Having been in love with Facebook for 5 years, I am currently courting Whatsapp, which is known as Facebook’s 19 billion dollar baby. Whatsapp has over a billion people using it to stay in touch with their friends and families worldwide. I find it trendy to use it even more for agricultural information sharing. Do you know why?
In a distant, dusty village in India with no motorable road and poor electrical connectivity, a cow owned by a farm woman is sick and there is no veterinarian around. Normally, she would have lost her cow but with her recently purchased mobile phone, she could connect with the vet and got the needed advice on time. Yet another farmer in a remote, mountainous terrain in the north-eastern part of India finds the leaves of his chilies curling. Fearing crop failure, he takes photos of the affected plants sends them via Whatsapp to the expert in the nearest agricultural university seeking advice so he could save his crop. Likewise, rather than travelling long distances to farmers’ fields, extension agents are increasingly using either mobiles or a combination of phone calls, text, videos, and the Internet. This reduces transaction costs and interacting with farmers becomes more frequent.
I often see practicing vets offering advice to dairy farmers using their handsets/smart phones, even when they are travelling. Subject matter specialists in Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Farm Science Centres) are also routinely receiving farmers’ queries on farming matters including seeking remedies for the affected crops and sharing photos of diseased plants. Moreover, the Indian government have initiated a number of projects in the farming sector to improve digital connectivity. I believe that due to financial crunch, opportunities for face-to-face interaction between farmers and extension agents will diminish even further. The farmers and extension agents are wiser using Whatsapp and Facebook for good. Whatsapp is actually transforming agriculture value chain actors such as agro dealers, agribusiness SMEs, and agriculture extension workers creating value for smallholder farmers.
According to one of my PhD students and a Young Agripeneurs Project (YAP) contestant, Devesh Thakur, who is currently carrying out a survey as part of his PhD dissertation on social media use (Whatsapp and Facebook) in agricultural information dissemination in Himachal Pradesh, the wonders of Whatsapp in agricultural extension work are well illustrated in his blog post “Social media as an agricultural extension tool.”
I find it to be the cheapest way to share information so it does not surprise me that agroinformation-based whatsapp groups are mushrooming in India . Groups range from crop health to seed/feed availability, soil/animal health, feed quality, fodder, concentrates, fertilizers and pesticides, bank loans and development schemes. Farmers in India are increasingly depending on Whatsapp now and they get immediate advice including from progressive farmers and agricultural experts. WhatsApp is rapidly transforming itself to becoming a support system for farmers.
In the Indian state of Karnataka, the Department of Agriculture made it mandatory for agricultural development officials to have smartphones so that they could share information, messages, and circulars through WhatsApp, even before hard copies could reach them. This helped officials to take quick action and improve their interactions with farmers in distress.
Farmers are also connecting with each other. One particular WhatsApp group, ‘Baliraja’, allows farmers from various villages to seek and share agriculture advice as well as connect with experts in various fields and learn new practices. This group has now been active for over two years and was founded by Anil Bandawane, a farmer from Junnar close to Pune. Bandawane said that he began the group “to discuss exotic vegetables like broccoli, zucchini which are in demand in urban markets. But the biggest discussion is always about soil and the rain. The group’s membership grew from 100 to more than 400.
Farmers are even using Whatsapp to connect with consumers and to sell vegetables via Whatsapp groups. In India, Whatsapp is even changing the way people grow and buy food. Some agripreneurs have turned Whatsapp into a classified marketplace helping farmers to trade grains, vegetables, seeds, irrigation equipment and tractors, and more.
At the Indian Veterinary Research Institute where I work, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) manages one Whatsapp group consisting of 256 farmers and agricultural scientists. On average, 10 to 12 queries are posted daily in this group, which is considered by the participating farmers as very beneficial.
I am grateful to Mrs Adita Lakhera- my classmate from the Master’s in Agricultural Communication and Extension at Agricultural University, Pantnagar during 1980s – for introducing me to Facebook in 2011. Since then, I have grown and I am a member in several Facebook groups as well as an Admin in some. Being in a social media groups on Facebook and Whatsapp makes you better aware and informed about the issues farmers are facing. One of my colleagues running the Whatsapp farmers’ group rightfully said that our responses to the farmers’ problems could be smarter, if we are part of these groups. So I keep browsing the Whatsapp posts of farmers and responses from experts to make myself a better agricultural extension professional every day. This is the beauty of Whatsapp. Truly, if you want to know what’s up, join Whatsapp!
Guest blog post by Mahesh Chander (drmahesh.chander(at)gmail.com), Head, Division of Extension Education, ICAR- Indian Veterinary Research Institute
The views expressed are personal, and cannot be attributed to ICAR or GFAR.
Photo credits: 1-Microsiervos on Flickr; 2,3-Dr Mahesh Chandler