The VASAT approach is premised on creating a viable blend of three different trends in development International and national agricultural research that leads to the creation and validation of useful knowledge in all areas relating to drought mitigation and management (this includes validated information on indigenous practices as well). Applications of modern information and communication technologies in rural development (ICT4D) which is fast emerging as a key trend in development research.The Open Distance Learning paradigm that aims at education of masses
of people in a highly flexible manner; it needs to be creatively adapted to suit the requirements of individuals who have little or no exposure to the class room milieu. Our approach is to blend them to develop a novel program of extension communication and education that will help build more effective linkages between large numbers of rural women and men and expert organizations across national or regional boundaries. This we believe will provide the basis for a customizable, mass education process that is built on rapid-delivery techniques.
VASAT is a platform established by ICRISAT primarily to foster drought preparedness among the rural farmers using a blend of innovative methodologies involving a triple-helix model. This model consists of curation of agricultural information, innovation ICT4D delivery mechanisms and Open Distance Learning (ODL).
Knowledge sharing is an indispensable component of cooperation for development. ICRISAT’s innovation in knowledge sharing follows a multi-dimensional strategy to channel the spill-over from the south for the benefit of the south. The VASAT’s triple helix model is a strategic coalition for information, communication and capacity building. It operates to enhance the livelihoods of the small-holder farmers in South Asia and West and Central Africa in partnership with the Desert Margins Program (DMP). VASAT links and mobilizes stakeholders through drought preparedness programs to lessen the impact of drought on small-holder farmers in the semi-arid tropics. It is an innovative and cost-effective medium to educate and support a critical mass of rural women and men spread across vast geographical areas by informing them about the oncoming drought and desertification through information and communication technologies. A number of private sector initiatives that use information technology for rural development are active partners in South Asia, and corporate foundations are partners in West and Central Africa.
One of the components of VASAT is an information-based program to combat drought and mitigate its impact. This is implemented in partnership with Adarsha Mahila Samakhya (AMS, or Women’s Welfare Organization) in Addakal. AMS is a federation of all-women microcredit groups with about 5200 members in 37 villages. It has taken up work addressing an array of development issues concerning rural households.
AMS women play a key role in disseminating information provided by ICRISAT scientists to the farmers of the villages. The primary role of VASAT is in providing capacity strengthening, support and technical advice through different information channels (Sreedhar et al. 2009). VASAT creates information and education communication materials which are designed to enhance the hands on training of stakeholders or information obtained from other partners. Materials are prepared in a manner where these are readily accessed, understood, and applied by rural households
SMS, drought vulnerability maps and concept maps and topic maps for content creation using ontological relationships. VASAT’s dissemination mechanisms include satellite-based video conferencing, audio conferencing using Polycomm, village knowledge centers, agro-advisory through The experimentation of extension education methods, heeding to the merits of each method and properly integrating these together, makes a powerful means for informing sharing for small holder farmers. The strength of video conferencing, color coded drought vulnerability maps, hands-on training, and the village knowledge centers allowed to wider reach in providing advisory on cropping patterns and on water and soil management. To date, knowledge management and sharing as in the way VASAT is organized, is at the core of higher-education focused efforts and is being experimented in open distance education by three universities in India (Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Indira Gandhi National Open University, and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University) in partnership with ICRISAT.
Extension Education to suit users’ requirement. The key lesson from the VASAT experience revolves around the importance of identifying the best partner for realizing the project objective and the circumstances with which the project has been conceptualized. The VASAT’s experience shows that women are the key managers on the domain of knowledge sharing and can overcome communication barriers. A successful extension activity needs the involvement of credible individuals such as Village Network Assistants (VNA’s) from the locality as facilitators or intermediaries. Local capacities have to be developed with respect to the essentials of practical agriculture espousing an open and distance learning paradigm that blends with ICT-based communication, which was one of the guide posts in the conceptualization and implementation of VASAT.
With institutions strengthened, a multiplier effect is guaranteed and sustainability assured because of local commitment. ICRISAT’s experience shows that the decision to have farmer societies, SHG’s, NGOs or NARES as partners depends on the local structure and resources.
ICRISAT uses a blend of ICT4D approaches to bring about the last mile connectivity. Videoconferencing, teleconferencing and face-to-face approaches are used to connect the rural families to agricultural researchers.for agri-related advisories. Teaming up with ISRO and AMS (Adarsha Mahila Samaikhaya), this efforts has been successfully implemented in Adakkal mandal in Andhra Pradesh state in South central India.
The AMS is an organization that functions in the 21 villages of Addakal in south central India. It is a highly drought-prone region with little access to irrigation. Because of large scale outmigration, responsibility for almost all farming and livestock management is with the women. Partners have jointly developed an information access arrangement in the AMS premises (minor LAN with internet access) 10 villages are provided by the AMS with local access centers (public). Landlines and mobile phones are used for voice and data/internet connectivity. The ISRO has set up a two-way video-conferencing facility here that connects to ICRISAT. The AMS leadership has identified and trained 30 members in the use of these arrangements. The AMS members developed a small group that acquired basic science literacy and information facilitation skills. These two groups effectively linked the super specialists and the vulnerable farmers using ICT mediation, creating new opportunities for exchanges in the continuum from farmers to experts.
Drought is an insidious natural hazard that has severe impact on farming communities through out the world. Adakkal Mandal in Mahabubnagar region is one such region which has been facing drought for last ten years. AMS is an all women’s organization which has approached ICRISAT through Government of Andhra Pradesh to help them to cope with drought. ICRISAT has set-up village knowledge centers using a hub and spoke model where the hub has a videoconference set up provided by ISRO. This facility was used to provide information related to dry land crops cultivation and other crop related issues. ICRISAT employed a simple water balance technique to estimate the micro level drought vulnerability for each village. The micro level drought vulnerability of each village was synthesized by taking the ratio of water required for human, livestock and irrigation to water available from rainfall runoff. The villagers were provided with these micro-level drought vulnerability maps before the start of the kharif season along with the climate predictions for the kharif season which was synthesized from IMD , IRI and statistical analysis of previous 18 years rainfall data. Based on these predictions, the farmers were advised to cultivate dryland crops like pigeonpea, chickpea, millets etc.
Adarsha Mahila Samaikhya, is an all women group working in Adakkal mandal is actively involved in helping rural communities. AMS runs a microcredit bank, restaurant, and a handloom society in the premises. They have partnerships with six weavers society all over the state and they are getting enough income (nearly 2 laks per months from which they will get 10% commission). The restaurant and society are completely run by women. Apart from this, they have established a centre for physically challenged people consisting 628 members. AMS members invite Doctors to teach speech therapy and physiotherapy to physically challenged people. The excemplary work done by AMS in this region has been well noticed by Government and International organizations. Recently RBI has granted Rs 2.55 cores to AMS (Kommireddypally) for developing their organization and also to provide loans to SHG, self employment and to artisans.