Digital Green Empowers Poor Farmers
World hunger is one of the biggest challenges to overcome in the journey to eradicate poverty. It is impossible for communities to advance into other sectors without access to food. Roughly 690 million people do not have adequate access to food today. However, if information can be readily available and accessible for rural farmers, they could help reduce this number. Digital Green is a company that began in 2006 and aims to reduce world hunger.

What is Digital Green?

Digital Green is an Indian-based company that aids smallholder farmers in implementing better farming practices. It uses a unique software that more conventional organizations do not utilize. However, company co-founder Rikin Gandhi did not always see himself in Digital Green. He graduated from college with knowledge in science and engineering in hopes of becoming an astronaut. Moreover, the way astronauts melded intelligence and courage inspired him.

Gandhi said that he ended up focusing on another group of people who meld intelligence and courage after experiencing rejection from astronaut programs. He focused on the smallholder farmer. Immediately, he knew he wanted to approach things differently. Thus, he teamed up with Microsoft to create Digital Green.

Community Videos

Gandhi believed that the best way for smallholder farmers to improve their practices was by learning tricks from other farmers in the area. However, there was a problem. Many smallholder farmers in India live far apart. As a result, he created a database called community videos. This database is a collection of videos from several farming communities to share their wealth and knowledge.

Community videos are different from YouTube because they specifically target smallholder farmers. Farmers can easily select their desired language and region, and ensure that they are watching content that someone they can identify with produced.

Digital Green has produced more than 6,000 videos relating to farming practices to date. Additionally, the company oversees every video’s production from start to finish, ensuring that the sequence makes sense and that communities find the information relevant. Certain crop yields have soared by as much as 74% after farmers began using community videos.


Digital Green also implemented FarmStack to empower farmers. FarmStack is a platform designed to connect government and non-governmental organizations to smallholder farmers. It allows both groups to upload and download relevant data such as soil conditions and food prices at local markets.

The platform allows for immediate communication and makes sure that farmers receive customized solutions for unusual predicaments. In addition, it ensures that farmers receive relevant data that will help them better manage productivity as well as finances. As a result of the program, farmers’ income has increased and crop failure has decreased.

What is Next for Digital Green?

Digital Green is currently working on projects primarily in India and Ethiopia. COVID-19 has posed new challenges for the organization, but it shows no signs of slowing down. Furthermore, Digital Green hopes to one day reach every smallholder farmer in need. Luckily, the organization has partnered with powerful organizations around the globe to accelerate the process. Some organizations currently partnered with Digital Green include Walmart, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UKAid and Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD).

Although smallholder farmers only support a small aspect of their community, Digital Green acknowledges that they hold the key to ending world hunger. If all of these small communities connected, knowledge would spread like a wildfire. Eventually, every smallholder farmer across the globe may see an uptick of even 5% in crop yield. This impact would be tremendous.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

Innovations Addressing Food ScarcityFood scarcity is a major problem in the world today. Roughly 795 million people (this equates to one in 9 people) do not have enough food to survive. Specifically, developing countries face the highest levels of food scarcity These statistics, paired with the fact that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste annually, necessitates reformation. Around the world, people have been working to help resolve this crisis and ensure that the hungry do not starve. These are five modern innovations addressing food scarcity.

