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The ice harvest April 23rd, 2017 by

Ice was once a natural resource of some value, harvested, processed and sold on international markets. The ice harvest has vanished, but not before evolving into our modern food chain.

In 1805, the 21-year-old Frederic Tudor was at a party in Boston, when his brother William playfully suggested that ice from nearby ponds could be cut and sold to wealthy customers in the Caribbean. Frederic, later to be known as the “Ice King”, seized on the idea, and the following year took a ship loaded with ice to sunny Martinique, where he taught the owners of the finer hotels how to make and sell ice cream.

The ice cream sold for a hefty price, but the ice itself soon melted, leaving Frederic with a staggering loss of $4000. Not one to be easily discouraged, he learned from his expensive lesson by experimenting with different ways to make the ice last longer. He compared types of insulation, including straw, wood shavings, and blankets, and designs for storage facilities until he had perfected an ice depot that could keep 92% of its inventory frozen for a summer season. Once he had succeeded, Frederic’s business and reputation soared.

Ice mover NSmallFor years, ice harvesters improvised techniques with pickaxes and chisels, aided by horses wearing spiked shoes, to avoid slipping on the frozen lakes. This was usually good enough to gather enough ice to be stored for sale in the summer in northern cities. Then in 1824, another Massachusetts man, Nathaniel Jarvis, invented a horse-drawn ice cutter, with parallel blades that would cut ice from frozen ponds into blocks of standard sizes, such as 22 by 22 inches (56 centimeters). This innovation allowed blocks of ice that could be loaded tightly onto a ship, without spaces in between. The ice was less likely to melt or shift in transit, and the ice trade took on a new life.

Ice began to be shipped to Charleston, New Orleans and other southern cities (especially to chill beer and preserve fish during the long, hot summers), but in one bold experiment in 1833, Tudor shipped 180 tons of ice to Calcutta, where he built a large ice depot to house his product. Residents of India could now buy an insulated box, and stock it with a block of Yankee ice that would keep food and drinks cold for days.

4380 keeping the fridge cool with iceBy 1856 over 130,000 tons of ice were being cut from ponds around Boston and shipped not just to India, but also to Latin America, the Caribbean, China and the Philippines.  But that same year, spurred by the profits to be made from ice, a British journalist, James Harrison, invented a practical, coal-powered ice compressor in Australia. “Natural ice” (cut in the wild) and “plant ice” (from factories) competed with each other in an expanding market. In the 1800s, some railroad cars and ships were fitted with ice-holding compartments that allowed fresh meat and other perishable produce to be shipped long distances.

At first, consumers preferred natural ice, believing it was cleaner and longer lasting, and it wasn’t until 1914 that plant ice in the USA gained dominance. Relatively inexpensive electrical refrigerators came onto the market in 1923. Once consumers had refrigerators, they no longer had to buy ice.

ice bhanAfter a century of lively commerce, the spectacular long-distance and large-scale trade of natural ice finally began to decline and eventually collapsed in the 1930s. However, the ice trade has left the modern economy with a legacy: the commerce in fresh food which continues to this day, although it is now based on refrigeration, not natural ice. And of course there is still a niche market for factory-made ice, sold for picnics, and (especially in developing countries) to fishmongers and other small-scale food dealers.
The ice trade also led to another innovation, the ice box, which allowed homeowners to keep food fresh, stimulating the trade in produce from countryside to town. Modern supermarkets with ice cream, frozen fish and fresh meat presuppose that the consumers have a refrigerator at home. Today, tropical countries like Ghana export mangos and papayas to Europe and North America. Because of refrigeration in Central America, more farmers are able to sell fresh produce to large, new supermarkets in cities like Tegucigalpa and San Salvador.

You can now find tropical produce in refrigerators around the world, and in a sense it started when a student at Harvard joked with his brother about shipping frozen pond water to the Caribbean.

Further reading

Boorstin, Daniel J. 1965 The Americans: The National Experience. New York: Vintage Books. 517 pp.

