Farmers in Chinese town of Tianyaun in Zhejiang Province are using a range of ICT tools for accessing information on weather, farming and educational content for improving productivity and skills.
This innovative model introduced by Tianyuan Town Adult School
uses computer, television and telecom technology to generate and disseminate information through video advisories and broadcast of agriculture-based and educational programmes.
Peasants learning network
At the heart of this experiment is what is called the CI Xi Peasants Learning Network, which is essentially an online platform housing text, audio visual material hosted on a server owned by the training school.
The online content of the network is classified in five sections: Theme news, air classroom, live classroom, online Q&A and discussion.
The training school carried out a needs assessment through a questionnaire for the local farmers to find out the most appropriate issues or subject on which they needed information on. As many as 38 different courses were evolved through this exercise.
One of the most popular features of the portal is on-demand availability of videos, as the farmers find them very practical for picking-up new techniques.
After registration with the school, a peasant gets a login account to access the website. The log-in module also serves as user authentication for the online learning system and then jumps to the relevant interface.
The design of the website interface is logical and user-friendly. The background colours are light, while the characters are big and make a clear contrast to the background. Thus the information is eye-catching to the learners. The editors try to arrange all relevant content on a single web-page.
The portal also has a listing of testing and process modules that a peasant can consult to plan his or her availability for trainings.
Short mobile text message platform
Working with the state-run telecommunications department, the training school has been able to create and operate a highly effective short message system platform that is used to send out timely information to peasants.
Functioning for the past two-years, this service has so far delivered over 2,000 messages on weather forecast, farming tips, market supply and demand scenario and training schedules on the website.
In the year 2006, just before a typhoon was expected to hit the region, the training school had released weather forecasts advising peasants to re-enforce their greenhouse structures and dig drainage ditches. It also published information on vegetable cultivation measures specific to post disaster situation on the portal.
The online platform also has an expert consultation system to help solve practical problems faced by the farmers. The school also provides and maintains a database of agriculture experts allowing farmers to seek individual telephonic consultations.
Broadcast platform and open classrooms
The local cable television station in the town has developed over 22 programmes on 11 subjects and they are beamed on Saturday evenings.
The peasants have a programme directory and this allows them to
pick and chose what they need to watch. These programmes are also available on recorded disks for the peasant in case they miss the programmes.
Peer-to-peer learning through study groups
Study groups can foster the cooperation awareness and facilitate the communication among learners. The study groups are organised according to regions and similar plantation structure. The peasants study in a peasant family with an online computer. The membership of each study group varies from 7 to 19. The planting master hands in the village are appointed as instructors. All together there are 13 study groups in the town.
Advantages of the training model
A common training model cannot meet the diverse needs of peasants living in a dispersed area, growing different varieties of crops. The model being implemented in Tianyuan allows dynamic and user-based online content, thus addresses individual needs of the farmers.
For farmers, the farming seasons and weather situations are very important. This model provides prompt information to peasants saving them from great losses and optimising production.
ICT as tool for agriculture extension
Given the problems that extension agents face in facilitating direct contact with farmer clients and with researchers due to physical distances involved and lack of transportation for their mobility, the application of ICT offers excellent possibilities. Utilizing ICT for strengthening research-extension-farmer linkages must, however, move from pilot testing phases to integration into research-extension systems and beyond the urban focus. Major factors that need to be addressed include creation of an enabling environment, development of infrastructure, development of software and information content, making ICT sustainable, building capacities, combining its use with traditional media and learning from success stories. (APO, 2002)
Combining traditional information dissemination methods with new forms of extension delivery Studies have shown that farmers depend on multiple sources for information and technologies. In most societies, face-to-face contact is still the preferred mode of communication. Given the large populations to be served by extension and the dispersed and distant locations, face-to-face communication is not always possible and thus needs to combine strategies and communicationchannels to include traditional information sources, such as radio, print, video and television, together with new forms of delivery such as through ICT.
Pioneering ICT model in agriculture extension service
In the past two years, more than 800 peasants have registered email boxes, learnt new plantation technology, improved production quality and introduced new crop varieties.
The new ICT training model, which started in Tianyuan Town, is now being expanded to five nearby towns and is expected to be widely implemented across China in future