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Videos for added inspiration May 27th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Juan Almanza is an agronomist who works with seventy mothers, some single and some married, in three rural communities around Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan teaches them new ways to grow nutritious food, especially two legume crops: broad beans (introduced from Europe centuries ago) and the native lupin. The program is in its third year.

Last year Juan helped each of the three groups of women to plant a demonstration or learning plot. Juan had two new ideas to showcase: two new varieties of sweet lupins that did not have to be soaked and washed to leach out their toxins, and second, planting the whole plot (a small field) with lupins. Previously farmers planted them in a single row along the borders around a potato field.

The learning plot is an idea that Juan adopted from his earlier work with farmer field schools. The women have enjoyed the meetings and appreciated that the sweet lupins can be used in recipes that would be impossible with bitter varieties. The women have made hamburgers, soups and have boiled the lupine beans fresh, to eat like peas. The women have collected 18 recipes which Juan has written up.

Some husbands have resented the time that the women spend at the meetings, because it distracts them from farm work. Some wives quit attending. Juan realized that to keep the women in the group it was important that they receive tangible benefits which they could show to the rest of the family. So this past planting season Juan gave each woman an arroba and a half (about 18 kilos) of broad bean seed, of a new variety from La Paz, and two or three kilos of lupin seed.

Juan showed each group a video on lupins, filmed partly in Colomi, but mostly in Anzaldo, in another province of Cochabamba, where farmers already grow lupins in small fields, not just around the edge. Juan is a skilled agronomist and perfectly capable of teaching about lupins, but trying new varieties and planting them in a new way requires some extra inspiration. Seeing real farmers on the video, successfully growing lupins, gave the women the encouragement they needed. They all planted the lupins Juan gave them.

Juan and I caught up with some of the lupin farmers at the fair, held twice a week in Colomi, where farmers come to sell their produce and to buy food and clothes. Many of the busy mothers from Juan’s groups are retailers two days a week, and farmers on the other days.

As she tends a stall of grains and other dried foods, Marina explains that before they met Juan, some farmers did grow the lupins in whole fields, but they would plant them in furrows a meter apart. The new varieties are much shorter and have to be planted closer together. The video showed how to do this.

Reina Merino was unpacking her bundles of clothing in her small shop. She said that now the women plant lupins “like potatoes,” that is, in furrows, close together, and the farmers now take the trouble to weed the crop. Weeding was also an innovation. Previously lupins would just be planted and left alone until harvest time.

Unfortunately, the women’s hard work did not pay off. This past year the rains were delayed, and then it rained far too much. Some people harvested half of the lupins they were expecting; others reaped almost nothing. Given the disappointing results, I asked Reina if she would plant lupins again. “Of course we will!!” she said.

Juan is convinced that the videos were important.  He says “The best way to see a new thing is with a video. It opens the heart of the rural researcher.”

He plans to show the lupin video again to all of his groups. Juan Almanza is a dedicated, respected extension agent who uses video as one of several tools, along with talks, experimental plots and visits to farmers’ fields. He realizes that showing the video a second time will reinforce what these farmers have already learned. Hopefully the weather this year will repay their efforts.

Related blog stories

Innovating in the homeland of lupins

United women of Morochata

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Juan Almanza works for the Proinpa Foundation.

VIDEOS PARA UN POCO MÁS DE INSPIRACIÓN

Por Jeff Bentley, 27 de mayo del 2018

Juan Almanza es un agrónomo que trabaja con setenta madres, algunas solteras y otras casadas, en tres comunidades rurales alrededor de Colomi, Cochabamba. El Ing. Juan les enseña nuevas formas de cultivar alimentos nutritivos, especialmente dos leguminosas: habas (introducidas desde Europa hace siglos) y el tarwi (lupino, chocho o altramuz) nativo. El programa está en su tercer año.