Cummings, Richard O. 1949 The American Ice Harvests: A Historical Study in Technology, 1800–1918. Berkeley and Los Angeles: California University Press.

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What do earthworms want? April 16th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Even seemingly simple tasks, like raising the humble earthworm, can be done in more ways than one, however all variations must follow certain basic principles.

In a video from Bangladesh, villagers show the audience how to raise earthworms in cement rings, sunk into the soil. The floor is covered with a sheet of plastic to keep the worms from escaping. The worms are fed on chunks of banana corm and the ring is covered to keep out the rain, but still retain some moisture.

My grandfather used to raise worms in a pressed-board box on his back porch. He fed them on strips of newspaper and used coffee grounds. So I knew that there was more than one way to raise worms, but I didn’t quite realize how many options there were, until I saw two small, family firms in Cochabamba, Bolivia this week at an agricultural fair. Both firms raise earthworms and sell the worms, the humus they make, and the excess moisture collected in the process (to use as fertilizer—applied on leaves or the soil).

mitt full of earthwormsOne company, Biodel, experimented with various types of containers. The worms died in plastic ones, but they thrived inside of aluminum cylinders, wrapped in foam (to keep them cool) inside of a metal barrel. A screened base with a tray collects the humus, while worm food (especially composted cow manure) is loaded into the top of the barrel.

worm rackA second company, Lombriflor, had a different devise. They use stacks of plastic-covered wooden trays on a slight slant, and they feed the earthworms corn plant residues, semi-composed cow manure, and kitchen scraps. Earthworms have their favorite foods. “Earthworms like all of the cucurbits (like squash), but nothing sour,” explained Silvio Gutiérrez and his wife, the company owners. “They don’t like citrus at all.” Earthworms will eat paper, but they prefer egg cartons.

So here we have a Bangladeshi cement ring, a Bolivian barrel and a set of wooden trays. It seems like a lot of different ways to raise worms, which is an important topic, because the night-crawlers, as my grandfather used to call them, help to enrich the compost, stabilize it and they improve the soil with the beneficial micro-organisms they release.

All of these worm brooders share certain core principles. The worms are kept cool, not allowed to escape, and are fed on organic matter (depending on what is abundant locally) and the earthworms are not allowed to get too dry or too moist.

The Bangladeshi earthworm video has been translated into Spanish and will soon be released in Bolivia. We hope it will inspire smallholder farmers to invent additional devices for raising the under-rated earthworm.

The Access Agriculture video-sharing platform will soon also host yet another video about rearing worms, featuring rural entrepreneurs in India who use woven polythene bags as containers.

Watch the video

The wonder of earthworms

¿QUÉ QUIEREN LAS LOMBRICES DE TIERRA?

Por Jeff Bentley, 16 de abril del 2017

Hasta tareas aparentemente sencillas como criar a la humilde lombriz de tierra, pueden hacerse en más de una forma, aunque todas las variantes deben seguir ciertos principios básicos.

En un video de Bangladesh, los aldeanos muestran a la audiencia cómo criar las lombrices de tierra en argollas de cemento, semi-enterrados en el suelo. El piso se cubre con una hoja de plástico, para que las lombrices no escapen. Las lombrices comen pedacitos de tallos de plátano y la argolla se cubre, para que las lombrices no se ahoguen con la lluvia, pero que no se resequen tampoco.

Mi abuelo solía criar lombrices en una caja de tablas de aserrín prensado en el corredor de su casa. Les alimentaba con tiras de periódico y borras de café. Así que yo ya sabía de más de una manera de criar lombrices, pero no me di cuenta de cuántas opciones había, hasta ver dos pequeñas empresas familiares en Cochabamba, Bolivia esta semana en una feria agrícola. Ambas empresas crían lombrices y las venden junto con el humus que hacen y el líquido que se recolecta en el proceso (para usar como fertilizante—aplicado a las hojas o al suelo).

mitt full of earthwormsUna empresa, Biodel, experimentó con varias clases de contenedores. Las lombrices se morían en los de plástico, pero prosperaban en los cilindros de aluminio, forrados en espuma (para mantener la frescura) dentro de un barril metálico. Una base de malla con una charola recolecta el humus, mientras la comida de lombrices (especialmente estiércol de vaca compostada) se pone a la parte superior del barril.

