By Susan Thomas, Digital Green
A four and a half hours drive towards the north of Patna brought me to Pandaul Block of Madhubani district in Bihar. I was excited about finally meeting the people whom I had heard about and read about in the various reports I had been handed at joining Digital Green, two weeks earlier. This trip, a part of the induction, was intended for me to understand how Digital Green’s innovative model of engaging communities with locally made videos about sustainable agricultural practices actually works on the ground.
While Digital Green has been partnering Jeevika (a state chapter under the NRLM) since 2012, in Madhubani, the partnership is only about four months old. Yet, I found a high level of engagement among the Village Resource Persons (VRPs) in this block.
VRPs are men and women from the communities that Jeevika works with, many of them farmers themselves, who are given information on best practices and sustainable agriculture by the Livelihood Specialists of Jeevika, which the VRPs then disseminate to the farmers through existing groups such as the Self Help Groups (SHGs).
Seeding a new idea
Digital Green provides the VRPs with a comprehensive training over two days on operating the Pico projector attached with a speaker and loaded with an SD card, which has a selection of short 10-15 minute videos. These videos feature a farmer from the same region who speaks their own language and shares a step-by-step audio-visual guide on specific sustainable agricultural practices and other best practices. These are all videos for specific crops for the relevant season.
The training also touches upon some soft skills like body language for effective facilitation during the video screening and also some data gathering requirements such as taking the attendance to track interest and adoption of the best practices shared through the video.
As I reached the block office of Jeevika, their team was in a monthly meeting with the VRPs. These VRPs had also received training on using the DG approach few months back, and this is also where the VRPs came to with their doubts and other issues related to the dissemination of videos.
Ideas take root
I managed to draw out a few VRPs with the partner staffs permission for a quick chat to understand what benefits, if any, they had perceived, since using the Digital Green approach in the field. I got some very positive feedback regarding the use of videos.
The VRPs seemed quite relieved that they had a video to show eager participants from the village, while it was hard to keep their attention earlier. They also found that the farmers seemed more easily satisfied with the information they were able to see in the video. I am confident that we will see at least 40 per cent increase in adoption of best practices we have shared this year, said Madan Thakur, VRP of the Gulab Jeevika Gram Sangathan, who had been a VRP since last four years and has now started using the Digital Green videos to aid his work.
However, the VRPs, some of them also farmers, were very concerned about the low rainfall and shared that they had applied for support from the government for setting up hand pumps and bore wells with help from the Jeevika staff.
To see what farmers are saying about the Digital Green videos and the practical application of the information in their fields I visited a few farms. Pavitri Devi, 60 and her two daughters-in-law saw a video that introduced them to the Systematic Rice Intensification (SRI) method for paddy cultivation at the SHG meeting they had been going to.
Though this was shown about two weeks into the sowing season, they were so convinced by what they saw in the video that they coaxed Pavitri Devis husband, Bissun Dev Yadav, 65, to go and watch it at another dissemination in their village.
Bissun Dev proudly showed us the paddy crop sown line by line with a distance of one foot each between each seedling. Each of the seedling is showing great promise and this method was indeed less labour intensive, he shared.I am hopeful of reaping more grain per square feet in this part of his field than the other which I had sown in the traditional manner, before I had seen the video, he added.
Pavitri Devi and her daughters-in-law shared that they had seen such a video and learnt about the SRI method for the first time. Seeing the video we understood exactly how to do it and felt its not that difficult to try it, shared Pavitri Devi. They were excited about the wealth of information they were getting from the videos and wanted to share it with their neighbours too, so they started to take them along to the video disseminations as well.
A fertile ground for positive change
In Madhubani I also met Anjana and Romy, two girls in their final year of B.Sc. Agriculture from Pusa Institute of Agriculture at Samastipur. Both girls had joined Jeevika as interns in May this year. Their course mandates them to spend about 75 per cent of their time in the field, interacting with the farmer communities, imparting information about sustainable agriculture. They shared with me their enthusiasm about the Digital Green videos. Since May we had been spending hours going house-to-house trying to explain the SRI method and vermi compost and convince farmers to use, surveying the fields under the hot sun, shared Anjana.But soon as the farmers had seen the videos, the farmers had been convinced about the same things and started using them in their fields, added an excited Anjana.
As I sat at the video dissemination training in the neighbouring Darbhanga district on the last day of the trip, I was happy to note about 20 more VRPs enthusiastically learning to use the Pico projectors. Im sure they will soon introduce new and sustainable methods of agriculture among their peers and would help the farmers get better output for their hard work in the fields and reap a better future for their families.