El año pasado, el Ing. Juan ayudó a cada uno de los tres grupos de mujeres a sembrar una parcela de aprendizaje. Juan tenía dos nuevas ideas para mostrar: dos nuevas variedades de tarwi dulces que no tenían que ser remojados y lavados para quitar sus toxinas, y segundo, sembrar toda la parcela con tarwi. Anteriormente, las agricultores los sembraban en una sola fila alrededor del borde de la parcela de papas.

La parcela de aprendizaje es una idea que el ingeniero adoptó de su trabajo anterior con las escuelas de campo para agricultores. Las mujeres han disfrutado de las reuniones y han apreciado que el tarwi dulce se puede usar en recetas que serían imposibles con las variedades amargas. Las mujeres han hecho hamburguesas, sopas y han hervido los tarwis frescos para comer como arvejas. Las mujeres han recogido 18 recetas que Juan ha redactado.

Algunos maridos no están de acuerdo con el tiempo que las mujeres pasan en las reuniones, porque les distrae del trabajo agrícola. Algunas esposas han dejado de asistir. El Ing. Juan se dio cuenta de que para mantener a las mujeres en el grupo era importante que recibieran beneficios tangibles que pudieran mostrar al resto de la familia. Así que en esta última campaña, Juan les dio a cada mujer una arroba y media (unos 18 kilos) de semilla de haba, una nueva variedad de La Paz y dos o tres kilos de semilla de tarwi.

Juan mostró a cada grupo un video sobre altramuces, filmado en parte en Colomi, pero principalmente en Anzaldo, en otra provincia de Cochabamba, donde los agricultores ya cultivan tarwi en pequeñas parcelas, no solo alrededor del borde. Juan es un agrónomo hábil y perfectamente capaz de enseñar sobre el tarwi, pero probar nuevas variedades y plantarlas de una nueva manera requiere algo de inspiración adicional. Ver a agricultores reales en el video, cultivando tarwi exitosamente, les dio a las mujeres el aliento que necesitaban. Todas sembraron el tarwi que Juan les dio.

El Ing. Juan y yo conversamos con algunos de los productores de tarwi en la feria, que se realiza dos veces a la semana en Colomi, donde los agricultores vienen a vender sus productos y comprar comida y ropa. Muchas de las madres de los grupos son minoristas dos días a la semana, y agricultoras en los otros días.

Mientras ella cuida un puesto de granos y otras comidas secas, Marina explica que antes de conocer a Juan, algunos agricultores cultivaban el tarwi en parcelas enteras, pero lo sembraban en surcos a un metro de distancia. Las nuevas variedades son mucho más cortas y deben plantarse más cerca. El video mostró cómo hacer esto.

Reina Merino estaba desempacando sus paquetes de ropa en su pequeña tienda. Ella dijo que ahora las mujeres plantan tarwi “como papas”, es decir, en surcos, más cerca, y que ahora se toman la molestia de carpir (desmalezar) la cosecha. La carpida también fue una innovación. Previamente, el tarwi se sembraba y se dejaba hasta el momento de la cosecha.

Infelizmente, el trabajo duro de las mujeres no dio resultado. El año pasado, las lluvias se retrasaron y luego llovió demasiado. Algunas personas cosecharon la mitad del tarwi que estaban esperando; otras no cosechaban casi nada. Dado los decepcionantes resultados, le pregunté a Reina si plantaría tarwi de nuevo. “¡ Obvio que este año lo vamos a hacer otra vez!” dijo.

El Ing. Juan está convencido de que los videos fueron importantes. Él dice: “La mejor manera de ver una cosa nueva es el video. Abre el corazón del investigador rural.”

Él planifica mostrar el video del lupino nuevamente a todos sus grupos. Juan Almanza es un extensionista dedicado y respetado que usa el video como una de varias herramientas, junto con charlas, parcelas de aprendizaje y visitas a campos de agricultores. Se da cuenta de que mostrar el video por segunda vez reforzará lo que estas agricultoras ya han aprendido. Esperemos que el clima de este año acompañe sus esfuerzos.