worm rackUna segunda compañía, Lombriflor, tiene otro dispositivo. Ellos usan bandejas de madera, una encima de la otra, livianamente inclinadas y cubiertas de plástico, y alimentan a las lombrices con residuos de plantas de maíz, estiércol de vaca semi-compostada, y restos de cocina. Las lombrices tienen sus comidas favoritas. “A las lombrices les gustan todas las cucúrbitas (como el zapallo), pero nada ácido,” explicó Silvio Gutiérrez y su esposa, los dueños de la empresa. “No les gustan los cítricos para nada.” Las lombrices comerán papel, pero prefieren maples de huevo.

Así que tenemos una argolla de cemento bangladesí, un barril boliviano y un juego de bandejas de madera. Parecen muchas maneras para criar lombrices, lo cual es un tema importante, porque las lombrices ayudan a enriquecer el compost, estabilizarlo y mejoran el suelo con los micro-organismos benéficos que liberan.

Todos estos criaderos de lombrices comparten ciertos principios de fondo. Las lombrices se mantienen frescas, no pueden escapar, y se les alimenta con materia orgánica (lo que esté localmente abundante) y a las lombrices no se les deja mojarse mucho ni secarse demasiado.

El video de Bangladesh sobre la lombriz de tierra se ha traducido al español y pronto será distribuido en Bolivia. Esperamos que ello inspire a muchos campesinos a inventar otras herramientas adicionales para criar a la subestimada lombriz.

La plataforma para compartir videos, Access Agriculture, pronto albergará otro video sobre la crianza de lombrices de tierra, presentando a empresarios rurales en la India quienes usan gangochos (sacos de yute plástico) como sus contenedores.

Ver el video

La maravillosa lombriz de tierra

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The best knowledge is local and scientific April 2nd, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Scientific knowledge is universal, but experienced agricultural scientists also bring their own, personal experience to bear on local problems.

Every year our guava tree loses all its fruit to fruit flies. A few weeks ago in Cochabamba my wife, Ana, sent me down to the agro-supply shop to get a special device, a pheromone trap, which lures fruit flies to their death using the scent of a sexual attractant. Insects use chemicals called pheromones to communicate with members of their own species. Some pheromones are emitted by a female fly that is ready to mate, but there are also alarm pheromones and aggregation pheromones (which you have seen in play, if you have ever noticed a large cluster of ladybird beetles clinging to a branch).

Ana was inspired to use the pheromone trap after having watched some training videos from Africa on the Access Agriculture website.

At the shop, the vendor said that “you get those traps at Proinpa.” I was a little surprised that she even knew of pheromone traps, but even more so that she knew of Proinpa: not everyone is aware of nearby agricultural research institutes.

At Proinpa, Luis Crespo, an entomologist, asked us why we wanted a pheromone trap. When Ana said for guava, Luis gave us a sad, knowing smile, as if to say “lost cause.”

“But the trap also works for fruit flies attacking peaches?” Ana added.

Luis said yes, but fruit flies prefer guava so much that he advises peach growers to cut down any guava trees, or the peaches will be ruined by flies emerging from the guavas.

Luis took us to his lab, where he piqued our interest in the food bait trap, as an alternative to the pheromone trap. He took a plastic soda-pop bottle and cut three small doors in it, to let in the fruit flies. “Fill the bottom of the bottle with a sweet liquid. The best one is fermented chicha.” Luis smiled at the thought that fruit flies liked the traditional maize beer. The flies are attracted to the liquid bait in the bottom of the bottle and drown.

The Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) is native to Europe, but it is now widespread in South America. There are also fruit flies that are native to the Americas (Anastrepha spp.).

Unlike the pheromone trap, the food bait trap would catch both species of fruit fly, males and females, as well as houseflies, “and even wasps and bees,” Luis added with a touch of sadness. Entomologists like wasps, because they kill insect pests.