5 Modern Innovations Addressing Food Scarcity

  1. SAP Digital Farming: SAP is a company that is working to combat global food shortages through revolutionary technology. After implementing state of the art sensors in crop fields, farmers would download SAP’s digital farm app. Then, the app would relay necessary information to the farmer. This information includes the supply of fertilizer, water needs, soil moisture and crop growth. Importantly, this information makes the agricultural process more efficient by helping the farmer realize optimal harvesting and planting times. Further, these additional benefits will maximize yield while minimizing costs.
  2. M-Farm: M-Farm serves as a tool to help farmers in Kenya. Often, in the case of farmers in developing countries, intermediaries between the producer and consumer will reap the rewards for a task they had very minimal involvement in. Further, the farmers will have a vast amount of their earnings usurped and will be charged ridiculous prices for necessities, carrying on the cycle of poverty. M-Farm enables Kenyan farmers to SMS the number 3555 to get relevant information. This information includes the price of their products and the ability to purchase the necessary equipment for affordable prices. Additionally, M-Farm also relays crucial trends in the local market for farmers to enhance their judgment. The app collects this information independently through location services and analysis.
  3. Share the Meal App: Developed by the World Food Program, the Share the Meal application on iOS and Android phones works to combat starvation across the world. In 2015, four years after the start of the Syrian Civil War, the organization sought to mobilize technology to feed starving children in refugee camps in Jordan. Additionally, the app enables people to donate 50 cents that will go toward securing meals for these children. Currently, the app has enabled over 48 million meals to be distributed to those in need.
  4. Plantwise: Launched in 2011 by the global nonprofit, CABI, Plantwise is a program that helps farmers understand tactics to increase efficiency and yield. CABI established a global plant clinic network that provides farmers with information about plant health. Qualified plant doctors advise farmers on techniques that will reduce the number of pests and diseases that afflict their crops. Plantwise works to disseminate information to farmers in rural areas that have little access to useful information regarding their agriculture. The goal is to emphasize healthy plant habits so farmers lose less yield and are effectively able to produce more food.
  5. Digital Green: The last of these five modern innovations addressing food scarcity, Digital Green uses modern technological advancements to uplift impoverished farmers. The project began in 2008 in India, where workers trained credible officials in villages to use video technology to convey crucial information, including agriculture techniques and market conditions. This effort was widely successful, as Digital Green reached a total of 1.8 million farmers in over 15,000 villages. In addition, this prompted the organization to expand into Ethiopia. There, almost 375,000 farmers were reached, which led to the commencement of initiatives to help farmers in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Niger and Tanzania.

Finally, it is undeniable that technology plays a very prominent role in society today. Technological innovations have revolutionized the lives of people across the world. Further, these innovations addressing food scarcity are prime examples of this rapid paradigm shift. Progress necessitates change and change is only possible through people working together to absolve adversity in the most effective way possible.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

Digital Solutions for Poor Indian FarmersAccording to the World Bank, 44 percent of India’s population were employed as farmers in 2018. For many of these farmers, it is hard sustaining a living amid social, economic and environmental burdens. Smallholder farmers are often the poorest and most malnourished people despite their career. Digital Green is hoping to change that by connecting poor Indian farmers through its digital solutions to improve communication and earnings.

Digital Green

Digital Green is a global development organization that enables smallholder farmers to escape poverty through technology and collaboration. With this connection between farmers, individuals are likely to share their knowledge of farming. This collaborative effort not only improves the lives of one farming family but the lives of many. Digital Green began in 2006 as a project of Microsoft Research. Two years later, Digital Green became an independent nonprofit.

Digital Green’s life as a nonprofit began in India in 2008 when it broke off of Microsoft Research. Using participatory videos to teach smallholder farmers, Digital Green managed to help over 1.8 million farmers across 15,200 villages India. Of these farmers, an astounding 90 percent were women. Through Digital Green’s training videos, farmers learn how to use the system in order to properly and efficiently improve agriculture and nutrition.

Digital Green’s Knowledge Sharing

Digital Green builds technology tailored to communities for communities. Each video Digital Green creates focuses on the locals and their specific needs to improve their livelihoods. With more than 6,000 videos in more than 50 languages, Digital Green’s collaborative approach encourages farmers to share their knowledge. Digital Green supplies farmers with a data collection and analysis of production through its online and offline database, CoCo. CoCo displays data in near real-time, which supplies farmers with the most accurate information. When it comes time to harvest their crops, farmers have the option of using Digital Green’s app, Loop. Loop enables farmers to sell their produce in a more timely manner.

In 2011, Digital Green expanded into Ethiopia. Working with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Digital Green has produced 980 videos, which have reached nearly 375,000 families. With nearly 60 video screenings a day across the country, farmers can rely on Digital Green to answer any questions they might have. Through Digital Green’s platform, the nonprofit connects researchers, extension agents and farmers through videos, radio and mobile devices. These lines of communication aid farmers with knowledge from experts and their neighbors.

