By Angela Kim
By the end of 2011, there were 6 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions in the world. Most of this growth was driven by developing countries, which accounted for 80 percent of new mobile-cellular subscriptions. Although this rapid expansion of technology has created advantages for rural farmers, including linking farmers to markets, improving transportation logistics, and greater access to videos via cellular devices, substantial challenges still exist in the use of video to teach and learn sustainable agricultural practices.
Video has become an alternative medium for helping farmers learn to integrate crop and pest management. Instructional videos can overcome the problem of illiteracy among rural farmers—according to United Nations data, approximately 80 percent of those living in developing countries can’t read. Women in rural farming communities, in particular, who more often lack access to education, land, and capital, have benefited from video-based training, which has helped them to become rural entrepreneurs.
Despite several benefits of using videos to spread farmer knowledge, the quality of content has a major influence on farmers’ interest in participating. Digital Green, an India-based project that uses video to advance existing agricultural extension systems, has demonstrated that videos of classroom-style lectures were perceived by farmers to be monotonous. Instead, they like more intimate, diversified-content types that include concrete demonstrations, testimonials, and even entertainment. And according to Digital Green, the degree to which farmers trust the content of a video depends on the language, clothing, and mannerisms featured in the film. Farmers involved with Digital Green were more inclined to trust information in videos that featured their neighbors than those which featured government experts.
Farmer-to-farmer videos can be utilized when sharing mechanisms and networking are available. The Video Viewing Club, organized by Sustainable Tree Crops Program in northern Ghana, brings farmers together to watch videos every two weeks. The viewing is followed by a discussion, exposure to an illustrated guidebook, as well as practical fieldwork.
Although communication technology has created numerous opportunities for sharing information and the use of video has helped to close knowledge gaps, challenges still exist. To address language barriers that may inhibit knowledge-sharing between different linguistic groups, an initiative led by researchers at the University of Illinois called “Scientific Animations Without Borders” incorporates scientifically valorized approaches to sustainable farming and health skills into two-minute animated videos viewable on cell phones for both low cost and universal appeal. Their videos also use voiceovers to customize to appropriate languages.
Videos can cross cultures, teaching smallholder farmers new agricultural practices that maximize yields and advancing rural development through community engagement.
Do you think that increased access to mobile technology, particularly educational videos, has the potential to promote sustainable agricultural development on a large scale? Tell us in the comments!
Angela Kim is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.
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