Luis Crespo with pheromone trapOn the other hand, Luis explained, when the food bait trap is full of dead insects, don’t pour it on the ground or the sugary liquid will attract fruit flies, and you will feed them instead of killing them.

Luis went on to explain that when wormy fruit falls to the ground, the fruit fly larvae pupate in the soil. So you have to gather up the fallen fruits immediately.

trampa de feromonasEven though Luis prefers food bait traps, which can be made entirely from local materials, he was kind enough to sell us a wax plug of imported pheromone bait as well. Luis took a wire and a pair of pliers and with a practiced hand, poked the wire through the bait and fashioned the wire into a little hook, so we could hang it inside the pheromone trap. Then he gave us the little triangular (delta) trap; the male, Mediterranean fruit flies will fly to the little plug of sex bait, but will be captured and die on the sticky floor of the trap.

Ana and I left pleased. We had three ideas: two kinds of traps and a renewed determination to clean up the fallen fruit. And if that didn’t work, we could always cut down our guava tree and plant an avocado tree in its place.

I remembered from earlier visits that Luis knew everything there was to know about potato pests, like weevils and moths. I was delighted to see that he was also an expert on fruit flies. Local knowledge and scientific knowledge are often seen as opposites, but at their best they are complimentary. A good agricultural scientist combines textbook knowledge with local experience to unravel the ties between peach trees and guava, the various species of flies, and the advantages of different traps for fruit flies.

Watch the videos

Integrated approach against fruit flies

Killing fruit flies with food baits

Collecting fallen fruit against fruit flies

Mass trapping of fruit flies

Weaver ants against fruit flies

EL MEJOR CONOCIMIENTO ES LOCAL Y CIENTĂŤFICO

por Jeff Bentley, 2 de abril del 2017

El conocimiento científico es universal, pero los experimentados científicos agrícolas también usan su propia experiencia para solucionar los problemas locales.

Cada año nuestro guayabero pierde toda su fruta a las moscas de la fruta. Hace unas semanas en Cochabamba mi esposa Ana me mandó a la tienda agropecuaria para comprar un aparato especial, una trampa de feromonas que llama a las moscas de fruta a su muerte, usando un atrayente sexual. Los insectos usan químicos llamados feromonas para comunicarse con miembros de su propia especie. Algunas feromonas son emitidas por una mosca hembra que está lista para la cópula, pero hay también feromonas de alarma y de agregación (las cuales usted tal vez ha visto en acción, si alguna vez se ha fijado en un gran grupo de mariquitas aferrándose a una rama).

Ana se inspiró a usar la trampa de feromonas después de ver algunos videos didácticos de Africa en el sitio web de Access Agriculture.

En la tienda, la vendedora dijo “se consiguen esas trampas en Proinpa.” Me sorprendió que ella supiera de las trampas de feromona, y más todavía que ella conocía a Proinpa: no todos se dan cuenta de los institutos de investigación agrícola en su zona.

En Proinpa, el Ing. Luis Crespo, entomólogo, nos preguntó por qué queríamos una trampa de feromona. Cuando Ana dijo para el guayabero, Luis nos dio una sonrisa triste, como decir “causa perdida.”

“¿Pero la trampa también funciona para moscas de la fruta que atacan a los durazneros?” Ana agregó.

Luis dijo que sí, pero que las moscas de la fruta prefieren tanto a la guayaba que él asesora a los productores de durazno a quitar todos sus guayaberos, caso contrario los duraznos serán arruinados por las moscas que emergen de las guayabas.

Luis nos llevó a su laboratorio, donde nos interesó en la trampa con atrayente alimenticio, como alternativa a la trampa de feromona. Tomó un envase plástico de refresco y cortó tres pequeñas puertas, para dejar entrar las moscas de la fruta. “Hay que llenar el fondo con cualquier líquido dulce. Lo mejor es la chicha fermentada.” Luis sonrió al pensar que a las moscas de la fruta les gusta la tradicional cerveza de maíz. Las moscas se atraen al anzuelo líquido al fondo de la botella y allí se ahogan.