Digital Green’s Partnership with India and its Five-Year-Plan

In 2012, Digital Green partnered with the Government of India and introduced over 1.1 million farmers to the National Rural Livelihood Mission. This particular project focused on “improv[ing] the efficiency of agriculture and livelihood interventions.” Fifty-six percent of the farmers adopted one or more techniques they had learned during the program.

In 2017, Digital Green committed to a five-year plan to achieve a 25 percent increase in income for 1.1 million South Asian and African farmers. Digital Green’s mission is to expand beyond India and share its agriculture development programs with the world. Digital Green has reached nearly 700,000 people across India and Ethiopia. Through Loop, Digital Green has help farmers sell over 4,700 tonnes of vegetables.

Digital Green’s solutions for poor Indian farmers are changing the agriculture field not just for India but the world. Through technology and innovation, Digital Green continues to expand and improves the lives of smallholder farmers.

– Emily Beaver
Photo: Flickr

Food systems in AfricaIn sub-Saharan Africa, most employment is in the food sector, with 60 percent being farmers. Food sector jobs are projected to be even more prevalent in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. However, the agricultural yield is low, and Africa’s staple crop is in a decline. Maize production will reduce 40 percent by 2050, and the population is expected to double to 2.5 billion. Digital technology can influence agriculture and help strengthen food systems in Africa.

Hello Tractor

Hello Tractor is a digital tractor sharing solution that has created a platform for smallholder farmers to afford agricultural technology. For every 100,000 square kilometers worldwide, there are 200 tractors available. There are only 13 tractors per 100,000 square kilometers in Africa. Hello Tractor has successfully reached five markets in Africa and influenced 75 percent of private commercial tractor profit in Nigeria.

Hello Tractor offers sub-Saharan African farmers more than just a tractor. The ag-tech solution includes a monitoring device installed in each machine that collects important data. Collected data is transmitted to a Hello Tractor Cloud and makes its way to the manufacturing industry. This shared information helps manufacturers to design personalized equipment for their select clientele.

Digital Green

Digital technology is also improving the documentation, which is good for African food systems. The World Bank has partnered with Digital Green to improve agricultural practices through the exchange of information. Researchers are educating farmers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Niger and sharing knowledge through video content. The material highlights post-harvest and nutrition-related improvements.

Before implementing technological transformations, Digital Green assesses currently active systems in communities. Poor and struggling communities are persistent in their efforts to beat poverty. Companies like Digital Green facilitate this advancement and mobilizes farmers through video production training. This is a self-sustaining opportunity for developing communities. Feedback from local farmers makes the process more effective, but limited access to the internet and electricity calls for offline screening in addition to online sharing. Digital Greens is working with Connection Online Connection Offline to make that happen.

Connection Online Connection Offline

Connection Online Connection Offline (CoCo) is a data collection system that does not require software installation and is compatible with any device. CoCo’s database includes an analytics dashboard with instant statistics about operations, targets and metrics. This is how video programs are monitored and evaluated to improve food systems in Africa.

Another social platform within the agriculture community is 2KUZE. This Mastercard subsidiary connects farmers to buyers and agents in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania via mobile commerce. Direct buyer access is advantageous for smallholder farmers seeking a larger percentage of the wholesale value of their goods. Moreover, mobile transactions save farmers valuable time that would be spent traveling hours to distant markets. The platform especially appeals to female farmers who may find themselves held back by family obligations.

Digital technology allows farmers better access to resources of higher capital. The exchange of data in farming communities can facilitate the restoration of agricultural production in Africa. E-commerce platforms enhance market price transparency and give farmers leverage to compete against larger producers, thus reducing poverty by improving food systems in Africa.

Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr

Social Media and Poverty ReductionThe U.N. first asked “how can the international community best harness the power of media…to educate and transform?” in a 2017 conference. Although this requires a complicated answer, social media and poverty reduction can be connected by harnessing the power of information to foster development in a technologically advancing world.

