And to transfer this information in a language and medium they can understand, Rikin B Gandhi, an astronautical engineer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, is using video and mediated instruction.
“Many farmers in developing countries often lack knowledge that could immediately improve their livelihoods. To educate such a vastly scattered population, two key areas need to be developed: locally relevant content production and distribution,” says Gandhi, founder of Digital Green, an NGO which partners other organisations, universities, governments, and NGOs across South Asia and Africa.
Gandhi’s videos have succeeded in engaging the attention of farmers.
“One of the clearest things I observed was the degree to which farmers sought videos featuring people similar to themselves,” he says.
“Like viewers of reality television, farmers made snap judgements of a person’s occupation, education, and station, apparently based on language, clothing, and mannerism. The effect of a local mediator during screening was also significant,” says Gandhi.
Gandhi spent six months in rural Karnataka to discover how best to use locally produced videos.
Over the next two years he established scientific evidence that the technique works.
The project is funded by the Gates Foundation.
“Rikin held ad hoc screenings in the middle of village roads, and he video-recorded agriculture experts as well as farmers. When he felt he had something that was actually helping farmers, he came back to get advice on how to evaluate the system,” says Kentaro Toyama, former assistant director of Microsoft Research India.
Using cost-realistic technologies such as TVs, DVD players, and camcorders, Digital Green cultivates a hub-and-spoke-based ecosystem of educational, entrepreneurial, and entertaining content.
For coming up with an innovation that clearly touches the grassroots, Technology Review India honoured Gandhi with the social innovator of the year title.
This was presented during the EmTech 2010, the emerging technologies conference held in Bangalore recently.