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MIT Technology Review

  • Rikin Gandhi


    About 600 million people in India depend directly on agriculture for their livelihood. One of the ways the country’s ministry of agriculture tries to help them is by broadcasting videos about farming techniques. In one, for example, officials describe how to plant a fern called azolla in otherwise unusable wet spots; it can be used to make extra cattle feed that enables cows to give more milk. But partly because of cultural and ethnic differences between the ministry workers and the villagers, the government advice is widely ignored.

    Rikin Gandhi, founder of the nonprofit Digital Green, has developed a pilot project that offers a solution: simple videos starring local farmers themselves. ­Gandhi demonstrated that for every dollar spent, the system persuaded seven times as many farmers to adopt new ideas as an existing program of training and visits.

    Gandhi–who helped launch the program as a 2006 project at Microsoft Research, India–spent six months testing various video schemes in villages in the state of Karnataka before concluding that featuring local farmers was the key. Villagers produce the videos using handheld camcorders; workers from partner nongovernmental organizations then check the quality of the videos and the accuracy of the advice before screening them in the villages with handheld projectors. So far 500 videos have been made, but three times that number–which should reach four times as many villages–are currently planned. –David Talbot