the effects of Fall Armyworm for smallholder farmers in Ethiopia.