La mosca mediterránea (Ceratitis capitata) es nativa a Europa, pero hoy en día está difundida por Sudamérica. Hay también moscas de la fruta nativas a las Américas (Anastrepha spp.).

A diferencia de la trampa de feromonas, la trampa alimenticia atraparía a ambas especies de mosca de la fruta, tanto machos como hembras, y moscas domésticas, “y hasta avispas y abejas,” Luis agregó con un toque de tristeza. A los entomólogos les gustan las avispas porque matan a las plagas insectiles.

Luis Crespo with pheromone trapPor otro lado, explicó Luis, cuando la trampa alimenticia está llena de insectos muertos, no botes el contenido al suelo porque el líquido dulce atraerá a las moscas de la fruta, y las alimentarás en vez de matarlas.

Luis siguiĂł explicando que cuando la fruta agusanada cae, las moscas de la fruta se empupan en el suelo. Hay que eliminar toda la fruta caĂ­da inmediatamente.

trampa de feromonasA pesar de que Luis prefiere las trampas alimenticias, que se pueden hacer de materiales locales, amablemente nos vendió un tapón de cera, con feromonas. Luis tomó un alambre y alicate y con una mano experta, pasó el alambre a través del tapón y formó el alambre como ganchito, para que lo pudiéramos colgar dentro de la trampa de feromona. Luego nos dio una trampita triangular (trampa delta); los machos de la mosca mediterránea irán volando al corcho impregnado de olor a sexo, pero serán capturados y morirán en el piso pegajoso de la trampa.

Ana y yo nos fuimos contentos. TenĂ­amos tres ideas: dos clases de trampas y una determinaciĂłn renovada de limpiar la fruta caĂ­da. Y si eso no funcionaba, siempre podrĂ­amos despachar nuestra guayabera y plantar un palto (aguacate) en su lugar.

Me acordé de mis anteriores visitas que Luis lo sabía todo de las plagas de la papa, como gorgojos y polillas. Me encantó ver que también era experto en las moscas de la futa. El conocimiento local y el científico a menudo se ven como opuestos, pero en el mejor de los casos se complementan. Un buen científico agrícola combina el conocimiento de los textos con la experiencia local para entender la relación entre los durazneros y los guayaberos, las diferentes especies de moscas, y las ventajas de las diferentes trampas para las moscas de la fruta.

Vea los videos

Integrated approach against fruit flies

Killing fruit flies with food baits

Collecting fallen fruit against fruit flies

Mass trapping of fruit flies

Weaver ants against fruit flies

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Videos that speak to Andean farmers March 26th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The Quechua language (or group of closely related languages, depending on your perspective), is a Native American tongue with some eight to ten million speakers in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Quechua was actually encouraged in the colonial era: grammars, dictionaries and catechisms were written in the language, chairs for teaching the language were founded in Andean universities. But Quechua was scorned during the republican era, following independence from Spain (1809-1825). In recent years, the language has been recovering ground in a sense. It is starting to be used in schools and in political speech.

Wikipedia lists over 20,000 articles in Quechua. Popular on-line videos in Quechua include language lessons, the Jesus Film, films produced by students, and a rousing version of “Hakuna Matata”. The talented Renata Flores plays “House of the Rising Sun” on the piano and sings it in Quechua, with heart and soul.

But there are few agricultural videos in Quechua. This is rather surprising, since the people who speak Quechua are fundamentally farmers. So we have remedied this, a bit.

Along with colleagues in Bolivia and at Agro-Insight, we have produced seven farmer training videos in Quechua. The same videos are also available in Aymara, the language native to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru and Bolivia.

screening seed in bright lightOnly two of the videos were originally made in Bolivia: one on managing the poisonous aflatoxins in peanuts (groundnuts) and one on tarwi (the lupine bean). Other videos were originally shot in other countries (shown in brackets):

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (various African countries)

Let’s Talk Money:  simple cost:benefit accounting for new farm technology (Mali)

The Wonder of Earthworms (Bangladesh)

Grass Strips against Soil Erosion (Vietnam and Thailand)

Till Less to Harvest More (Guatemala)

You may wonder why we translated existing videos instead of making new ones. Cost is one reason. It is much cheaper and easier to translate a video than to make one. Besides, many of the Quechua videos already on the web are basically translations of other work.  If that works for entertainment, it should be OK for farming.