Historias previas

Innovando en la cuna del tarwi

Mujeres unidas de Morochata

Agradecimiento

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Juan Almanza trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa.

United women of Morochata May 6th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The success of a woman’s group depends in large part on the quality of leadership, as I saw this last week in Morochata, a highland municipality in the Bolivian Andes. My agronomist friend Rhimer Gonzales had organized women’s groups in two neighboring villages. One group was largely inactive, while the one in the village of Piusilla was going strong.

Rhimer phoned Juliana García, the president of the women’s group of Piusilla, to arrange a meeting. Rhimer had some group business to discuss, and he was going to help me ask some follow up questions about videos. The previous year, the women had received DVDs with seven videos on soil conservation and I wanted to learn what the women had done with the information. Doña Juliana was not at home, and the women in her group were busy, but she said that if we came back at 8:30 that evening she would have at least some of the women at her house.

By 8 o’clock in the evening it was dark and raining hard. At 3350 meters above sea level it gets cold when it rains, and it’s miserable to get wet. Rhimer and I were sure that no one would come to the meeting, but still we wanted to try.

We were surprised when we got to doña Juliana’s house to see about half of the women’s group there. Doña Juliana had taken the time (and spent money) to ring the women up, and had then built a warm fire to welcome them. They soon invited me to ask my questions. The videos included one that Agro-Insight made last year on lupins, edible Andean legumes that improve the soil.

The women said that they had seen two videos with Rhimer at one of their meetings. Afterwards, the women arranged to watch the videos again, by themselves, because they are looking for ways to improve their income, for example by growing lupins and broad beans. They also want to consolidate their position as a women’s group within the sindicato, the local organization that represents and leads the community, but which is made up mainly of men.

Besides the lupin video, they had watched one from Vietnam about making live barriers on steep hillsides to conserve the soil. They recalled, accurately, that the video showed how to measure rows to plant the grass, which had to be transplanted in small clumps or cuttings.

When we asked if they had tried any of the ideas from the video, doña Juliana said that she had learned how to select her seed. One of the key ideas from the lupin video is to remove the small and unhealthy grains, and only plant the best ones for a better harvest. Doña Juliana was impressed by the little hand screen she had seen in the video, to sort the grains by size, but she didn’t have a screen. Instead, she just sorted the seed by hand, a practice which is also shown in the video. It is important to give people different options.

She has planted the seed and now the crop is flowering. Doña Juliana is impressed that by selecting her lupin seed, the plants are bigger and healthier than in previous years.

Rhimer and I asked how many of the other women in the group had selected seed too. One of them decided it was time for some comic relief. She said “My husband just grabbed some of the lupine grains in the bag and scattered them, and they are doing just fine.”

All of the women laughed, including doña Juliana, but then she reminded them: “You have all seen how to select seed and you know how to do it. So you should all try it.”

Leadership matters. In time, these women will notice the difference in yield between selected and unselected seed. It usually takes a while for a whole community to adopt an innovation. A useful step is to have one of the leaders adopt and share her experience.

Many of the women are shy, but not doña Juliana. As we are leaving she gave me a firm handshake and said: “Next time come in the daytime, and we’ll all have boiled potatoes!” I have little doubt that when doña Juliana harvests her lupins she will share her experience with the group. Triggering innovation is like growing a crop: it requires someone to plant the seed. The videos do exactly that: give farmers ideas to try out new things. And by leaving DVDs in communities you give people the chance to learn at their convenience.

Watch videos

Growing lupin without disease is available in English, French, Spanish, Ayamara and Quechua.

Grass strips against soil erosion is available in 10 languages, including Spanish, Ayamara and Quechua

More training videos can be viewed and downloaded from www.accessagriculture.org

Related blog story

Crop with an attitude

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Rhimer Gonzales works for the Proinpa Foundation, where he helps to implement the Biocultura Project, which is funded by SDC (Swiss Cooperation).

