Web2forDev Conference: Audioblogging to spread knowledge to farmers

Digital Content

This week saw the Web2forDev conference take place in Rome. One speaker from India highlighted the innovative approach of audioblogs for farmers to spread knowledge and overcome literacy issues, reports Sarah Bel on the conference web site.

Prof. Jayanta Chatterjee presented Kinsanblog (www.dealindia.org), an amazing virtual space where farmers can ask questions to tackle the agricultural constraints they face and get recorded answers in their local language.

Two of the main barriers to sharing knowledge across farming communities are language and literacy. “Farmers are not literate and if they are, they’re certainly not English literate,” explained Chatterjee. At the same time, conversation is a key pattern in Indian culture used to share information. So audio material proved to be an efficient bypass to the constraints of literacy. The project also addressed the need for a horizontal network – not only to enable farmers to talk to scientific experts, but also to support farmer to farmer communication.

The project started with 5 agricultural knowledge centers (46 villages, 300 000 people involved in Agriculture). Farmers can go there to record their questions, voice their problems and comment on what was previously recorded. This material is posted on the Kisanblog. This allows both experts and the farming community to respond to posts, so that the repository keeps on growing. A community of about 40 scientists and extension workers answer a wide range of questions tackling for instance issues around commodities, livestock or pest issues. They can also input extra material to supplement the answers.

But a key success of the project is the commitment of the farming community to respond and provide answers. In fact, people in rural areas are eager to learn how other farmers are coping with the same constraints. The most popular posts appear to be not from the scientists but from their peers. Farmers place much more trust in their colleagues.

Authenticity of the content is also an important issue. To ensure the quality of the content, answers are first seen by the extension officers. “They are responsible for looking at the answers first – and only those appearing to be OK are posted. This is particularly important for farmers: agriculture is the basis of their livelihoods and there is a need to supply reliable knowledge, added Chatterjee. Otherwise the consequences could be disastrous.

Those who contribute to the blog can record their audio from any place as long they have a microphone is attached to a computer connected to Internet. Alternatively, they can send their off-line recording to the knowledge centre, saved as MP3. And before the end of 2008, the project will integrate mobile phone technology. This is the most popular device in rural areas for recording farmers’ questions and retrieving their information in the database.

The Dealindia team made the project popular amongst farmers by “actively spreading the word” in the field. They participated in farmers’ fairs, at rural exhibition, they demonstrated to technology to farmers’ groups and traveled to farming communities to tell about the potential benefit just like story tellers were doing in the past. As Chatterjee put it¸ “We went from place to place and told our story.”

But the best element to motivate farmers to share their knowledge proved to be recognition. “We all want to be stars, we want to be known. That’s what Web 2.0 is about.” Actually, that’s also how the project managed to get scientists volunteering for the job. Even though they are public servants, dealindia needed to find the right incentives for them to participate. The reward came in the form of a personalised page created to showcase their experience and input – and thus recognition from their peers about the project and their involvement.

Kinsablog now reaches a community of over 100 farmers and 40 scientists. They are committed to sharing agricultural information. If we consider that after only 9 months there are more than 1200 discussion threads available, the success of the project seems to be on the right track.

jayanta@iitk.ac.in