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Thursday, August 5, 2021

[Techie Tuesday] From the US to India’s hinterlands, how Rikin Gandhi constructed a sustainable agritech ecosystem for farmers

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Utilizing expertise on your personal good could not impress many, however making a distinction at a group stage means every part. This has been the mantra of Rikin Gandhi ever since he stepped into the lives of Indian farmers in 2006.

Born within the US, Rikin’s mother and father are initially from Gujarat. For an extended interval, the one connection he had with India was visiting cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai throughout holidays together with his household.

Rikin together with his household

Rising up, he was impressed by astronauts and dreamt of desirous to go to area. So, he studied aerospace engineering and laptop science and obtained a pilot licence with an aspiration to get into the Air Pressure and attempt to apply for NASA.

“But along the way, I realised that I have only looked at the first part of the journey of these astronauts. Many of them, after seeing earth from a new perspective, became school teachers and farmers to connect with people and use their skills for the greater good,” Rikin tells YourStory.

As we speak, because the founder and CEO of Digital Inexperienced, a not-for-profit and spin-off entity of Microsoft Analysis, Rikin is working with authorities our bodies and coaching frontline staff to make use of digital instruments to evaluate gaps, gather information, and use expertise as an entry level to remodel methods.

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These frontline staff will be native farmers or the chosen representatives from the village or native representatives working with a number of authorities our bodies actively working within the area.

Digital Inexperienced group working with farmers in India

The Delhi-based organisation trains frontline staff from native communities to shoot movies of farmers in their very own context, language, and tradition, creating an final data financial institution.

With on-line and offline parts, their coaching curriculum combines educational movies and a cellular app to evaluate and spot enchancment areas.

Digital Inexperienced has additionally developed a number of instruments to assist disseminate and use data in a productive method. This consists of CoCo (join on-line join offline), which helps farmers to gather and visualise essential insights anytime, wherever, on any gadget – no matter community connectivity; and FarmStack – a platform that helps organisations share information with each other.

As we speak, with greater than 60,000 movies produced in 50 languages, screened offline in communities which have restricted electrical energy and Web connectivity, Digital Inexperienced has labored with 2.5 million farmers. About 75 p.c of them are girls who’ve been in a position to see a rise of their productiveness and incomes by 30-35 p.c on a mean.

“By working with local governments and NGOs at a grassroot level, we are able to reduce their cost of operation by incorporating sustainable agricultural practices,” Rikin provides.

The turning level

Rikin shares that after finishing his diploma in aeronautical engineering from MIT in 2005, he was ready to use to the Air Pressure as a pilot. “However, I had to go for an eye surgery for which I had to take a two-year break,” he remembers.

Throughout this break, Rikin discovered his buddies in Mumbai engaged on a biodiesel enterprise. As curiosity kicked in, he went alongside, strategised a micro-utility startup to generate sustainable sources of biofuels and revenue in rural Maharashtra.

Rikin at Norfolk Airbase

However this undertaking went down within the subsequent six months. From there, he joined Oracle the place Rikin researched and produced a linguistic-based search system for textual content retrieval that used phonetic similarity and entity extraction for doc matching. “Two patents are pending approval for this technology,” shares Rikin.

Whereas working at Oracle, Rikin obtained the chance at Microsoft Analysis in 2006. They had been completely different areas of improvement from microfinance, training, and agriculture, amongst others to see if there’s a job for tech in these areas.

“This was pre-ecommerce, pre fintech, and pre-mobile even in the cities, let alone rural India. And unlike today, agriculture was the last area where anyone could think of using technology,” Rikin tells YourStory.

Life as a Microsoft researcher

As a researcher at Microsoft, he spent the primary six months going to villages close to Bengaluru with an NGO known as Inexperienced Basis.

“It was a totally novel thing for me. I didn’t even know the language. I spent a lot of that time just working and observing how the Green Foundation field staff was interacting with the communities and gradually built relationships with them,” he reminisces.

There have been loads of different challenges. There was just one mobile phone tower with primary voice connectivity, farmers’ data was restricted to applications like Krishi Darshan, which they seldom watched as a result of electrical energy points, and never everybody had a tv.

On the similar time, there was a sister undertaking run by a Princeton College Professor known as Randy Wang who was instructing kids in slum areas. They recorded them on video and handed them to surrounding authorities faculty lecturers.