Farmers understand learning videos other continents, provided the voice over is in a language that the audience speaks. Videos are a way of sharing knowledge from farmer-to-farmer cross culturally.

We hope that speakers of Quechua and Aymara will enjoy seeing smallholders, like themselves, farming and solving problems in Asia, Africa and Central America.

The videos are hosted in the public domain at the Access Agriculture portal, which has many videos in African and Asian languages. These are the site’s first videos in Native American languages.

Videos in Quechua

To watch the videos in Quechua, visit Access Agriculture here.

Videos in Aymara

You can also watch videos in Aymara here.

Acknowledgements

The translations were funded by the McKnight Foundation

VIDEOS QUE HABLAN A LOS AGRICULTORES ANDINOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 26 de marzo del 2017

El quechua es un idioma (o grupo de idiomas muy cercanos, según su perspectiva), nativo a las Américas, con unos ocho a diez millones de hablantes en Bolivia, Perú y Ecuador. Los gobiernos coloniales efectivamente fomentaron el uso del quechua: gramáticas, diccionarios y catequismos se escribieron en el idioma y se fundaron cátedras para enseñar el idioma en las universidades andinas. Pero el quechua fue desprestigiado en la era republicana, después de la independencia de España (1809-1825). En años recientes, el idioma se ha cobrado fuerzas. Empieza a usarse en los colegios y en discursos políticos.

Wikipedia dice que tiene más de 20,000 artículos en quechua. Videos populares en línea incluyen lecciones para aprender el idioma, películas producidas por estudiantes, Jesús (la película) y una versión emocionante de “Hakuna Matata”. La talentosa Renata Flores toca “House of the Rising Sun” en el piano y lo canta en quechua, con alma y corazón.

Pero hay pocos videos agrĂ­colas en quechua, lo cual es sorprendente, ya que las personas que habla el idioma son fundamentalmente agricultores. Entonces hemos hecho algo para cambiar la situaciĂłn.

Junto con colegas en Bolivia y en Agro-Insight, hemos producido siete videos didácticos en quechua. Los mismos videos también están disponibles en aymara, el idioma nativo a la región del Lago Titicaca del Perú y Bolivia.

sorting tarwi or lupine seed3Solo dos de los videos se rodaron originalmente en Bolivia: uno sobre el manejo de las venenosas aflatoxinas en maní, y uno sobre el tarwi (chocho, o lupino). Otros videos se filmaron originalmente en otros países (indicados entre paréntesis):

Manejo Integrado de la Fertilidad del Suelo (varios paĂ­ses africanos)

Hablemos del Dinero: contabilidad sencillo para costo:beneficio de nueva tecnologĂ­a agrĂ­cola (MalĂ­)

La Maravillosa Lombriz de Tierra (Bangladesh)

Barreras Vivas contra la ErosiĂłn del Suelo (Vietnam y Tailandia)

Arar Menos para Cosechar Más (Guatemala)

Tal vez se pregunta porque tradujimos videos existentes en vez de hacer nuevos videos. El costo es una razón. Es mucho más barato y fácil traducir un video que hacer uno. Además, muchos de los videos en quechua que ya están en la Web son básicamente traducciones de otras obras. Si eso vale para el entretenimiento, también funciona para el agro.

Los agricultores entienden a los videos didácticos de otros países, con tal que la narración sea en un idioma que el público hable. Los videos son una manera de compartir el conocimiento de campesino-a-campesino de forma intercultural.

Esperamos que los hablantes del quechua y del aymara disfruten de ver a campesinos, como ellos mismos, trabajando y resolviendo problemas en Asia, Africa y Centroamérica.

