Strengthening agricultural advisory services to make agroecological knowledge and practices available to small and marginal farmers is critical to transition towards agroecology and organic farming. Digital learning tools are a cost-effective way to train farmers on agroecological practices, encourage farmer-led experimentation and local innovation, and upscale agroecology.
Ecological farming is knowledge-intensive, complex and hard to share. Small and marginal farmers, rural women and youth in particular, who are faced with diverse challenges, have limited access to relevant agricultural information and knowledge in their own language and are desperate for such resources. Strengthening the knowledge and skills of these farmers is critical to local food systems.
However, due to the low ratio of extension workers to farmers (1:1162 in India, for example), only a small percentage of farmers have access to face-to-face extension. For decades, extension services have been informed by research that was geared towards supporting the green revolution model of agriculture and therefore do not have the right mindset nor skills and knowledge to support agroecological transition. While some development projects have farmer-training programmes on agroecology, their reach is limited. Strengthening agricultural advisory services to make agroecological knowledge and practices available to small and marginal farmers therefore remains a major challenge.
As new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are rapidly becoming more available, there is a growing realisation that quality digital learning tools should be used to reach more farmers to transition towards agroecology and organic farming. Videos are a cost-effective way to train farmers on agroecological practices, encourage farmer-led experimentation and local innovation, and scale agroecology.
Power of video-mediated learning
Access Agriculture, a non-profit organisation that supports agroecology and organic farming, has clearly shown that videos can be very effective for building farmers’ agroecological knowledge, stimulating learning across countries and cultures, and triggering farmers to experiment and change behaviour more than farmer-to-farmer extension carried out by extension workers.
Access Agriculture enables South-South exchange of quality farmer-to-farmer training videos in local languages. The Access Agriculture open access platform (www.accessagriculture.org) hosts over 225 videos in more than 90 languages that are freely downloadable.
Based on the principle that farmers like to learn from each other and try out new ideas, Access Agriculture videos show the challenges faced by ordinary farmers and the steps they take to overcome them, often including examples of social cooperation and institutional innovations. Care is taken to keep the language simple so that the videos are easy to understand for rural people.
Combining scientific and farmer knowledge, the videos follow a logical step-by-step format, featuring empowered farmers, who provide practical information and advice on sustainable agricultural innovations. The videos explain not just what to do, but also the underlying biological and physical processes and principles—why something is done in a particular way, so that other farmers can adapt the learning to their own context.
The videos cover a wide range of topics proposed by local partners based on local needs. Besides sustainable agricultural practices, the videos cover subjects, such as post-harvest, marketing and processing which add extra income to farming households. The topics also include human health and nutrition, ways of using traditional animal health practices that are within reach of poor farmers, and climate change adaptation.
The video – led learning approach reached an estimated 90 million small holders in over 100 countries since 2012
Sharing proven indigenous animal health knowledge and practices through videos
Access Agriculture has partnered with the women veterinarians-led NGO “Anthra” in Pune, Maharashtra, India, to develop a series of farmer-training videos on herbal medicines in animal healthcare. The videos are locally produced by one of the Access Agriculture trained video partners.
As antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria against drugs used in animal health has tremendous implications for public health, videos can be an important way to educate the public about the dangers of misusing antibiotics, according to Dr. Nitya Ghotge, Founder Director of Anthra.
Dr Ghotge explained that despite face-to-face training of thousands of animal health workers, the uptake of ethnoveterinary practices remains low. So Anthra decided to partner with Access Agriculture to develop videos on herbal medicines and natural animal healthcare.
“These videos have been very well received amongst livestock owners in Maharashtra as well as other states. Farmers are able to re-play the videos and make medicines as needed. As livestock keepers play an active role in the video-making process, it is a participatory approach. The videos have also become an integral part of our training programmes,” Dr Ghotge said.
“We reach out to over 20,000 livestock owners including mobile pastoralists through our partner networks in Maharashtra, and about an equal number in other states. Today, we are also sharing the videos with the Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of Maharashtra to help them kickstart a programme on natural livestock farming,” she added.
Partnering to scale natural farming across India
Access Agriculture is exploring ways in which its partner organisations in India can use its experience and resources to scale natural and organic farming across India. It would like to work with partners to have more videos translated in relevant Indian language and support a quality learning experience for farmers and other members of society to help them transition towards a healthy sustainable food system.
“The Indian government is supporting the transition to natural and organic farming in a big way, aiming to grow the global market for ecological and organic products. Access Agriculture videos can effectively help in this,” said Dr Mahesh Chander, Head of the Division of Extension Education at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
“Farmers and extension agents are experienced and trained, but oriented in conventional agriculture. Mindsets need to be changed through knowledge and skills on agroecological and organic farming approaches – it is here that Access Agriculture videos can prove their value,” he explained.
Access Agriculture’s last mile delivery model involving a growing network of young rural changemakers has attracted a lot of interest. Known as “Entrepreneurs for Rural Access” (ERAs), these youth are equipped with digital skills and tools to screen farmer-training videos and make them available to rural communities in order to bring about a positive change in the lives of farmers, especially women and youth.
The ERAs use a solar-powered smart projector (containing all Access Agriculture farmer-training videos), which can be used even in remote rural areas where technology, power and internet are limited. They not only provide for themselves and their families but also bring to the local farmers, a wealth of new ideas on agroecology from around the world to improve their lives.
Impact in the Global South
Surveys conducted in 2015, 2018 and 2021 indicate that the Access Agriculture videos have been used worldwide by over 5,000 research, extension, education and grassroots organisations, as well as by media houses across the Global South.
Access Agriculture’s video-led learning approach reached an estimated 90 million smallholders in over 100 countries since it started in 2012, enabling them to learn about agroecological principles and rural entrepreneurship, leading to improved rural livelihoods and sustainable food systems.
The global impacts have been significant, as shown by the various respondents from the 2021 on-line survey. Nearly 50% of the responses said the videos had improved farmers’ yield. “Improved pest management”, “better soil health”, and “better produce” were all noted by over 40% of respondents. More than 30% mentioned “more appreciation of local knowledge”, “involvement of youth”, “better food and nutrition”, “higher profits”, “empowerment of women” and “improved group formation”.
The cost-effectiveness and sustainability of the Access Agriculture model, as well as the scale of its impact, were the main reasons why the organisation received the International Innovation award for Sustainable Food Systems from the Swiss Government and FAO in 2021. It was also recently honoured with the 2022 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for excellence in community impact.
Van Mele P, Okry F, Wanvoeke J, Fousseni Barres N, Malone P, Rodgers J, Rahman E and Salahuddin A, 2018, Quality farmer training videos to support South-South learning, CSI Transactions on ICT 6, p.245–255.
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