Rikin as Microsoft Researcher with village folks (early days)

“We decided to see how we can translate the same to agriculture. But since there was no set curriculum, we started listening to people and assessing gaps. Of course, there were a lot of trials and errors before we found the most effective approach,” he provides.

They first used MP3 gamers with audio clips from farmers to share greatest practices with one another. Then got here the posters. Nonetheless, the simplest had been audiovisual movies, the place they shoot the farming strategies utilized by somebody locally in their very own or close by villages.

They had been initially utilizing huge analogue camcorders with exterior microphones to shoot movies. These movies had been proven on massive CRT televisions, which needed to be carried round in a cart to completely different components of a village to indicate the video.

“But with all the hassle, with just myself behind the camera for most of the first 300 odd videos that were produced, we helped demonstrate improved farming practices to the farmers from their own community members,” he provides.

Taking a step forward with expertise

From analogue camcorders and offline projectors, the movies had been later shifted to VCDs and DVDs. And with the smartphone revolution, the movies began getting shot on cellphones and screened on moveable mini projectors.

In 2008, Digital Inexperienced spun off from Microsoft as an unbiased entity to take this initiative to a different stage.

As a primary step, the group stopped producing movies by itself and began coaching the members from the area people in partnership with the native authorities authorities and NGOs.

“The idea was to offer a digital layer over the existing systems to help them disseminate and collect information in an effective and efficient manner,” he provides.

It is a hub and spoke community wherein, at a district stage, they prepare 4 to 5 folks, which incorporates folks from the area people and from authorities extension teams – just like the Nationwide Rural livelihood mission or the Ministry of Agriculture.

They had been then educated on how you can do some primary storyboarding, capturing movies with some fundamentals like facilitation and interview expertise. They had been additionally taught modifying utilizing easy instruments like Windows Film Maker and YouTube editor. These had been executed in a solution to facilitate a dialogue in order that the group can ask questions, get suggestions, and, get help to really do that within the discipline.

As an example, the Division of Agriculture and Cooperation, Authorities of Andhra Pradesh (DoAC–GoAP) already has a group useful resource particular person (CRP) group in place.

Nonetheless, regardless of the perfect extension interventions, influencing passive listeners has all the time been a serious problem. On this context, DoAC–GoAP collaborated with Digital Inexperienced to doc and disseminate greatest practices within the type of movies to farmers to reinforce their studying.

“As one of the training participants shared, when she reached her village after three days of training and started disseminating the video, a palpable amazement occurred within the crowd — more so when they realised that the people featured in the videos were farmers from the same district,” Rikin shares.

Throughout COVID-19, these video periods needed to be paused due to social distancing necessities.

“But rural Internet usage has really accelerated during the pandemic. We now have our own YouTube channel, which has more than 69 million views,” he says.

Digital Inexperienced additionally offers frontline staff with WhatsApp chatbots to interact rural communities like a triage factor, pushing automated messages based mostly on like, location, and time or season of the yr.

Learnings on the best way

Rikin believes that expertise has the facility to not solely make issues simpler but in addition bridge the gaps that exist in rural communities.

Sharing one of many incidents, he says, he as soon as shot a video with a girl who was ostracised from the village as a result of she was widowed. She lived within the outskirts and was utilizing a bio-fertiliser concoction for farming.

“We screened that video in the main town center. While people initially resisted, as we kept on playing it, the techniques used by her attracted the villagers. Eventually, that woman came to the centre and people asked her their queries. It was exciting to see how technology can bridge these divisions,” he provides.

With the success achieved in India, Digital Inexperienced has expanded its initiatives in Ethiopia and Ghana. It has built-in radio, cellular, and video channels in partnership with the Authorities of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture. A actuality TV present about Digital Inexperienced was co-produced with NDTV in India as effectively.

As a techie at coronary heart, Rikin believes that one must all the time take up wholesome scepticism to their work, and on assessing that, we are literally creating worth.

He advises techies to immerse themselves in areas which they might discover uncomfortable or unfamiliar, and they’re going to typically discover loads of surprising alternatives and potential.

“Technology is no silver bullet. Obviously, the challenges of agriculture will not be solved by a single video. But we have seen this approach amplify the work that other organisations and individuals are doing. Hence, our whole approach is in partnership with other grassroot level groups in the ecosystem. That’s where our success is going to come from,” he concludes.

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