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A connecting business October 29th, 2017 by

More people than ever before are now connected to electricity and digital communication in tropical countries. Progress is slower in the countryside though high demand from rural customers is driving new efforts to give farmers the connectivity they crave.

Rural electrification has been high on the agenda of development aid for decades. Although significant progress has been made, donors, policy-makers and rural people alike have come to realize that connecting remote areas to the grid is more challenging than many had once assumed. The poor often lose out on electricity, which most people now consider a basic service. But if necesity is the mother of invention, as the old saying goes, then the father of invention must be a new idea, as Jeff wrote in one of his inspiring publications in 2000. New technologies are giving rural people plenty of fresh ideas to experiment with.

New modes of communication and businesses have popped up to help the poor access the web and related services. Mobile phones have penetrated rural areas at an unexpectedly fast rate, even in villages off the grid. Two years ago, when making a series of videos on “Milk as a business” with pastoralist Fulani herders in Nigeria, I was amazed to see 13-year old Yussuf run a mobile phone charging business under a tree near one of the milk collection centres. Solar pannels provided Yussuf with electricity. When I asked him how he could remember which phone belonged to who, he smiled and showed me the name of each owner written on a little piece of masking tape he had stuck on the back of each phone. “I went to the madrassa and learned to write in Arabic.” In madrassas, Islamic religious schools, children learn Arabic, so they can read the Koran. When the dairy company installed a milk collection centre for the Fulani herders, Yussuf realised that the transporters who collect milk on motor bikes needed to have their phones regularly charged.

In countries such as India and Bangladesh with high population densities and lots of potential customers, local ICT-savvy entrepreneurs have developed popular apps to help farmers monitor real-time market prices and weather forecasts on their mobile phones.

Last week, Ahmad Salahuddin, of Access Agriculture, and I met with some 20 farmer seed producers in Jessore, Bangladesh, to introduce them to the free services offered by Access Agriculture. By the end of our presentation, three of these farmers had already started watching some of the training videos on the website, and one had registered to download videos. When Salahuddin asked how they could share the videos with other farmers, many said via “Share it”, a popular app to transfer videos from one phone to another.

Fernando Soussa, a Swiss researcher, and colleagues interviewed 460 farmers in Mali and Burkina Faso about their use of mobile phones. They found that many villagers, including young women who had until recently had limited access to information services, were now using 3G mobile phones with Bluetooth to watch videos.

Videos on mobile phones help to reach illiterate farmers, so new business ventures are more likely to emerge as it gets easier to watch videos and as good farmer training videos become increasingly available. Entrepreneurs typically innovate when new products like cell phones meet old demands for information, to create new market potential. Farmers increasingly want audio-visual information, and businesses will play a role to make this happen, for example selling inexpensive smart phones and charging phones for customers off the grid.  When my colleagues and I started placing farmer learning videos on the Access Agriculture platform, few farmers had access to computers or the internet. We thought that farmers would have to go through extensionists to watch the videos. But in a few short years, farmers in remote corners of the world have started buying smart phones, and eagerly getting on line themselves.

Read more

Bentley, J. (2000) The mothers, fathers and midwives of invention: Zamorano’s natural pest control course. In G. Stoll (ed.) Natural Crop Protection in the Tropics: Letting Information Come to Life (pp. 281-289). Agrecol, ICTA, MArgraf Verlag.

Sousa, F., Nicolay, G. and Home, R. (2016) Information technologies as a tool for agricultural extension and farmer-to-farmer exchange: Mobile-phone video use in Mali and Burkina Faso. The International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology 12(3), 19-36. Download article.

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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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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

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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, GĂ©rard 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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