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October 17, 2006

posted Jun 2, 2009, 9:55 PM by Rikin Gandhi

I returned from a field trip with Green in which we got some solid content had our first Digital Green screening for farmers (in this case, Green farmers).  It was an adventurous journey, but it seems there may be some glimmer of hope.  This message follows in the lengths of the many DSH mails before it.  Enjoy.

Highlights include: Filming schedule, Green village marketing, Validating content, Finding farmers, Laziness of the inorganic, Screening location, Field staff learns something from videos, Farmers learn something from videos, Rough comparison of video-based and in-person demonstrations, Thanking a champion, and more!

Filming schedule:
On Oct 19, we'll visit Veeraihadoddi for a Field Day in which Green invites inorganic farmers to interact face-to-face with its staff and Green farmers to observe the methods and benefits of organic practices.
On Oct 23-?, we'll visit Green's field staff (Anil Kumar in Veeradoti and Gopal Krishna in Thalli) for daily farmer visits for spreading awareness on Green's organic practices, providing individual advice, setting up demonstrations, and meeting with self-help groups
On Oct 24-25, we'll visit Thalli with Murli as he takes farmers to tour other villages to observe their progressive organic practices
On Oct 26, we'll visit Murli's Hallikar Breeding Farm and cow marketplace.  Three main focus areas in animal husbandry include:
Purchasing local cow - what to observe, how to be cautious
Purchasing a pair of bullocks - how to select with appropriate age, height
Purchasing a breeding bull - how to select with appropriate age, height, colors, legs, body structure
How to navigate the cow selling marketplace

Field Report:
Green village marketing
The fifth field recording with Green took us back to Veeraidotti for a three day stay with expert/consultant Murli Krishnan.  Some general discussions with farmers and Green staff yielded the following observations: there are at least 9 newspapers (Rs. 125/yr subscriptions) in the Bangalore area that are mostly written for farmers by farmers.  Murli has been asked to be a guest columnist in one, but though he claimed circulation to farmers was good, I was unable to find any of these in the field.  Green approaches whole villages and SHG groups, rather than individuals.  Usually progressive farmers emerge from the group as main point-of-contacts for Green, but Green makes sure to reduce polarizing the community with possible perceptions of favoritism.  Farmers tend to exchange news, including possible interactions with Green at village centers, notably the water well and the cigarette shop.  In the past, Green has broadcast radio programs at bus stations, put up sign boards, hired a village crier/drummer, etc, which they claim was successful at assembling villagers.

Three days, three of the same demos
Murli came from his Hallikar cattle breeding farm for a series of demonstrations for a cattle fodder and soil nitrogen-fixing technique that involved using the azola fern.  He performed the same demo three times over three days on individual Green farmer fields and invite neighboring farmers to observe.  The demos did seem to be exactly the same, though there were some slight changes in the conditions of the surrounding area - two took place in tilled soil and the third was in the middle of a grassy area.  I filmed only the first two demos to see whether any substantial differences occurred without the camera, and there didn't seem to be anything apparent.  Surprisingly enough, I caught a mistake in the last demo that they promptly corrected, so the camera's presence may have encouraged the expert (Murli) to perform at his best.

Validating content
At the first demo, only the farmer and his brother showed up.  Apparently, Green field staff had only notified the farmer a few hours prior to the demo and the few (9) neighboring farmers could not come to observe.  Murli's wife and our transport driver decided to join in the action, so there was some level of interaction. The farmer's wife showcased her composting methods on camera, and Green field staff decided to do an on-the-fly vermicompost demonstration for the farmer.  On review of the footage, however, Murli (the expert) discovered that there were factual inaccuracies, confusing statements, and mistaken procedures in the demonstration.  Green conducts such vermicompost demonstration very frequently, so he suggested we recapture the demonstration.  Since we don't know Kannada or farming to any useful degree, we should have third-party reviewers (such as Green experts) examine the validity of content that we generate before distributing it.

Finding farmers
The first night we attempted a first screening of the Digital Green content.  We took the two motorbikes with the laptop by night and went to a village that Green had never visited before.  As soon as we stopped in the middle of the village's main street, farmer by farmer we had 15 farmers and miscellaneous kids surrounding us.  Though it seemed we were to be mobbed, Murli and the Green staff with us gave the villagers an overview of Green and told them that we had a demonstration video to show.  Actually, a Green staff member had approached the villagers before, but had been rejected.  The villagers were now very interested and suggested the schoolhouse as a screening place, however, a woman in the village had received some burns from a gas fire a few hours prior.  The village would be occupied tending to her, so they suggested we return the following night.  We moved on to the next village (a non-Green village with 1 Green farmer).  There 3 farmers came from their television sets to meet in the middle of the street.  They too were interested; however, they said all the other farmers were out of town working on a coconut plantation.  The suggested we come back in a week when they would return.