The link is clear: the U.N. recognizes that there are many “opportunities for the media to play a strategic role for eradicating poverty.” This rests on the media’s ability to inform the public about poverty, in many cases by disseminating information through the voices of who have truly experienced it. This provides “an inclusive platform and an open forum to share the views and concerns of people living in vulnerable situations.”


Media and Poverty Reduction: Syrian Civil War


But what does this look like firsthand? When a video of a young Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh covered in rubble surfaced in 2016, millions of people disseminated the video through their social media channels hours after its publication. The New York Times called the video “an image of civil war,” as for many it humanized the violent events taking place far from home.

Sharing these shocking images can spur quick action. A different image, that of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned while leaving Syria for Greece, gained similar attention. Sharing it via social media had real outcomes: MercyCorps garnered $2.3 million for Syrian refugees in one month, compared to the $4.5 million raised in four years before.

The information-sharing that took place with these images spurred discussions about poverty and war on social media. In many cases, the power in information-sharing means that “the media can play a major role in developing public understanding of economic, social, and environmental issues: the three pillars of sustainable development,” according to the U.N.


Governments Utilize Connection Between Media and Poverty Reduction


Many organizations and governments are harnessing the power in social media and poverty reduction. Rwandan health minister Agnes Binagwaho provides an example with #Ministermondays. Every other Monday, Binagwaho opens a discussion via Twitter for people to voice their concerns about health in the country. Listening to real voices, she is able to craft policies using the experiences she absorbs through social media.

Others are doing similar work. An online social media platform called Digital Green provides farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia a network to discuss best practices for farming. Similarly, the World Bank Finances app ensures that sustainable development initiatives put funding into the correct hands, preventing fraud via social media.

Unlike other media sources, social media gives a voice to those who have lived in poverty by creating public platforms to spread experience. In this way, the media “affords individuals and communities the possibility to become active in the development process” by using social media platforms as safe spaces for discussion, according to the University of Namibia. Over time, this is generating “long-term suitability and sustainability” for poverty reduction.

Social media and poverty reduction works for other forms of development. Success for the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals largely rests on the power of the media, according to the U.N., based on its ability to instigate change with credible information sharing. And media hides other tools for poverty eradication; the University of Namibia explains that it also “creates a platform for non-violent discussion and issue resolution” to prevent conflict.

Social media and poverty reduction can be linked through holding guilty parties accountable for their actions. An established social media source known as I Paid a Bribe is doing just this; it creates a space to safely expose corruption in developing countries by text or email. Stories are shared without fear of retaliation, exposing illegal actions and fighting corruption.


Media and Poverty Reduction: Shortcomings


Even so, media does not always work in favor of poverty reduction; many argue that poverty is often given little coverage time via traditional media sources. For example, a study of three prominent U.S. nightly news sources found that in 14 months, an average of only 2.7 seconds in every 22-minute program mentioned poverty. And not all people are able to access social media channels; ending the digital divide that leaves four billion people without internet can harness the power of social media to share stories for reducing poverty.

In some cases, “the knowledge and experiences of people living in poverty are often undervalued” in the media, and “solutions to their own problems are ignored.” This can improperly portray real world experiences. Giving little recognition to those who have lived in poverty, according to the U.N., ultimately plays a role in distorting public perception and negatively influencing policies about poverty reduction.

Despite barriers, the U.N. explains that “the time has come for all policy actors to recognize and support the vital contribution of the media” in reducing poverty. Developing the tools that social media provides to reduce poverty, when done effectively, is gaining traction for development today.

And although Omran Daqneesh’s video alone can not end a civil war, his impact is igniting progress for sustainable development. In a world like today, change stems from diverse voices, making way for progress that was impossible only decades ago.

Cleo Krejci

Photo: Flickr

In 2006, a non-governmental organization called Digital Green was created as a spin-off from Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets Team.  Digital Green operates with the purpose of “integrat[ing] innovative technology with global development efforts to improve human well being.”  Teams of trained mediators are assembled in various target villages in order to educate community members on locally relevant health and agricultural practices using low cost and adaptive equipment.

