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Mix and match April 1st, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

This blog often features farmers creatively adapting ideas they learned from watching farmer learning videos. It should come as little surprise that agricultural extension people can also get inventive with new ways to show the videos.

In April 2017, I gave several organizations in Bolivia copies of a DVD with seven videos, each one with Quechua, Spanish and Aymara versions. Two of the videos were made with farmers in Bolivia, but the other five presented farmers from other countries.

MarĂ­a Omonte, an agronomist and the national director of the NGO World Neighbors, watched all seven of the videos. To my initial surprise, MarĂ­a also watched all of the videos in Spanish on the Access Agriculture video portal. She is a registered user and checks the portal frequently to see if any new Spanish versions of videos have been added. MarĂ­a graduated from the prestigious agricultural university in Honduras, El Zamorano, and her training and natural curiosity has made her a keen life-long learner.

MarĂ­a and her team had been working for almost three years in six rural communities in Vila Vila, in the warm, semi-arid valleys of southern Cochabamba. Last December the team introduced the idea of organic fertilizer and Bordeaux mixture, a copper-based fungicide, as well as other similar products for diseases of papaya, lemon and other crops. After seeing some practical demonstrations and receiving starter kits with the ingredients, some of the farmers tried the Bordeaux mix, but MarĂ­a felt that they needed more encouragement to keep using them.

So María decided to creatively combine two videos. She took the Quechua version of “Let’s Talk Money” from the DVD, and downloaded the Spanish version of “Turning Honey into Money”, which was not on the DVD, from the Access Agriculture video portal. She decided to use these two videos along with other information to make a unique training event for the six Quechua-speaking villages, a five-hour drive from the city of Cochabamba.

I was there last week in the community of Sik’imira at an evening meeting in the local school. The courtyard was full of high school students playing a furious game of football on the cement basketball court. María and her driver, Enrique Mancilla, set up their projector and within minutes 25 farmers, over half women, had filed in and taken their seats.

María told the group that she had a video in Quechua, but from Mali, a country in Africa. From previous screenings María had learned that three details in the video were unfamiliar to farmers, so she explained those. The video mentions millet (“a small grain”) and cowpea (“a bean”) and third, the currency in the video is called the franc.

By now the football game outside had ended, and the teenagers were playing loud, pounding music. So the video was a bit hard to hear. Still, people said they understood it, and they had no questions.

María used this as an opportunity to say: “In the video we saw farmers and their facilitator adding up costs for different practices with millet and cowpea to see which one is more practical. Would you like to do the same with one of your crops?” The farmers suggested sweetpotato.

It takes skill to walk through each step in the production of a crop and at the same time count the costs in front of an audience. Unfazed, MarĂ­a launched into the exercise in fluent Quechua. She started to struggle with the loud music still pounding next door, but eventually they turned it down enough for her to continue.

At the end, people looked at the results. “We’re not making much money,” one said. “That’s sad,” another added.

María used this as an entrée to discuss organic inputs, to improve yields, then she asked the packed room – standing room only – if they would like to watch another video. It was 10 PM, past everyone’s bed time, but to my surprise everyone agreed.

Enrique and MarĂ­a put on the video Turning honey into money. She explained that this one was made in Kenya, also in Africa. By then, the music outside had mercifully stopped. The video played beautifully. Although it was in Spanish, which few in the audience understood, MarĂ­a told me that the images in this video are so clear that everyone understood it.

As the video ends, one man shouts out “Now we have the sweet taste of honey in our mouths!” Everyone laughs. None of the Bolivian farmers comment on the skin color of the people in the videos, or their clothing. That is not an issue. María thinks that farmers are intrigued by seeing smallholders from far away.

After watching the honey video, María says that she can bring an expert beekeeper to help them get started raising bees. The farmers request a meeting on Sunday morning. María and Enrique both agree to give up their weekend to do that, delighted at a small victory.  Until now, the Sik’imira community has only ever wanted to meet at night. A Sunday morning meeting suggests that they are taking the extension program more seriously, helped by the warm response to the two videos.

