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Village smart phones February 19th, 2017 by

village smart phones 1One of the most common questions about farmer training videos is how farmers will watch them if they don’t have electricity to run a projector, or own a laptop. As mobile communications improve, however, new ways are emerging that are making it easier for farmers to download, view and share videos.

This week, at a workshop in Tamil Nadu, southern India, my colleague Jeff and I were teaching local partners to validate fact sheets on major crop pests and diseases with farmers. We all learned a lot from farmers who read first drafts, and commented on their content. The fact sheets than served as basis on which partners developed scripts for training videos. Before leaving the village I was again reminded that farmers no longer need expensive hardware (such as a computer or TV and DVD player) to watch videos.

village smart phones 2Technology has evolved swiftly and influenced lives in rural areas in ways that were hard to imagine a decade ago. Over the past decade mobile phone companies in developing countries have been offering financial services that are just beginning to see the light in Western countries.

The boom in mobile phone use has triggered new types of service providers. Teenagers in Nigeria and many other African countries now tap power from solar panels to charge the mobile phones of rural folks coming to the weekly market.

village smart phones 3Last year, Gérard Zoundji (from the University of Abomey-Calavi) sent me photographs of a farmer in southern Benin who had watched farmer training videos about vegetables on his mobile phone. Someone had bought a DVD at the local agro-input shop and converted the videos from the DVD into 3gp format to watch on his mobile. Farmers are now able to watch videos even without DVD players.

village smart phones 4This week in India I saw farmers go one step further, and download videos. Kannappan, one of the trainees from the local NGO MSSRF, was chatting with some of the village farmers when one of them, Ramesh Permal, mentioned he was rearing fish in a pond. ICT-savvy Kannappan took out his mobile phone, connected to the Access Agriculture website, and searched among all Tamil videos, and found one on raising fingerlings. It took him less than 3 minutes to download the video to his mobile. Mr. Permal and another farmer then took out their smart phones, and swiftly connected to Kannappan’s mobile . The video file was nearly 50 Mb, but they transferred it to their mobile in just over 10 seconds using the SHAREit app. For ease of downloading to mobile phones when there is not a very good internet connection, Access Agriculture has also made all videos in its library available in 3gp format, which is about half the size.

After having said goodbye to the farmers, one of them saw the Access Agriculture website address (www.accessagriculture.org) on the back of my t-shirt and asked if he could take a photograph of it (with his phone). He would use the address to download more quality training videos in his own language.

Farmers may not have computers, but they are starting to get smart phones. Some smallholders rely on extensionists to get electronic information, but others are starting to use their phones to access information on their own, directly from the internet.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (Farmer Science Centre) for helping to organise the workshop and field visits.

Related blog stories:

More than a mobile

Cell phones for smallholders

Village movies in Malawi

Watching videos without smartphones

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Friends you can trust December 11th, 2016 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Smallholder farmers get most of their new ideas from other farmers, that is, from friends, neighbors and relatives. The farmers’ friends usually live nearby. But other than convenience, the friends are valued because they are trusted. What works for my friends might work for me.

We saw a new twist on this a couple of months ago in Malawi when Ronald Kondwani Udedi and I were interviewing farmers who had watched learning videos distributed by DJs: young entrepreneurs who sell entertainment videos.

silaji-fanuelMost of the videos had been made elsewhere (not in Malawi). The videos, on rice, striga (the parasitic weed), and chilli had then been narrated in some of the local languages (Chichewa, Senna and Yao). When we spoke with smallholders in Malawi, they often called the farmers in the videos their “friends”, as we heard from Fadwick Matolo, in Ulolo village, near Phalombe. See blog here. The videos themselves do not say that the farmers are “friends,” and the Malawian farmers had received the videos cold—so to speak—with no extensionist to suggest that the folks on the screen were “friends.” The Malawian farmers themselves had decided (each one independently of other farmers) that the people on the screen were their friends. At first I found this puzzling.

dave-video-showFor example, Hope Mazungwi, in Stolo Village, near Mulanje, took the videos to a “video show” (like a village cinema) where the owner let him play some of the videos. Hope recalls “We saw that our friends are doing amazing things. The rice has big eyes.” Hope’s friends, in this case, were farmers that he had never met, in faraway Mali.

