Agriculture

Farmers make time for social media to network, share and solve

BN Fand Patil   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It’s been a month since B.N. Fand Patil got on Clubhouse, the social audio app. He sits by a window at 7 p.m. for a live conversation on the Indian Farmer’s Club voice chat room, catching up with fellow farmers Shivaji Awate, Samadhan Bagul, Vijay Jaibhave and Balasaheb Gavli Barshi on agricultural practices, weather, marketing and crop management.

Social media is not new to him — he also uses Facebook and Instagram to network. “Social media se bahut benefit hua hai (social media has been of great benefit),” he says, adding that his Facebook post on farming beans 10 years ago received many comments, opening a window of opportunities. “I learnt natural activation techniques of soil and the importance of weather,” recalls Mr. Patil, a 36-year-old farmer.

Pune-based freelance journalist and agro analyst Deepak Chavan, who started the Indian Farmer’s Club on Clubhouse in June, believes social media is a powerful means of expression for farmers. “These platforms are self-help support systems that help us help each other,” he says. In the 30 sessions held so far — in Marathi and occasionally Hindi — around 100 farmers, mostly from Maharashtra, discuss horticulture, vegetable harvesting, crop management, sowing time, marketing, innovations and more.

“Unlike a YouTube channel with one speaker, Clubhouse discussions are vibrant with farmers choosing the topic of discussion and presenting view points,” adds Mr. Chavan. These meet-ups are followed by sessions on weather monitoring in farm production by retired Indian meteorological officer Manikrao Trimbakrao Khule, and farmer and weather enthusiast from Sinner in Nasik, Maharashtra, Vijay Pandurang Jaybhave.

Social networking and knowledge sharing on online platforms have opened up new avenues of opportunity for farmers while providing them tech-based solutions. “From knowing about different PVC pipes to discovering innovative farming methods, it is all easy through social media,” points out Dasarath Rao of Paidipally village of Khammam district in Telangana.

The 56-year-old farmer’s video on the Karshaka Mitra YouTube channel in September 2020, on direct sowing of paddy through broadcast method (unlike the traditional method where farmers employ labour and oxen to sow seeds in a wet field) got 3 lakh views. It also drew the attention of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who called him and farmer Srinivasu Raju for a meeting. “It was a big moment to meet the CM and discuss farming methods,” shares Mr. Rao, whose mornings begin at 3.30 a.m. with social media browsing.

A 2015 study by Meredith Agrimedia and a 2016 Farm Futures survey found that Facebook is the most popular social media platform used by farmers, followed by YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram.

Varied content

“Our videos on the mulching paper used in horticulture to control weeds in the farm; how to make a soil bed; balance PH value of water in Hindi, etc., is like a DIY (do it yourself) video where farmers learn to do these things themselves instead of calling experts,” say friends-turned-business partners Akash Jadhav and Santosh Jadhav.

Their YouTube channel Indian Farmer explores everything from plantation to harvesting.“Through a solution-centric approach, we have simple ways to overcome hurdles in farming,” adds Akash hailing from Vita in Sangli district, Maharashtra. Topics like tractors, irrigation and fertilizers, and dairy, goat and fish farming are also taken up for discussion. Shooting for 25 days in a month, they have created a 1,000 plus videos and shorts since the channel launched in 2018.

Emotional support

Social media is also used to lend emotional support to farmers under stress. Journalism student Ganesh Fartade who runs a seven-months-old YouTube channel (Royal Shetkari) and a month-old Instagram handle (@ganesh fartade) says, “Earlier, youngsters were hesitant to reveal they belong to a farming family but now they feel proud to say it on social media.” His videos in Marathi motivate and celebrate farmers. “People know I don’t make song and dance videos. I want my content to give emotional strength,” says the 22-year-old, adding that he gets congratulatory calls from even farmers in their 70s.

“Some farmers are so immersed in their own lives that they don’t know what is happening in the next village. Social media gives them an exposure to new farming practices,” points out Maganti Veeranjaneyulu of the Karshaka Mitra channel. Associated with the television industry for more than two decades, he launched the channel in 2020 to be a bridge between agricultural universities and farmers. “Agricultural universities regularly research new crop varieties and practices but the farmer does not have access to those findings. Once they learn about other farming methods, they can try new crops, too,” he says, giving an example of the growing dates and dragon fruit in the two Telugu States over the last five years. “We have 10,000 farmers growing dragon fruit in the dry areas of Rayalaseema, Ranga Reddy and Nalgonda districts with an investment of ₹5 lakh per acre. The investment gives returns in the second year, encouraging other farmers, too.”

Though not all farmers are educated or have access to devices, the digital divide is not colossal, says Mr. Jadhav. He explains, “The younger generation knows how to use technology and help their family members. Even those who don’t have a formal education do use a smartphone and voice search to find what they want. We hope the challenges of the digital divide disappear in a decade. The divide is a minor challenge compared to the centuries-old challenges in agriculture that have not been overcome and need attention now.”


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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 8:44:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/agriculture/farmers-make-time-for-social-media-to-network-share-and-solve/article35630298.ece

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