A creative development professional, with access to a library of videos, can mix and match, combining a video on calculating farm costs with one on honey. Then she can add more information, to make an exciting training event that local people find relevant.

Watch the videos

Let’s talk about money is available in 30 languages, including English, Spanish and Quechua.

Turning honey into money is available in 10 languages, including Spanish and English.

Acknowledgements

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

COMBINAR CON GRACIA

Por Jeff Bentley, primero de abril del 2018

Este blog a menudo resalta a agricultores que creativamente adaptan ideas que hayan aprendido cuando ven videos de capacitación. No nos debe sorprender que los ingenieros extensionistas también inventen nuevas maneras de mostrar videos.

En abril del 2017, en Bolivia, repartí copias de un DVD a varias organizaciones, con siete videos, cada uno en quechua, español y aymara. Dos de los videos se hicieron con campesinos en Bolivia, pero los otros cinco mostraron a agricultores de otros países.

María Omonte, una agrónoma y la directora nacional de la ONG Vecinos Mundiales, miró los siete videos. Para mi sorpresa inicial, María también miró todos los videos en español del portal de videos de Access Agriculture. Ella se registró al portal y revisa frecuentemente para ver si hay nuevas versiones en español de los videos. María se egresó de la prestigiosa universidad agrícola El Zamorano, y su formación y curiosidad natural le han ayudado a seguir aprendiendo toda la vida.

María y su equipo llevan casi tres años trabajando en seis comunidades en Vila Vila, en los valles cálidos y semi-áridos del sur de Cochabamba. En diciembre pasado el equipo introdujo la idea del fertilizante orgánico y el caldo bordelés, un fungicida en base a cobre, y otros caldos para enfermedades de papaya, limón y otros cultivos. Después de ver algunas demostraciones prácticas y recibir materiales de arranque, algunos comuneros probaron el caldo bordelés, pero María pensó que ella podría animarles más a usar los caldos.

Así que María decidió hacer uso creativo de dos videos. Tomó la versión en quechua de “Hablemos del dinero” del DVD, y del portal de Access Agriculture y bajó la versión en español de “La miel es oro,” el cual no estaba en el DVD. Ella decidió usar esos dos videos juntos con otra información para crear un taller de capacitación para esas seis comunidades de habla quechua, a cinco horas en auto de la ciudad de Cochabamba.

Yo estuve allá la semana pasada, en la comunidad de Sik’imira en un taller en el colegio local. El patio estaba lleno de estudiantes de secundaria que jugaban un partido enardecido de fulbito. María y su conductor, Enrique Mancilla, armaron su proyector y dentro de minutos unos 25 agricultores, casi la mitad mujeres, habían tomado sus asientos.

María contó al grupo que tenía un video en quechua, pero de Mali, un país en Africa. En talleres en otras comunidades María vio que unos tres detalles en el video eran extraños a los agricultores, así que se les explicó: el video menciona mijo (“un pequeño grano”) y caupí (“un frijol”) y tercero, la moneda en el video se llama el franco.

Ahora el partido de fulbito se habĂ­a terminado, y los jĂłvenes habĂ­an encendido una mĂşsica fuerte y pulsante. AsĂ­ que nos costĂł un poco escuchar el video. Aun asĂ­, la gente dijo que lo entendieron, y no tenĂ­an preguntas.

María usó esa oportunidad para decir “En el video vimos que los agricultores y su facilitador sumaban los costos de diferentes prácticas con el mijo y el caupí, para ver cuál era más rentable. ¿A ustedes les gustaría hacer lo mismo con uno de sus cultivos?” El público sugirió el camote.

Requiere de destreza hablar paso por paso de la producción de un cultivo, contar los costos delante del público. Pero María arrancó el ejercicio de una vez en quechua fluido. Empezó a frustrarse con la música tan fuerte al lado, pero después de un tiempo le bajaron el volumen un poquito y siguió adelante.

