Agri-services in Nepal and Our Contribution
Agriculture extension services are recognized as a complementary input for increasing farm productivity. These services in Nepal are mainly administered through agriculture-related government offices and NGOs/INGOs in Nepal. In recent years, some private organizations are approaching farmers to provide agri-related services but are limited to urban areas. Still, the agriculture extension services have not reached the realm of rural farmers, because of the limited resources of technical manpower (1 technician:1300 farmers) related to agriculture.
Gham Power, with the motive to increase the agricultural efficiency of our existing solar water pump users, started delivering free agri-advisory services in 2019 that included on-field agri-workshops and training, and in-person consultation via phone and SMS. During the COVID pandemic, field activities were restricted because of the safety concerns, thus halting field-based agriculture activities and compelling us to search for the next possible solutions to deliver the agriculture training.
How It All Started
In early June 2020, when there was a lockdown due to the second wave of the COVID in Nepal, we struggled to fill the gap in agri-extension services through on-site agri-trainings. Reaching out to 150+ farmers individually to provide training sessions of about 1 hour via phone was almost impossible. We came up with the challenging idea to conduct the virtual training sessions for the farmers via Zoom on a biweekly basis to address their problems and provide relevant agriculture information according to the cropping season and practices. Reaching out to almost all the end-users was impossible; we selected about 22 Gham Power solar water pump end-users from Lumbini Province and Sudur Paschim Province and assessed the medium to connect them through social networking sites. As most of the farmers were using Facebook and WhatsApp, we created a closed group to circulate the information about the virtual training. In some cases when farmers had no social networking IDs, we reached out to other family members and onboarded them to our closed group.
Almost 85% of the selected farmers were not familiar with the Zoom platform to attend virtual sessions, and about 20% of them did not have smartphones or any other medium to use Zoom. For those farmers with smartphones, we made them install Zoom and sent the link to attend the training. For those farmers without smartphones, we suggested using the smartphones of other family members to attend the training. Among selected 22 rural farmers, 18 farmers attended the first virtual agriculture training organized by the agri-experts from Gham Power Nepal on June 02, 2021, on the topic “Commercial Fish Farming for Profitable Agribusiness”. The training content was basically designed to generate awareness among farmers about how they could shift from low-profit crop farming to high-profit fish farming with access to a reliable source of irrigation. The first session among a closed group of Gham Power farmers got a very good response and was one of the motivations to design the further course and deliver handy information on agriculture via Zoom sessions.
Branding and Scaling of Agri-training
The next virtual agri-training included the end-users from Madhesh province as well. We conducted the next session with 30+ solar water pump users on the topic “Modern method for commercial rice production” on June 16, 2021. After the increased interest and demand among our closed group of farmers circle, we branded these services and gave access to other external participants to register and be a part of the virtual agri-trainings. The virtual training session was branded as “Gham Power Krishak Pathshala” (Gham Power Farmers School) and for the third episode, we posted registration links via Google forms and social media and collected the interest of more than 200+ farmers and almost 100+ farmers attended the session on “Low-cost technologies for high agricultural profitability”. Since then, Gham Power Krishak Pathshala is being organized biweekly every Wednesday on various topics that are not limited to Fish Farming, vegetable farming, innovative high-value crops, and other topics as demanded by the farmers.
To assess the genuine interest expressed by farmers for Krishak Pathshala, we organized a paid session on October 2, 2021, on the topic “Management of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the fish pond” to inform about the solution developed by Gham Power that was customized for fish farmers; almost 60+ farmers registered and attended the session. After this assessment, we continued the on-site and virtual training on a regular basis to address the needs of the farmers.
Making Training Easy through the Super Krishak Application
As we used to rely on Google Forms to register for the training, it was a bit difficult for farmers as well as for us to send the timely notification about the training date and the process was a bit complicated and costlier as we had to send 500+ SMS to all registered users. To address this problem, we developed a Super Krishak App with a built-in Zoom plug-in and registration platform and have been organizing the Krishak Pathshala through this App. The 17th and later episodes are being organized through Super Krishak App and almost up to the 26th episode 1175 farmers (627 unique farmers) have attended the different episodes of our Krishak Pathashala via Super Krishak App. The Super Krishak App has been the best tool for farmers to attend the sessions of Krishak Pathshala where they can easily register for the training, ask if they have any queries, get timely notification about the training, and can directly join the training through the app.
Celebrating One Year Anniversary and What’s Next
The special 26th episode of the Gham Power Krishak Pathshala was organized on 15th June 2022 with external experts on the topic “BioFloc technology for fish farming” where farmers got the opportunity to learn about the profitable modern fish culture method. Kriahak Pathshala has gathered a momentum far greater than expected. Many farmers who were trained have now started piloting the knowledge in the field and spreading the knowledge to other farmers as well. Analyzing the post-training feedback and engagement of farmers in every episode of the training, Krishak Pathshala is creating a brand of free learning platform related to various agricultural topics among 3500+ farmers and farming communities of Nepal; and it has been a challenge for us to maintain the same level of engagement as well as improvise the next editions of it and further extend the outreach of this services to rural farmers of Nepal.
In the future iterations of the Krishak Pathashala, training courses will be designed on the need basis of the farmers and cropping season and we will be integrating topic-wise assessment of the participants after the training for the digitalized certification purposes. We’re expecting the knowledge, ideas, and skill sets shared by Krishak Pathshala will create a greater impact among the farming communities of Nepal in the days to come.
-Contributed by Kiran Timilsina, Agri Analytics Head.