Can Digital Discussion Support Tools Provide Cost-Effective Options for Agricultural Extension Services?

Shahbaz Mushtaq, Kate Reardon-Smith, Neil Cliffe, Jenny Ostini, Helen Farley, Joanne Doyle, Matt Kealley


Agricultural extension that delivers timely, targeted, and cost-effective support to farmers will help ensure the sustainability and adaptive capacity of agriculture, enhancing both food security and environmental security. Leveraging advances in agriclimate science and adult education, innovative digital technologies offer significant new opportunities to engage with farmers and to support decision making. In this study, animated video clips (machinimas), developed using the Second LifeTM virtual world gaming platform, model conversations around climate risk and critical on-farm decisions in the Australian sugarcane farming industry. Early evaluation indicates that this is an engaging format that promotes discussion by leveraging farmers’ natural modes of information gathering and social learning. Comparison with conventional extension practices indicates that these discussion support tools may be a cost-effective addition to existing approaches. The format’s flexibility means machinimas are readily updated with new information and customized to meet the needs of different farmer groups. Rapid growth in digital access globally and the scalability of such approaches promise greater equity of access to high-value information, critical to better risk management decision making, at minimal cost, for millions of farmers.


digital communication; agricultural extension; virtual world machinimas; real world decision support; climate risk management

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