Digital Green has already produced over 2,600 videos and has shared these videos with more than 150,000 households in India and throughout Africa.  Each video is content and context specific, based on the community’s individual needs. Digital Green’s efforts have noticeably improved agricultural development efforts in these areas.

Due to the success of the video project, Digital Green is teaming up with Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) – USAID’s global nutrition project – to try to use similar methods in a new project.  The initiative includes using videos to endorse maternal, infant and child nutrition and hygiene practices.

Digital Green, SPRING and other partners have already made 10 videos designed to educate on nutrition and hygiene techniques in developing communities.  The videos are shown at small women’s groups on a projector.  Participants are encouraged to give feedback, exchange ideas and engage in discourse to improve conditions based on the experiences of others.

SPRING hosted a webinar on December 17, 2013 to highlight and examine Digital Green’s video methods.  Through nutrition education, the process is a testament to how the collaboration between technological innovation and the ability of communities to work together improve quality of life for developing regions.

The Digital Green and SPRING collaborative videos on nutrition can be found at the following links:
Digital Green, Collection of Maternal and Child Nutrition Videos
SPRING Webinar, “Seeds of Change: Leveraging Community Video for Agriculture and Nutrition Behavior Change in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa”

Daren Gottlieb

Sources: USAID Blog, Digital Green, SPRING Nutrition
Photo: Vintage 3D

Digital Green Strengthens Food Security

With children suffering from malnourishment all over the world, and people hungry for food, it would be amazing if simple tools could be implemented to create substantive change. The incredible reality is that so many researched techniques have now been established, with dramatic benefits. The problem is that most small, rural farmers in the developing world do not know about them.

For example, a fern called Azolla which can be easily cultivated, if added to animal feed can boost the production of cows milk by 15 to 20 percent.  Or a System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which involves transplanting rice saplings, and tending them in a certain way, can produce marked crop increases. SRI is called one of the most important agricultural innovations of the past 50 years, yet it is only known to a fraction of farmers.

For Rikin Gandhi, one of the great paradoxes of today’s world is that information is so easily transmitted, yet efforts share life-saving information to critical people is so ineffective. This was a problem he wanted to solve. An American-born software engineer working in India for Microsoft Research, Gandhi spent six months in villages experimenting with communication formats — posters, TV shows, locally-made videos, public screenings, home screenings. His impactful discovery was that short, 8 to 10 minute videos that featured local farmers (both men and women, as most agricultural work in India are done by women) talking about their experiences was the most effective method of information dissemination. Films were screened locally with a facilitator who engaged discussion, and farmers were finally highly engaged with the new information, and consequently utilized the practices. Gandhi found that when sessions were actively facilitated, people remained and participated, if not, farmers left quickly. Farmers were more likely to adopt new practices if they heard about them from someone of a similar socio-economic background, speaking the same dialect, and without too much formal expertise.

Kentaro Toyama, Gandhi’s boss at Microsoft, set up trials to test Gandhi’s approach. Among 1,470 households in 16 villages, they found that increased adoption of some agricultural practices increased by seven-times, and the cost to get one farmer to adopt one new practice dropped by ten-times (from $38 to $3.70, with this video-based model).

So Gandhi created Digital Green – a platform and process for extending knowledge and influencing behavior. Gandhi and his colleagues established the NGO and The Gates Foundation provided support. It produces locally made videos in India’s rural areas, using locals, requiring only a battery-powered “pico” projector and mini speakers, which can fit in a backpack, then projected onto a wall or sheet – a major logistical advantage. See some here.

Today, Digital Green works in 2,000 villages in India, 100 in Ethiopia, and 50 in Ghana. Working with a variety of partners, it has produced 2,600 videos that have been viewed by 157,000 farmers. It reports that 41 percent of viewers in the last two months have adopted at least one practice. Gandhi now has 60 colleagues working with him and plans to be reaching 10,000 villages by 2015.

– Mary Purcell

Source: NY Times