Esme Stena, near Chombe, watched the videos at a friend’s house and later told us “Our friends in the video, they keep rice seed in a clay pot. Does that mean that we should also keep our rice seed in a clay pot?” In this case, Esme’s “friends” were women farmers in Bangladesh.

I had earlier noticed that farmers in Uganda referred to the smallholders on the screen as “our brothers and sisters.”

The farmer learning videos are filmed with farmers in various countries, but are made to be shown all over the world. After all, tropical smallholders are already watching entertainment movies from foreign countries; they can just as easily watch learning videos from elsewhere. These learning videos are well-made, capturing the viewers’ attention with music, engaging interviews, beautiful photography, and relevant topics. The videos feature relaxed farmers, speaking from the heart about practical ideas that really work. They are honest farmers, who are not acting, and they gain the trust of the audience. With trust comes friendship.

Further viewing

You can listen to another Malawian farmer, Mr. Mpinda, tell how he adopted a new crop, after learning about it from his “friends” on the chilli videos here.

You can watch all of the farmer learning videos, in many languages at www.accessagriculture.org.

Further reading

For some of the earlier blog stories on DJs in Malawi: A hot plan, Beating a nasty weed, A new crop for Mr Mpinda and Village movies in Malawi.

You can read “Malawi DJs distribute videos to farmers,” here.

And “The mud on their legs,” about farmers’ reaction to learning videos in Uganda, here.

AMIGOS CONFIABLES

11 de diciembre del 2016, por Jeff Bentley

Los campesinos sacan la mayoría de sus nuevas ideas de otros agricultores, o sea, de sus amigos, vecinos y parientes. Los amigos de los agricultores normalmente viven cerca. Pero más allá de la cercanía, los amigos son apreciados por la confianza. Lo que funciona para mis amigos podría funcionar para mí.

Vimos otra faceta de esto hace un par de meses en Malawi cuando Ronald Kondwani Udedi y yo nos entrevistábamos con agricultores que habían visto los videos didácticos distribuidos por los DJs: jóvenes empresarios que venden películas en video.

silaji-fanuelLa mayoría de los videos habían sido hechos en otro lado (no en Malawi). Los videos, sobre el arroz, la striga (la maleza parasítica), y el chile habían sido narrados en algunos de los idiomas locales (Chichewa, Senna y Yao). Cuando hablamos con los campesinos en Malawi, a menudo decían que los agricultores en los videos eran sus “amigos”, como escuchamos de Fadwick Matolo, en la aldea de Ulolo, cerca de Phalombe. Vea el blog aquí. Los mismos videos no dicen que los agricultores son “amigos,” y los campesinos de Malawi recibieron los videos sin facilitación, sin extensionistas o alguien que sugiriera que las personas en la pantalla eran “amigos.” Eran los agricultores en Malawi quienes habían decidido (cada uno independientemente de los otros campesinos) que las mujeres y hombres en la pantalla eran sus amigos. Al principio me pareció extraño.

dave-video-showPor ejemplo, Hope Mazungwi, en la aldea de Stolo, cerca de Mulanje, llevó los videos a un “video show” (como un cine rural) donde el dueño le permitió mostrar algunos de los videos. Hope se acuerda que “Vimos que nuestros amigos hacen cosas increíbles. Su arroz tiene granos grandes.” Los amigos de Hope, en este caso, eran agricultores que él ni conocía, en el lejano Malí.

Esme Stena, cerca de Chombe, vio los videos en la casa de una vecina, y luego nos contó “Nuestras amigas en el video guardan su semilla de arroz en una olla de barro. ¿Eso significa que nosotras también deberíamos guardar nuestra semilla de arroz en una olla de barro?” En este caso, las “amigas” de Esme eran campesinas en Bangladesh.

Antes, me llamó la atención que los agricultores en Uganda llamaban a los campesinos en la pantalla “nuestros hermanos y hermanas.”