LAS MUJERES UNIDAS DE MOROCHATA

Por Jeff Bentley, 6 de mayo del 2018

El éxito de un grupo de mujeres depende en gran medida de la calidad del liderazgo, como lo vi la semana pasada en Morochata, un municipio en los altos Andes bolivianos. Mi amigo, el ingeniero agrónomo Rhimer Gonzales, había organizado grupos de mujeres en dos comunidades vecinos. Un grupo estaba en gran parte inactivo, mientras que el de la comunidad de Piusilla estaba fuerte.

Rhimer llamó a Juliana García, la presidenta del grupo de mujeres de Piusilla, para concertar una reunión. Rhimer tenía algunos asuntos del grupo para discutir, y me iba a ayudar a hacer algunas preguntas de seguimiento sobre los videos. El año anterior, las mujeres habían recibido DVDs con siete videos sobre la conservación del suelo y yo quería saber cómo habían respondido ellas a la información. Doña Juliana no estaba en casa, y las mujeres de su grupo estaban ocupadas, pero dijo que si volvíamos a las 8:30 esa noche ella tendría al menos algunas de las mujeres en su casa.

A las 8 de la noche estaba oscuro y llovía fuerte. A los 3350 metros sobre el nivel del mar hace frío cuando llueve, y es miserable mojarse. Rhimer y yo estábamos seguros de que nadie vendría a la reunión, pero aun así queríamos intentarlo.

Nos sorprendimos cuando llegamos a la casa de doña Juliana para ver reunido la mitad del grupo de mujeres. Doña Juliana se había tomado el tiempo (y gastado dinero) para llamar a las mujeres, y luego había encendido un fuego caliente para darles la bienvenida. Pronto me invitaron a hacer mis preguntas. Los videos incluyen uno que Agro-Insight hizo el año pasado sobre el tarwi (lupino, chocho, o altramuz), una leguminosa andina comestible que mejora el suelo.

Las mujeres contaron que habían visto dos videos con Rhimer en una de sus reuniones. Luego, las mujeres se organizaron para ver los videos de nuevo, por su cuenta, porque ellas buscan opciones para mejorar sus ingresos, por ejemplo produciendo tarwi y habas. Además quieren consolidar su posición como grupo de mujeres dentro del sindicato, la organización popular que representa y lidera a la comunidad, que es conformado principalmente por hombres.

Además del video de lupinos, habían visto uno de Vietnam sobre el hacer barreras vivas en laderas para conservar el suelo. Recordaron, con precisión, que el video mostraba cómo medir las filas para plantar el pasto, que se tenía que trasplantar en matoncitos.

Cuando les preguntamos si habían probado algunas de las ideas del video, doña Juliana dijo que había aprendido a seleccionar su semilla. Una de las ideas clave del video de lupinos es eliminar los granos pequeños y enfermos, y solo sembrar los mejores para una mejor cosecha. Doña Juliana quedó impresionada por la pequeña zaranda de mano que había visto en el video, para separar los granos por tamaño, pero ella no tenía zaranda. En cambio, ella simplemente seleccionó la semilla a mano, una práctica que también se muestra en el video. Es importante dar varias opciones a la gente.

Ella ha plantado la semilla y ahora la cosecha está floreciendo. Doña Juliana está impresionada de que al seleccionar su semilla de lupino, las plantas son más grandes y más saludables que en años anteriores.

Rhimer y yo preguntamos cuántas de las otras mujeres en el grupo también habían seleccionado semillas. Una de ellas decidió que era hora para un poco de alivio cómico. Ella dijo: “Mi marido solamente agarró algunos granos de lupino del bulto y los lanzó, y están creciendo bien.”

Todas las mujeres se rieron, incluida doña Juliana, pero luego les recordó: “Todas han visto cómo seleccionar semillas y saben cómo hacerlo”. Entonces todos deberían intentarlo.”

