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Deeper nitrogen, more rice, a cooler planet December 25th, 2016 by

About 10% of greenhouse emissions are from agriculture, especially from wet rice cultivation. Rice plants need a lot of nitrogen which is often provided as urea, a chemical fertilizer which is usually broadcast by hand into the irrigation water: this is easy, but wasteful. Some 60% of the nitrogen fertilizer is lost as it is transformed into gases and enters the atmosphere. Some nitrogen is washed away by irrigation water. A practical alternative known as “urea deep placement” makes much better use of nitrogen.

usgUrea usually comes in round grains, the size of fine gravel. For deep placement, the small grains are pressed into larger, oval pellets, about the size of your thumbnail. The farmer pushes these “super granules” of urea into the soft soil, between four rice plants. This deep placement puts the urea underground, near the plants’ roots, so less nitrogen escapes into the air and water. The rice crop yields more and the farmers save money because they only need to use half as much fertilizer.

usg-bricketing-machineThe efficiency of urea deep placement was demonstrated by 1980. The practice has not been adopted more widely because of the lack of supply of the super granules, the additional labor required and the difficulty of correctly placing the super granules in the field.  But by the early 2000s, urea deep placement re-emerged in parts of Asia. The manufacture of small briquetting machines meant that the super granules could be made at the village level, and has led to a dramatic increase in their use, e.g. in Bangladesh (Giller et al. 2004).

urea-usg-granule-plantingThere are two types of innovations: some you can try alone and others need to be adopted by a network. A solitary person can plant a new crop variety, for example, but it takes many people to start using super granules.  A manufacturer has to build the briquetting machines. A second manufacturer has to buy a briquetting machine, make the super granules and sell them. Extensionists have to teach farmers how to place the super granules in the rice field. Then the farmers have to use the super granules, and make the idea their own.

It is kind of a chicken and egg problem. Farmers can’t use the super granules until someone makes them. Nobody will make them if there are no customers.

urea-granule-plantingA step in the right direction is to show farmers the value of the super granules. The IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center) commissioned Agro-Insight to make a farmer learning video on how to use urea deep placement. The video was filmed in West Africa, but the concepts also apply to Asia or even Latin America.

Of the 80 million hectares of irrigated rice worldwide, two million are in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 800,000 smallholders make their livings growing rice: 59% of which is irrigated (i.e. appropriate for urea super granules). And the region has the most potential of any to expand irrigated rice production. Rice is a popular food; tropical Latin Americans eat an average of 37 kilos of milled rice every ear, equivalent to a generous portion of 1.3 cups of cooked rice per day. As incomes increase, Latin Americans eat (and import) more rice.

As Latin America and the Caribbean grow more rice, it will help to make better use of nitrogen. So the urea deep placement video was recently translated to Spanish (there was already a Portuguese version). The video is a start, as it can teach farmers and extensionists about the importance of using fertilizer more efficiently, so that farmers can start to demand super granules and encourage companies to make and stock them. Even without super granules, growers of any crop will harvest more and save money if they grasp the idea that urea goes further if it is buried in the soil. This innovation makes a small contribution towards solving the problem of global warming.

Further viewing

You can watch the urea deep placement video in English here, in Spanish here, and in nearly 30 other languages here.

Related blog

Take a stab

Further reading

Bent, Elizabeth 2015 The ground exhales: reducing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions http://theconversation.com/the-ground-exhales-reducing-agricultures-greenhouse-gas-emissions-40795

Giller, Ken E., Phil Chalk, Achim Dobermann, Larry Hammond, Patrick Heffer, Jagdish K. Ladha, Phibion Nyamudeza, Luc Maene, Henry Ssali, and John Freney 2004 “Emerging Technologies to Increase the Efficiency of Use of Fertilizer Nitrogen,” pp. 35-51. In Arvin R. Mosier, J. Keith syers and John r. Freney (Eds.) Agriculture and the Nitrogen Cycle: Assessing the Impacts of Fertilizer Use in Food Production and the Environment. Washington: Island Press.