Los videos didácticos para campesinos se filman con agricultores en varios países, pero se los hacen para mostrar en todo el mundo. La verdad, los campesinos en los trópicos ya ven películas de otros países; bien pueden ver videos educativos de otros lugares. Estos videos educativos están bien hechos; capturan la atención del público con música, entrevistas reales, linda fotografía y temas relevantes. Los videos muestran agricultores relajados, hablando sinceramente sobre ideas prácticas que les han funcionado. Son agricultores reales, no actores y ganan la confianza del público. Con la confianza viene la amistad.

Para ver más

Usted puede a otro agricultor en Malawi, el Sr. Mpinda, quien nos cuenta cómo adoptó un nuevo cultivo, después de escucharlo de sus “amigos” en los videos sobre el chile aquí.

Se puede ver todos los videos agrícolas didácticos, en muchos idiomas en www.accessagriculture.org.

Para leer más

Para algunos de nuestros previos blogs sobre los DJs en: A hot plan, Beating a nasty weed, A new crop for Mr Mpinda y Village movies in Malawi.

Se puede leer “Malawi DJs distribute videos to farmers,” aquí.

Y “The mud on their legs,” sobre la reacción de los agricultores a los videos didácticos en Uganda, aquí.

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A common light December 4th, 2016 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

palm-with-lightsSocial media can be used to help manage a natural resource, as we saw recently in Bolivia. Every year, in Cochabamba, the municipal government puts up Christmas decorations, including strings of lights wrapped around trees. But no one bothers to take the lights down. A few still flicker from time to time, almost a year after being hammered onto the tree. The iron in the nails is toxic for the trees, and the nail holes are wounds that allow disease to enter. The workers climbing up and down the trees also damage some of them.

Cochabamba has a group opposed to cutting trees (No a la Tala de Árboles en Cochabamba). The group plants trees, holds meetings and raises public awareness through information. Members of the group began to notice these trash ornaments, and they knew that the wires and nails were bad for tree health. The city had already lost too many trees to construction, drought and disease (especially a phytoplasma on the China berry tree—Melia azedarach). Some members of “No a la Tala” posted photos of the dangling lights and brief notes on the group’s Facebook page.

tree-memeLocal groups can be quite large. This one has 13,025 “friends”, and they responded immediately. They coined a slogan, “put more lights in your brains, and fewer in our trees.” The newspaper and local bloggers began to run stories suggesting that old ornaments be cleaned up, and that new ones be more carefully done, and not placed in living trees. The city is slowly beginning to take action, removing some of the old strings of lights, and there is growing public concern that the ornaments can harm trees.
City trees are shared by many people, like any common property resource, such as the sea, or irrigation water, or grazing land. As the ecologist Garret Hardin noticed years ago in his paper “The Tragedy of the Commons,” (1968) a common resource is hard to manage when so many people use it. However, today social media can help communities to notice problems, and to organize themselves to create solutions.

Luces comunes

4 de diciembre del 2016, por Jeff Bentley

estrellas-en-palmeraLos medios sociales se pueden usar para ayudar a manejar un recurso natural, como vimos recientemente en Bolivia. Cada año, en Cochabamba, el gobierno municipal instala adornos navideños, incluso cables de lucecitas amarrados a los árboles. Pero nadie toma la molestia de bajar las luces. Algunas todavía chispean de vez en cuando, casi un año después de haber sido clavados al árbol. El hierro en los clavos es tóxico para los árboles, y los agujeros son heridas que dejan entrar enfermedades. Los trabajadores también hacen daño a medida que trepan y se bajan de los árboles.