El liderazgo sí importa. Con el tiempo, estas mujeres se fijarán en la diferencia en el rendimiento entre las semillas seleccionadas y las otras. Por lo general, toma tiempo para que toda una comunidad adopte una innovación. Un paso útil es lograr que una de las líderes adopte y comparta su experiencia.

Muchas de las mujeres son tímidas, pero no doña Juliana. Cuando partimos, me dio un firme apretón de manos y dijo: “¡La próxima vez venga de día, y todos comeremos papas cocidas!” me queda poca duda de que cuando doña Juliana coseche sus lupinos, compartirá su experiencia con el grupo. Desencadenar la innovación es como cultivar un cultivo: requiere que alguien siembre la semilla. Los videos hacen exactamente eso: dan ideas a las agricultoras para que pruben cosas nuevas. Y al dejar los DVD en las comunidades, la gente tiene la oportunidad de aprender a su conveniencia.

Ver los videos

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad está disponible en español, inglés, francés, ayamara y quechua.

Barreras vivas contra la erosión del suelo está disponible en 10 idiomas, incluso español, ayamara y quechua.

Se puede ver y bajar más videos informativos de www.accessagriculture.org

Una historia previa

Cultivo con carácter fuerte

Agradecimientos

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Rhimer Gonzales trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa, donde él ayuda a implementar el Proyecto Biocultura, el cual es financiado por COSUDE (Cooperación Suiza).

Nourishing a fertile imagination March 5th, 2017 by

New ideas spark the imagination of smallholders, whether they have experience with the topic or not. We saw this last week in Nanegaon, a village just outside of the booming city of Pune, India, where farmers reviewed four fact sheets written by our 12 adult students.

Hunamat Pawale reads fact sheetA fact sheet is only one page, so it has to narrow in on a specific topic. The first fact sheet suggested cleaning maggots from wounds on cattle with turpentine, a common disinfectant distilled from pine resin. One man, Hanumant Pawale, read the fact sheet quickly, pronouncing the text clearly in a booming voice. When he finished, several farmers began to speak, adding ideas they wanted to include in the fact sheet. The first woman said that here they treat the cows’ wounds with kerosene, which is cheaper than turpentine, and is available at shops in the village. Her neighbors mentioned other products to treat cattle.

tweezersWe had wondered how farmers removed maggots. One of the farmers went to get a pair of tweezers to show us the tool that he used for plucking maggots from a wounded cow. Tweezers may be too sharp for such a delicate operation, but every household has a pair of tweezers, and they work if you are careful not to poke the cow’s flesh.

The farmers shared another important insight with us: it is best to avoid letting maggots grow in wounds in the first place. The villagers keep their cattle healthy by looking for wounds. Cows lick their wounds, the villagers explain, and if people see a cow licking her wound, they know that she needs some care.

The authors of the fact sheets got excited about improving their fact sheet by taking the farmers’ ideas on board.

It was a great meeting, but there was one little problem. After the first woman spoke, only men took the floor. Later I mentioned this to Pooja, one of our participants.

“The women won’t speak if the men are there,” she says matter-of-factly.

After meeting with the dairy farmers I went with two young men, Ajinkya and Pradeepta, who were writing a fact sheet on mulch: a simple layer of straw or leaves put on the soil surface to keep in moisture. We met a farmer, Mukta Naranyan Sathe, who was just setting down a pile of small, delicate legumes onto a tarp, for threshing.

Mukta Narayan Sathe reads fact sheetMukta-ji had never heard of mulch, but she was interested. After reading the fact sheet, she understood that mulch helps to conserve water. But, she told us that she did not really need to conserve water, because Nanegaon has abundant irrigation, provided by seven or eight bore-hole wells.

Even so, the fact sheet still inspired her to think creatively. She imagined that a large plant could be mulched with whole straw, but for a fragile herb, like fenugreek, the straw would have to be cut into small pieces.