Los videos están alojados en el dominio público en el portal de Access Agriculture, que tiene muchos videos en idiomas africanos y asiáticos. Pero los presentes son los primeros videos en el sitio en idiomas nativas a las Américas.

Videos en quechua

Para mirar los videos en quechua, visite a Access Agriculture aquĂ­.

Videos in Aymara

Se puede mirar los videos en aymara aquĂ­.

Agradecimientos

Las traducciones se fundaron por la McKnight Foundation

 

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Call anytime March 19th, 2017 by

It’s difficult to know who reads a fact sheet, listens to a radio broadcast or watches a farmer learning video, but those of us who produce such information always want to know what happens to it, once it leaves our hands. In 2011 my colleagues at Access Agriculture tried a new way to do audience research. Access Agriculture and partners distributed 20,000 copies of a DVD on striga (the devil weed) across East Africa. Each copy contained a questionnaire, formatted as a letter, asking the viewers to tick off a few boxes and mail back the letter in the post. No one bothered to return the survey.

GerardSo in 2015, PhD candidate GĂ©rard Zoundji tried a slightly different way to get feedback from viewers in Benin, as he explains in a recent paper in Cogent Food & Agriculture. First he compiled a DVD in five languages, with nine different videos on growing vegetables. Next, GĂ©rard distributed his DVD through the private sector, mainly through agro-input dealers and people who sell movie DVDs. Previously DVDs had been distributed through extension providers, NGOs or government agencies, not from small shops.

GĂ©rard asked the vendors to collect names and phone numbers of people who bought the DVD, so he could do follow up work with the buyers. GĂ©rard gave the vendors the DVDs for free, in exchange for their cooperation, but allowed them to keep the equivalent of a dollar or two which they collected for each sale. He also tried a new way of doing follow up. He put a sticker in the DVD jacket, with a note inviting the recipients to phone in if they had questions. The number was for a SIM card that GĂ©rard bought, just to receive such calls.

It was a pleasant surprise when people started phoning in. Of 562 who bought the DVD, a whopping 341 phoned GĂ©rard. Some just called to say how much they had enjoyed watching the videos. Others wanted to share their story. Nearly 20% of them had been so eager to watch the videos that they bought their own DVD player. Others called to ask where they could buy the drip irrigation equipment featured on one of the videos.

The six agro-input dealers who were selling the DVD were also impressed with the video on drip irrigation, and the interest it inspired in farmers. Two of these dealers actually began to stock drip irrigation supplies themselves.

As Paul has written in an earlier post, farmers who have been exposed to drip irrigation through development projects usually abandon drip irrigation once the project ends. Projects usually make little effort to involve the private sector. Yet here were dealers who were motivated enough to find out where to buy the drip irrigation equipment, and stock it, in response to interest shown by farmers who had watched a video. Sometimes simply watching a video can excite people more than participating in a full project.

I am always delighted to learn about someone using a cell phone in a new way, especially if it involves giving rural people the chance to make their voices heard. A sticker inside a DVD cover was enough to encourage buyers of a DVD to call in with comments.

Since publishing the paper, GĂ©rard has been discussing with Ministry of Agriculture staff in Benin about ways to design an advisory service via phone call.

Agro-input dealers and movie DVDs sellers, including some who were not involved in the study are now requesting new DVDs to sell.

In this story we see the phone was linked with the DVD. Both are ICTs (information and communication technologies), but the connection between the two was one of the oldest ICTs: the printed word on paper.

Further reading

Zoundji, Gérard C., Florent Okry, Simplice D. Vodouhê, and Jeffery W. Bentley 2016 “The Distribution of Farmer Learning Videos: Lessons from Non-Conventional Dissemination Networks in Benin.” Cogent Food & Agriculture 2(1):1277838. https://www.accessagriculture.org/publications

Related blog stories

To drip or not to drip

Beating a nasty weed

Watch all nine of the vegetable videos

Managing nematodes in vegetables

Making a chilli seedbed

Insect nets in seedbeds

Transplanting chillies

Drying and storing chillies

Making chilli powder

Drip irrigation for tomato

Reviving soils with mucuna

Managing soil fertility

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