It seems that we don't need very sophisticated means for getting farmers together and at least the initial interest seemed to exist at these two non-Green villages for viewing the content.  A little bit of pre-planning the morning of the show seems to be all that is required.  Green staff was going to arrange a screening the following night at the first village we visited, but unfortunately, they didn't come through so we didn't actually get to show anything.  We'll try again next visit.

Laziness of the inorganic
The next day, we met with Hombalama in Hombalamadoddi (named after the same).  She's a very progressive farmer, completely organic for the last 7 years, won a national award, and was the first resource person for Green.  There are 4 other families in her village, but she is the only organic farmer.  She has gone to the Bangalore market herself with her organic produce, set up a display of her awards, and commanded premium prices for produce.  In the drought 3 years ago and the current one, she is making Rs. 5000/season on pumpkins alone while her neighbors have little more than subsistence growth.  Still, though her neighbors see her success first-hand and often talk about going organic, they remain inorganic.  We were unable to speak to the inorganic farmers directly, however, Hombalama claims that they are lazy and are unwilling to put in the manual labor required to go organic.  It seems that some are finally changing after 7 years.  This small village is an interesting case-study that I hope to understand further, as even with in-person interactions the inorganic farmers have been set on their ways.  Hombalama provided us additional content with a second azola demo (Murli claims the first demo we captured was better), a biodiversity showcase of the12 varieties of ragi she has conserved, a look around her kitchen garden, and an interview on why she is organic and why she believes her neighbors are not.

Screening location
The following day, we went to Veeraiahdoddi, which is an all-Green village of ~50 farmers that are led by progressive farmer Ramesh.  Murli completed his third and final azola demo and then asked the farmers (4) to stay behind.  The staff went around to each household asking the stragglers to join for the very first screening of Digital Green content to farmers (this time, Green farmers).  In a warehouse with the laptop (and no external speakers), we showed the silage fodder demo that we had made with Murli on our 3rd recording trip at a different village.  This was definitely our best recording thus far and Murli was there to present his video in-person.  Just to get a sense of the village for you DSHers, there is a government school in Veeraihadoodi for the 1st-5th standards in a small closet building with no electricity and one classroom and one teacher.  According to the field staff, there are ~2 black/white and ~1 color TVs in the village.  One farmer had a VCD player, but I was unable to determine to determine whether it would play DVDs as the electricity was out.

We taped the screening; however, the quality was quite poor.  The setting of the screening was a narrow, closet-like, all-concrete warehouse in which we had set up the laptop.  The sound from the laptop was particularly poor because we didn't use external speakers and there was no lighting (because there wasn't any available, there wasn't any electricity, and there were issues of laptop glare).  I had the Samsung pointed at the audience, so the laptop screen was not visible, so the picture is pretty much just blackness.  Sounds quality is also quite poor because of echoes and mumbles.  What experience does DSH have with taping screenings of content?  What are some techniques for making such screening session tapings better in terms of lighting and sound?  We're planning to use these tapings of screenings as a first-cut feedback mechanism for Green experts, staff, and/or farmers.  We were discussing whether we should ask the audience to participate in discussing the video in a more formal format - perhaps, raising their hand so that we can turn on/off the taping or at least ensure we adequately capture the sound.  We don't want to discourage any exchanges, but just want to make the tapings of these screening more useful for those who need to review them to improve the content or provide individual advice.  Cameras can have an adverse effect on behavior.  A farmer volunteered to show his approach to maize intercropping, but froze when he got in front of the camera and couldn't even remember his name.

We're also determining whether we will soon need a TV for screening the content.  The laptop is great in terms of mobility and taking it on a motorbike to this village or that office.  Still, the audio, size, brightness, and visibility are concerns, especially if we want to be taping the screening of content in a lighted room.  We need to determine where we should set up the TV, how its going to be used, the frequency of usage, etc.  These are similar concerns to those raised by Randy in an earlier DSH mail, however, if it allows us to better film the screening of content than we may want to opt for the TV sooner rather than later.

Field staff learns something from videos
I already mentioned that the silage fodder demo footage was our best thus far.  In fact, over the previous three days in the field, I was asked to show the footage 3 times to staff as they came and went from Green's field office.  The staff didn't previously know about the technique and asked Murli follow-up questions as they watched the video.  The staff found the video to be useful for them and thought it would definitely be useful for farmers.  The only critique that was repeated was that the video should be edited to remove some extra footage to reduce the duration of the 40 min video.  The staff believed that they would use the video by turning it on and answer any follow-up questions from farmers at the end, so they thought the extra footage would be "boring".  Interestingly, that seems to be a comment received recently for DSH content as well.  Considering that the cow fodder demonstration took 8 hrs and we had compressed the footage to 40 min with Murli's real-time editing, I thought we had some good stuff.

