Virtual farming is bearing fruits

Justin Mupinda presenting the i2dlo project

How to optimally market honey, to cultivate a field or to avoid soil erosion is what small-holding farmers can learn – among many other topics – from innovative three-dimensional learning visualisations, which are now available in Zimbabwe. At eLearning Africa 2009, Justin Mupinda, Country Programme Coordinator at World Links Zimbabwe, explained how the so-called “interactive 3d learning objects” (i3dlos) tools make use of the power of virtual reality (VR) and a person’s visual strengths to “grow” the human mind. The initiators are the Naledi3D Factory, a South African company situated near Pretoria, which is a UNESCO partner, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Eskom and regional initiatives such as World Links Zimbabwe.

By Brenda Zulu

A virtual walk-on acre of land to help farmers learn how best to plough a field in order to minimise or control water run-off – this is one of several case studies farmers in Zimbabwe can now look at and explore on a PC at five World Links Community Centres.

“Virtual reality (VR) can immerse the learner in a digital 3D environment where he or she can interact – in a way that offers a rich and engaging learning experience – characterised by longer learning retention,” says project manager Justin Mupinda. “We know that our brains and their associated cognitive systems respond very effectively to visual stimuli to build visual mental maps – whereas the ability of the brain to process text is nowhere near as developed.”

Even advanced technical subjects could be packaged into reusable i3dlos and made freely available to a broader learning community, Mupinda explains. And by taking advantage of its visual nature, the need for good reading and writing abilities can also be bypassed – facilitating social development, poverty alleviation and economic growth.

The reusability of i3dlos is further enhanced by the ability for language elements to be easily translated locally and adapted to local contexts and needs. World Links has done this by translating several learning items into Shona, the principal language of Zimbabwe. This is further simplified by the fact that i3dlos are open access tools made freely available via the Internet.

600 farmers have already benefited from the material

”Many of these concepts were field tested when the Naledi3D Factory successfully partnered with World Links (Zimbabwe) to develop, localise and implement a range of i3dloson the development of agricultural skills,” says Mupinda.

The target group in Zimbabwe are small-scale farmers who gain from literacy and knowledge, which, when acquired, will result in the improvement of their communities.
Other beneficiaries include agricultural extension workers, who share what they learn from the materials with their communities. Out-of-school youth also benefit from the knowledge and later pass on the information to one another. Agricultural students who have also become aware of such resources and who could move on to create content or choose VR as a career choice are also users of these materials.

Justin Mupinda: “The two-year project has further empowered small-holding farmers in five regions of Zimbabwe in improving their cultivation of agricultural land. This project also represents the first real, successful implementation of i3dlosand was built on a ‘business’ model that will be used to support many future projects.”

For Zimbabwe, the project partners developed 16 new i3dlos, translating many of these into Shona before using them at five World Links Community Centres. The local VR committees that were established as part of the project continue to hold their own workshops and Field Days, some attracting upwards of 200 people.

Background knowledge comes from numerous sources, depending on the content they are looking for, and ranges from research papers, magazine articles, university publications and guides on agriculture developed by the Swedish Cooperative Centre.

The initial project phase includes four sites, each of which has a network of small-scale farmers with at least 40 members, bringing the total to 160. In addition to this, each site holds a Field Day to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained. Each of these Field Days attracted at least an additional 100 participants per site. This means in total at least 600 small-scale farmers have directly benefited from the materials.

For further information, visit the website,, whose implementation on the ground has occurred in four centres in Zimbabwe, namely Mandedza, Mutoko, Rio Tinto Mubaira and Rusike Centres.

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