Pulver, Eduard 2010 “Manejo Estratégico y Producción Competetiva del Arroz bajo Riego en América Latina,” pp. 350-362. In Víctor Degiovanni B., César P. Martínez R., & Francisco Motta O. Producción Eco-Eficiente del Arroz en América Latina. Volume 1. Cali, Colombia: CIAT. http://ciat-library.ciat.cgiar.org/Articulos_Ciat/2010_Degiovanni-Produccion_eco-eficiente_del_arroz.pdf

Ricepedia http://ricepedia.org

Savant, N. K. and P. J. Stangel 1990 “Deep Placement of Urea Supergranules in Transplanted Rice: Principles and Practices.” Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 25(1):1-83

 

 

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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/

Whelpton, John 2005 A History of Nepal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 296 pp.

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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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Big meeting, small message November 13th, 2016 by

Everyone wants to see lots of farmers benefitting from agricultural innovations, managing risks more effectively and creating new pathways out of poverty. Success in pilot projects is always encouraging but it is no guarantee that this will translate into bigger gains for the masses.

everyone-planting-beans-copyI recently witnessed a golden opportunity in Rwanda to spread the word about iron beans, one of several biofortified crops developed under the umbrella of Harvest Plus, a major donor-funded programme on nutrition which works closely with national governments around the world. A quartet of development practitioners working with HarvestPlus recently won the World Food Prize.

Rwanda is famous for its ability to mobilize lots of people. They have a special word: Umuganda, a ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’. To some there’s a strong element of ‘come or else’, yet my experience of events in Gakenke district suggested clear enthusiasm and interest in attending.

meeting-with-tent-copyThe first event was a mass planting of ‘iron beans’ close to the main road, a prominent place that was both easy to reach and easy to see. The Governor of the North Province was there, as was a government minister, appointed to strengthen ties from national to local level. It was clearly a significant occasion and I watched in awe as over 100 people placed seed in prepared furrows, adding a dollop of fertilizer. It was a powerful way to promote a nutrient-rich variety of a key staple crop.

Everyone then moved a short distance to a much larger community meeting. New people arrived, swelling numbers to around 1500. As the audience settled on a gentle slope, a singer moved sinuously with microphone in hand, keeping them amused as the assembled dignitaries took their seats in a tented enclosure facing the crowd. My heart sank a little as I waited for long speeches. Managing a large meeting requires skill and active participation keeps people engaged. If they get bored they can leave, even in Rwanda.

I was unsure about the purpose of the community meeting. Was this an extension of the bean planting Umuganda? I could see a display of bean varieties at the end of the tent, but as the singer departed we turned to other things. A short line of people formed on the flat ground between the tent and the slope. It was a mixed group with a common purpose, but each seeking a different outcome. They had all come to petition the authorities about a problem or wrong-doing.

lady-in-crutches-speaks-copyMy friend Jean Claude Izamuhaye explained what was going on. “This woman is disabled, and so is her husband. She wants help with health insurance.” Another lady had problems paying school fees for three daughters. There was a land dispute that a man wanted resolving. Each case was dealt with courteously. A moderator relayed questions to the Governor, Minister and local officials present. A village leader commented on a case.

The large crowd also responded, and not always favourably. One petitioner was deemed to have a frivolous case and was pelted with clumps of grass by neighbours as she retook her seat. The petitions lasted for over an hour. I waited for someone to say something about the beans and point to the display, but nothing happened. When the meeting ended lots of people crowded around the bags of beans, eager to learn about the different varieties on show.

lots-of-people-interested-in-beans-copyAt this point I was mentally urging someone to stand on a seat and give a short message about the beans, encouraging farmers to talk to knowledgeable staff from extension, dressed in distinctive green T shirts, who had been present throughout the meeting as silent observers. Now was the time, I thought, to form small groups and talk about the iron beans or even some other hot topic – the meeting took place soon after maize lethal necrosis disease was found in Rwanda. The extension workers all knew how serious this was.

The farmers milled around, the extension workers talked amongst themselves, and gradually people drifted off, back to their homes and offices. Someone had thought it was a good idea to have an attractive display of bean seeds, in full view of 1500 people, mostly farmers, but that was it. A golden opportunity to ‘scale-up’ an innovation was only partially seized.

Piggybacking on a community meeting held to resolve social issues needs to be done sensitively, so as not to disrupt the main reason why people came. But with a little thought and effort – getting the agreement of the meeting organisers to talk briefly about beans to everyone assembled, then tagging on a short Q&A session at the end – so much more could have been achieved.

Read more about the World Food Prize 2016

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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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