The tiny village of Narma Dih, off-grid in Bihar, India, was lit only by the full moon and the beam of a battery-powered pico projector. A makeshift screen hung on the outside wall of a modest dwelling. A clump of small children clung to each other and stared at the screen, transfixed. Behind them sat a circle of sari-clad women, equally absorbed. A few men stood in back. The object of their rapt attention? Not a Bollywood extravaganza, but a locally produced how-to video on seed preparation for okra cultivation.
I was in Narma Dih to get a first-hand look at Digital Green, which uses technology to accelerate the diffusion of agricultural innovations. The WDR 2016 is all about storing and sharing information, and that is at the heart of agricultural extension. There can be high returns to putting the right information in the right hands at the right time. This is especially true if you can show farmers ways of being more productive with their existing resources -- for instance, showing them how to intercrop, or to make better compost. But credibly transmitting this kind of information has always been difficult, labor-intensive and costly. Agricultural extension agents are typically assigned to serve an impossibly large number of farmers spread over a logistically daunting stretch of countryside. And the traditional form of information transmittal leaves something to be desired. In Bihar, the agents have travelled the back roads shlepping flipcharts, text-heavy and just plain heavy, one per topic. The flipcharts may not adequately convey new techniques to illiterate farmers, let alone give them confidence to try a risky new idea. Would you believe someone who told you that you could sow 90% fewer seeds while boosting your yield? (That's the promise of the system of crop intensification, whose diffusion is a goal of the Bank-supported Jeevika Project.)
- WDR 2016