La ciudad tiene un grupo, No a la Tala de Árboles en Cochabamba, que planta árboles, tiene reuniones y concientiza al público a través de la información. Miembros del grupo empezaron a fijarse en los adornos basurales, y sabían que los alambres y clavos dañaban la salud de los árboles. La ciudad ya ha perdido demasiados árboles a la construcción, la sequía y las enfermedades (sobre todo un fitoplasma en el paraíso—Melia azedarach). Algunos miembros de “No a la Tala” subieron fotos de la chatarra aérea y breves notas en la página Facebook del grupo.

luces-en-cerebroLos grupos locales pueden ser grandes. Este tiene 13,025 miembros y respondieron de inmediato. Crearon un lema, “pongan más luces en sus cerebros, y menos en nuestros árboles.” El periódico y bloguistas locales empezaron a publicar, sugiriendo que los adornos viejos tenían que ser limpiados, y que los nuevos tenían que colocarse con más cuidado, y no puestos en los árboles vivos. La ciudad lentamente empieza a tomar acción, bajando algunos de los viejos cables de luces, y hay cada vez más conciencia que los adornos hacen daño a los árboles.

Los árboles de la ciudad se comparten entre mucha gente, como cualquier recurso común, como el mar, el agua de riego o el terreno de pastoreo. Como el ecólogo Garret Hardin observó hace años en su artículo “La Tragedia de los Bienes Comunes,” (1968) un recurso común es difícil de manejar cuando tanta gente lo usa. Sin embargo, hoy en día los medios sociales pueden ayudar a la gente a fijarse en problemas, y organizarse para crear soluciones.

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Turning dumb phones into good teachers October 30th, 2016 by

We have run several stories about how farmers learn a lot by watching well-made videos. But we have wondered if the farmers learn much by watching such videos on small screens of ordinary, not-smart phones.

ronald-and-peter-bwanariPeter Bwanari is a Malawian DJ (as they are called) who copies videos for people, for a small fee, in the village of Naminjuwa. He knows everyone in the surrounding villages, having lived here all his life. He is a rice farmer, as are his sisters and his friends. Recently he’s started to deliver farming training videos.

After watching a series of rice videos, Peter adopted some of the practices, especially making a nursery and planting in lines. He improved his harvest by four extra bags of rice. He sold three and was able to buy a used laptop for his business.

In the nearby village of Ulolu, we meet one of Peter’s customers, Mr. Matola.

“Last year when I watched the video I noticed that our friends (the people in the video) were applying fertilizer, which was new to me. I did it and the results were amazing. I harvested nine bags. Before, it had been three or two. I applied 25 kg of urea… I also applied fertilizer in the nursery and transplanted in a row, like I saw in the video.” That is a lot of innovation to adopt after watching videos on a phone: urea, nursery, and row planting.

matolas-watch-video-on-phone-2Before deciding to adopt these new practices, Mr. Matola watched the videos five times on the phone, with about seven people, including men, women and children. Farmers learn more when they have their own copy of the videos, to watch several times, studying the content and discussing with others.

As we talk, some of Mr. Matola’s neighbors see us and stop to listen at a respectful distance, until we have eight or 10 men and women listening to this engaging story of innovation. Mr. Matola has a sense of humor, and a way with words. When we ask him if the videos’ sound and picture quality was good enough on the cell phones he snaps back: “Do you think I would be here telling you all these things I have learned and done if I had not been able to see and hear the video.” The onlookers burst into laughter, and so do we.

Then Mr. Matola shows that he has been thinking about the videos a lot, by asking a serious question. “Can you plant in lines without making a rice nursery?”

You certainly can. It is called direct seeding. We briefly explain it and Mr. Matola listens carefully. The video showed both practices used together, making a seedbed and planting in lines. His question about planting in lines without first making a seedbed shows that he is thinking creatively, and logically, about what he learned in the videos.

katherine-and-tamara-lihomaPeter is kind enough to take us home to meet his wife and two of his three sisters. His sister, Katherine Lihoma, explains that she watched the rice videos in January 2016, four times on the phone with her sister Tamara. The sisters said that the audio was good and the picture was clear. They learned how to plant in lines and made a nursery for the first time.

The sisters say that they harvested a lot more rice than in the past.

They thought that the videos were easy to understand. They just had to follow the sequence of straightforward steps.

Katherine says: “Only one farmer came to see the videos on my phone, but a lot of farmers who came to see my garden say that they are going to plant in the same way.” She used to get ten bags of rice, but this year she harvested 15. Dense trees are often difficult to see through, but the rice field is a visible landscape, as Van Mele (2000) observed of farms in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. It is easier for rice farmers than for orchard growers to see what innovations their neighbors are trying.