We were soon joined by Mukta’s great nephew, Ganesh Dhide and a friend, Shubhan Pawale. They read the fact sheet and then all of them began to imagine ways of making mulch. They said that instead of burning the leaves off of sugarcane (a common practice which makes the cane easier to harvest), they could use them as a mulch.

They added that they now have a clear idea of mulching and that if one person tries it, and it works, the others in the village will surely adopt the new ideas as well.

The villagers could tell us practical ways to cure wounded cows but didn’t know about mulching until the fact sheet caught their imagination. Even so, they thought of two new ways to make mulch not mentioned in the fact sheet: cutting straw for fenugreek, and using sugarcane leaves. Farmers are inherently creative, and relish new ideas. We do not know if the farmers will adopt any of the ideas in the fact sheets, but before trying a technology one must first imagine doing something new. Our readers had already taken that step.

Other blog stories on writing fact sheets

Chemical attitude adjustment

The rules and the players

Learning from students

On the road to yoghurt

A hard write

Guardians of the mango

A spoonful of molasses

Turtle hunters

Acknowledgements

The first photo is by Mohan Dhuldhar. The second one is by Ajinkya Upasani.

Men’s language, women’s language January 8th, 2017 by

In most countries, men and women have different styles of speaking. But is it possible for a community to have two completely different languages, one for men and one for women, not just for one generation, but sustained for a long time?

caribbeanIf such diglossia (a dual language system) is possible, imagine the decisions one would have to make while engaging with such a community. Makers of educational videos might have to make two soundtracks for a single community. An agricultural extensionist would have to choose which language to use for a talk.

caribbean-lesser-antillesAs strange as it may seem, at least one society did come close to having two, gender-based languages, which were spoken over several generations.  In the 17th century, the people of the Caribbean Island of Dominica told a story that they said took place some generations before the coming of the Europeans, when the islands of the Lesser Antilles had been inhabited by people who spoke an Arawak language. Then the islands were attacked by canoe-loads of men who spoke a Carib language. The invaders killed the local men, and then settled down with the women.

The two languages were extremely different, but the children born after the invasion grew up speaking both of them. All children learned the Arawak language of their mothers, but when the boys became teenagers they started spending more time with the men, and began to speak Carib among themselves. The Islanders developed a version of Carib that became a language for men only.

In 1665, Father Raymond Breton, a French missionary, published a two-volume dictionary of the language then spoken on the islands of Dominica and St. Vincent. The dictionary specified whether each word was used by men, or by women.

Various scholars have questioned the historical accuracy of the Carib invasion story. It is possible that the men’s language originated through trade or migration.  We will never know if Carib men of the 13th century once rampaged across the island beaches, murdering Arawak men and capturing women. There is no historical or archaeological evidence for (or against) this story. Yet the linguistic data are well documented. There is no doubt that in the 1650s, over much of the Lesser Antilles, men and women spoke in two remarkably different codes. The two genders used the same sounds, and most of the same grammar, but men’s words were from Carib, and women’s words were from Arawak. (The men could speak the women’s language, and would speak it when socializing with women. The men’s language was only used between men).

If you could time travel to the Island of Dominica in the 17th century, and were able to speak the full range of men’s and women’s languages, a talk with the whole community would sooner or later switch to the women’s language, because it was everyone’s first tongue.

In agricultural extension today, sometimes it helps to create a space where women can easily speak up, so that their concerns can be addressed. It is easy to start to think that men and women are very different, but it is also worth remembering that in some ways we are the same, and that language can unite us.

Further reading

Allaire, Louis 1980 “On the Historicity of Carib Migrations in the Lesser Antilles.” American Antiquity 45(2):238-245.

Boucher, Philip P. 2009 Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492–1763. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Davis, Dave D. and R. Christopher Goodwin 1990 “Island Carib Origins: Evidence and Nonevidence.” American Antiquity 55(1):37-48.