Farmers learn something from videos
Back to our first screening, I set the laptop on the ground, closed the door, and started videotaping the audience as the now ~12 farmers and miscellaneous kids crowded around the glowing screen.  It was quiet first 3 min when Ramesh (the progressive lead farmer) raised his hand.  He asked a question to Murli and then the audience started discussing with each other and with the expert about what they were seeing.  Murli had me pause the video several times (during longer interchanges), fast forward when he perceived something to be "boring" (at most 10s advances), and rewind (at most 30s backtracking) when audience discussions had covered an important point.  Editing didn't seem required and slower sequences of footage seemed to allow the farmers to absorb the content as these quiet points were when the farmers seemed discuss amongst themselves and/or ask questions.  At the end, the farmers seemed to have enjoyed the video and learned something along the way.  Immediately at the film's conclusion, farmers started leaving the screening - mostly it seems because it was the middle of the day (~1p) around lunchtime and some were preparing for a Digital Green demo taping afterwards.  There were no follow-up questions to Murli at the film as the farmers had gotten clarity along the way.  Just to be sure, I had Murli test the remaining farmers on the key points (dimensions, quantities, etc.) and the farmers seemed to get it.  The farmers said that they really liked the technique that was shown and wanted to adopt it for their own.  They would hope Murli could come back in a few weeks to do a demo in person, but if he doesn't, they plan on doing it themselves.  They said that if we could leave the video with them they would review it on their own.  If they had any questions, they had Murli's mobile number to call or could ask for Green field staff's help.  In terms of an organized showing of such videos, the farmers suggested that once per week, preferably on Monday (the day they don't work the fields) nights, would be most convenient.  They suggested that we repeat the same video at multiple sessions to help them better absorb the processes.  In addition, they believed there were other things for them to learn and other things that they could contribute for new content.  Kannada-English translation was facilitated by Murli, but we have the raw screening on tape for third-party Kannada interpreters to help decipher the questions and comments that were raised throughout the screening.  And though this was an all-Green village that was already convinced by the trustworthiness of the expert and organization, their valuation of the video gives Digital Green a glimpse of hope.  Murli and others at Green who I've mentioned this first screening are similarly encouraged.

Rough comparison of video-based and in-person demonstrations
On the same day in Veeraihadoddi, Murli gave an in-person demonstration and mediated the screening of a video for two different processes.  In terms of interactions, both the demonstration and the screening seemed to roughly elicit similar amounts of dialogue.  Ramesh (the progressive farmer) asked ~3 questions in each and the others asked ~3 questions of their own.  Some main differences in the two media for knowledge transfer include the (1) demonstration time (the video reduced ~8 hrs of activity to 40 min) and (2) a physical, farming product was not available to use at the end of the video.

Thanking a champion
Digital Green definitely has to thank Murli for championing these filming and screening efforts for us at Green and on the ground.  Building such relationships over the course of time and shared experience, as DSH has found, seems key for getting such projects off the launch pad.  I even found a Kannada teacher in one of Green's field staff who was previously a literature major.  He had me go through the numbers 1-10 over and over again.

Field Day for inorganic to be organic and possible second screening
This Thursday, Green is organizing a field day for non-Green farmers to visit the all-Green village of Veeraiahdoddi from surrounding villages.  The field day is meant for these non-Green farmers to meet with Green farmers, visit their fields, and see first-hand what organic farming is about with face-to-face interactions and demonstrations.  There is a possibility for a second screening at this event for Digital Green, which would be our first to non-Green farmers.

Mobilizing the staff
I ran out of cash, neglected to bring the charger for my digital camera, and was told by Murli to head back home because of a rumored chikungunya and dengue outbreak, so I decided to take the long way home by local transport.  With Paul's backpacker's backpack loaded with the laptop, camera, Plextor, clothes, etc. we went off the beaten path without MSR's Qualis.  Transportation is an issue in Green's field operations as the staff commutes frequently around a 20 km radius to visit farmers, attend meetings, monitor research plots, etc.  With less than 2 motorbikes to share, the staff depends on them to show up on time and be operational.  Indeed, an additional azola demo had been scheduled for 5th standard students at a school, however, the bike showed up too late.  To add to the adventure, one ran out of fuel on our way back from one excursion.  Perhaps, they were trying to convince us to get a Reva.  :)

Longness, but a good trip.  Happy Diwali.

peace, Rikin

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