The team of experts from the University of Southern Queensland’s Australian Centre for Sustainable Catchments (ACSC) may work diligently at predicting future climate changes but how do you get that information to regional farmers throughout the world?

The ACSC has recently completed a successful trial of a web-based discussion-support for climate information for regional Indian farmers in Hyderabad and are hoping to extend the program to the rest of India and then to other nations.

The way it works is deceptively simple— using the ACSC’s research, staff and students from Toowoomba’s University of Southern Queensland (USQ) campus hold a casual discussion about upcoming climate trends over the online virtual world program Second Life.

Regional farmers throughout India can then go to one of the thousands of newly built internet kiosks located throughout regional areas of India to listen in on the Second Life conversations and become clued in about upcoming climate trends.

Director of the ACSC Roger Stone said the recently completed trial had been a great success and was getting very positive feedback from the farmers.

‘Distance education and phone calls might work to get regional Indian farmers talking about climate, but how do you inform 600 million of them?,’ Professor Stone said.

‘India has recently had many thousands of low-cost wireless internet kiosks installed in rural villages throughout the country so this gives farmers an easy and convenient way to receive communication.

‘By letting them sit in on the Second Life conversation, rather than just telling them directly, it gives them the ownership of finding out what climate is all about.

‘Despite the expertise and research going into each online presentation, it’s presented as a casual conversation between two Indian farmers, which helps the farmers relate to it.’

Professor Stone said authenticity was one of the most important parts of the program.

‘If any bit of clothing or scenery was off, the farmers wouldn’t have it,’ he said.

‘Everything had to be exactly like a regular conversation between two Indian farmers.’

The program trial was done in partnership with the RANGA Agricultural University in Hyderabad and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).

Dr Shabaz Mushtaq, who developed concept frameworks for eLearning approach in the project, said working on the project provided the ACSC with an exciting opportunity to integrate the research and application of climate science.

‘It’s an approach that could reach a greater proportion of farmers,’ Dr Mushtaq said.

‘Having developed a method for producing relevant and appropriate information in a relatively fast and less expensive way has been very rewarding and is sure to provide further opportunities for many other areas.’

Professor Stone said the trial was deemed highly effective in educating rural Indian farmers on climate change and preparation for upcoming seasons and hoped to open up the project to the rest of India and later, parts of Africa.

The Second Life discussions are available to view in several different languages and Professor Stone said many USQ students had helped the project with translations.

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