Taylor, Douglas 1954 “Diachronic Note on the Carib Contribution to Island Carib.” International Journal of American Linguistics 20(1):28-33.

Taylor, Douglas R. and Berend J. Hoff 1980 “The Linguistic Repertory of the Island-Carib in the Seventeenth Century: The Men’s Language: A Carib Pidgin?”  International Journal of American Linguistics 46(4):301-312.

Further viewing

Watch a video on women in agricultural extension, here.

Our younger readers December 18th, 2016 by

Some countries with deeply contrasting linguistic histories are now becoming literate in similar ways. In Nepal and Malawi reading is becoming more common, as governments set up more schools and encourage girls and boys to attend.

Unlike most of Africa and Asia, Nepal was never formally colonized. The British were content to recognize the kingdom and install a British ministry in 1840 to advise on key issues, especially foreign policy. And the British accepted Nepali soldiers, the famous Gurkhas, into the Indian army.

Malawi was colonized, but fairly late. The Scottish missionary-explorer, David Livingstone ambled across what is now Malawi in 1861. The first traders, the African Lakes Company, set up shop in 1878, in Blantyre, and military conquest was complete by 1890.

A country’s literary tradition can be old or recent. Nepali has been written from the very start, since the language first evolved from Sanskrit, which itself had a sophisticated writing system by the second millennium BCE. The languages of Malawi (then called “Nyasaland”) were not written until the 1870s when Scottish missionaries devised scripts (“alphabets”) to translate the Bible. By the 1890s children were learning to read and write in mission schools. In Malawi, a literary heritage of thousands of years had been compressed into a single generation.

juno-gaha-reads-mites-pamphletAn old literary tradition is not necessarily a democratic one. In Nepal, as late as 1900, only 5% of the population could read. Government schools gradually improved. By 1951 the literacy rate was 39%, rising to 58% in 1991. Some of this effort was motivated by a policy to promote the Nepali language at the expense of the others spoken in the country, many of which are entirely unrelated to Nepali, linguistically.

In Malawi there were never enough mission schools to meet the demand from parents who wanted their children to study. Government schools expanded, especially after independence in 1963. The languages of Malawi are all Bantu tongues, and are all fairly closely related to one another. People learn to read in their own language (e.g. Tumbuka or Yao), besides Chichewa, which is the de facto national language.

The world literacy rate (the percentage of people over 15-years-old who can read), is 86% (83% for women). Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have some of the lowest literacy rates in the world: 65% for Nepal and almost the same for Malawi at 66%. Fewer women are literate, 55% in Nepal and just slightly more, 59%, in Malawi.
I was in Nepal and Malawi this year, and while the school systems are not over-funded, in both countries I was pleasantly surprised to see people reading, even in the countryside. Even people who didn’t go to school usually have someone in the household who can read a document to them. In Nepal, shops advertise their wares in writing on the storefront, and in Malawi, roadside grain buyers scrawl their maize and bean prices onto signs, to attract farmer-sellers.

buying-maize-and-beans-chichewa-languageIn both countries, when extensionists give farmers a piece of paper, their first reaction is to read it. There is room for improvement, e.g. schools need to be better resourced and more girls and women need to be included, but even in some of the poorest parts of the world many more people can read now than in their parents’ day. This is an opportunity for communicating agriculture. It means that agencies can write fact sheets for farmers, as long as the writers can avoid jargon. While videos are an important way of reaching women, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, even a DVD of farmer learning videos is enhanced with a bit of writing, such as a cover with a title, and a menu so farmers can choose the videos they want to watch.

World literacy rates have improved so fast that it is much more common for young people to read than for elders (Roser and Ortiz-Ospina 2016). Let’s make sure that this generation of literate farmers has something appropriate to read about agricultural technology.

Further reading

McCracken, John 2012 A History of Malawi: 1859-1966. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: James Currey. 485 pp.

Roser, Max and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina 2016 “Literacy”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/literacy/

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