We know that farmers learn directly from videos, but we have always thought that it was helpful that the audience could see the videos on a TV set or a larger screen, where the sound and picture were loud and clear. However, watching videos on little cell phones has certain advantages. People can watch the videos even if they have no electricity. They can also watch the videos several times, studying them and mastering the content.

Further viewing

You can watch a video featuring the Matola family here.

You can watch the rice videos in English here. They are also available in Chichewa and many other languages at www.accessagriculture.com.

Further reading

Van Mele, Paul 2000 Evaluating Farmers’ Knowledge, Perceptions and Practices: A Case Study of Pest Management by Fruit Farmers in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Doctoral thesis: Wageningen University, the Netherlands. 225 pp.

Earlier blogs on DJs and videos in Malawi

Village movies in Malawi

Watching videos without smartphones

Beating a nasty weed

New crops for Mr. Mpinda

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A hot plan October 2nd, 2016 by

In his 2006 book, The White Man’s Burden, William Easterly contrasts “planning” (which fails) and “searching” (which succeeds). He leads his readers to believe that development projects fail because they are planned.  But that is like saying that the cooks spoil the soup because they light the stove. Trial and error are certainly part of agricultural change, but planning is so important that even the smallest projects start with a plan, as Ronald Udedi and I learned last week when we visited Thako Chiduli, who teaches at St. Michael’s primary school in Mpyupyu, southern Malawi. Mr. Chiduli is also a smallholder farmer.

In a previous blog I told how another Malawian farmer, Mr. Mpinda, started growing chilli after he watched videos on this spicy fruit.

Like Mr. Mpinda, Mr. Chiduli also watched the chilli videos, several times. When I asked Mr. Chiduli what he had learned from the videos, he spoke easily for several minutes, describing the chilli videos in detail. For example, he had learned that seedbeds should only be one meter wide, so one would not step on them while working. He remembered that farmers can burn dry vegetation to control nematodes, the microscopic worms.

So when I asked Mr. Chiduli what new practices he had used in his chilli, I was a bit surprised when he said: “I don’t grow chilli.”

“Then why have you made such a study of the chilli videos?” I asked

“Because I am planning on growing it.”

When somebody tells me about a plan for the future, I am always slightly skeptical, so I like to ask a few specific questions, to see if the plan is well-thought out or not. So I asked Mr. Chiduli how much chilli he was going to plant.

“A hectare,” he said.

“A hectare?” I repeated in disbelief. A hectare is 10,000 square meters, or 2.5 acres. It is not impossible to farm that much chilli by hand, but it would be a challenge, and too much for a first timer.

I asked if we could visit his farm.

thoko-chidulis-houseWe were soon strolling through a typical Malawian village and into a small compound, where we met Mr. Chiduli’s uncle and his widowed mother, who was grinding meal with a mortar and pestle, to cook lunch on an open fire.

Below the home, Mr. Chiduli showed us a dry stream, which would be full of water when the rains came. He explained how he would plant his chilli just above the stream, so he could water his garden.

thoko-chiduli-in-fieldThe chilli would be planted on a small wedge of land between a path and a banana patch. I paced it off and made a quick calculation. The land was about 800 square meters, a good size for a chilli garden, but much less than a hectare. I’ve seen other people in Malawi make similar mistakes; estimating field sizes is a specific skill. After Mr. Chiduli and I resolved this simple error we agreed that his chilli plan was realistic.

Mr. Chiduli went on describing his plans in detail, how he would plant the variety “Dorado” and make a seedbed at the bottom of the garden, near the water, and carefully mix the soil with manure to enrich it. A month later he will transplant the chilli into rows, in the garden. It was a believable plan.

I have observed before that many farmer experiments are unplanned, such as fertilizing half of the field and then running out of manure, creating a spontaneous split plot trial. But farmer learning videos can also inspire rural people to dream of improving their incomes, and planning a complex innovation, such as starting a new crop

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