Al final, la gente miró los resultados. “No ganamos mucho dinero,” dijeron. “Es triste,” agregaron.

María usó esa observación como una entrada para hablar de los insumos orgánicos, para mejorar su producción.

Ahora había tanta gente que no había donde sentarse. María les preguntó si estaban cansados y si querían irse o si querían ver otro video. Eran las 10 PM, cuando todos normalmente están dormidos, pero querían ver otro video.

Enrique y María encendieron el video La miel es oro. Ella explicó que este se hizo en Kenia, también en Africa. Ahora por fin la música de los chicos se había terminado. El video se escuchó una maravilla. Estaba en castellano, que no todos entienden, pero como María me dijo, las imágenes en este video son tan claras que toda la gente entendió.

Al fin del video, un hombre gritó “¡Nos hemos quedado con el sabor de la miel en la boca!” todos se rieron. Ninguno de los comuneros comentó sobre la tez de la gente en los videos, ni de su ropa. Eso no les importaba. María cree que a los campesinos les intriga ver a sus colegas en países lejanos.

Después de ver el video sobre la miel, María dijo que ella podría traer a un apicultor experto para enseñarles a criar abejas. La comunidad pidió una reunión el domingo en la mañana. María y Enrique se quedaron en eso, sacrificando su fin de semana, pero felices con esa pequeña victoria, Hasta ahora la comunidad de Sik’imira solo ha querido hacer talleres de noche. El querer hacer uno el domingo en la mañana sugiere que la gente empieza a tomar este programa de extensión un poco más en seria, ayudada en parte por su cálida reacción a los dos videos.

Una creativa profesional del desarrollo, con acceso a una videoteca puede combinar diferentes títulos, usando un video sobre cómo contar costos de producción con uno sobre la miel. Luego puede agregar más información para hacer un taller ameno que es relevante para la gente local.

Vea los videos

Hablemos del dinero está disponible en 30 idiomas, incluso inglés, español y quechua.

La miel es oro está disponible en 10 idiomas, incluso español e inglés.

Agradecimiento

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es financiado por la CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program) de la FundaciĂłn McKnight.

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Floating vegetable gardens March 11th, 2018 by

For much of the year Bangladesh appears more water than land. It can also be a chaotic place. Yet such impressions are misleading, and something I wanted to counteract with a genuine admiration for how people make the best of often difficult circumstances. Colleagues commented on my positive outline when I wrote about innovations in rural extension, in a book published in 2005. More recently, I’ve been reminded about the resilience and creativity of farmers after watching a video on floating vegetable gardens, now available on the  Access Agriculture platform.

The video is nicely made, with strong visual shots and compelling interviews with farmers. The dreamy traditional music carries you along in the wake of a wooden boat steered by a Bangladeshi farmer on a shallow, temporarily flooded area.

It takes a lot of work to make a floating vegetable garden, but the video reveals an amazing abundance of crops tended by farmers. For years, Bangladeshi farmers have turned two major recurring problems into an opportunity. The land lost to floods during the annual monsoons is used to grow crops; and the world’s worst aquatic weed, the water hyacinth, is turned into compost.

Scientists have tried for decades to find ways to control this weed, including the release of weevils that feed on its leaves. Governments and local authorities have tried in vain to mechanically remove this weed using heavy machinery, creating mountains of water hyacinth on the banks of rivers and lakes that no one is quite sure what to do with.

In the video, farmers in Bangladesh show a sustainable alternative. Instead of laboriously removing the bulky mass of water hyacinth, the weeds are left in place. A long bamboo pole is placed on top of a thick matt of water hyacinth and with a hook the water hyacinth is pulled from both sides of the bamboo towards the bamboo pole and compressed to make a compact plant bed. After 10 days the compacted leaves and roots start to decompose and a new layer of water hyacinth is added. Floating beds are about two meters wide and vary in length; some are as long as 20 meters.

In the meantime, back home, women have started to grow vegetable seedlings in round compost balls. Once the plants are old enough the gardeners carry them on the boat to their floating garden beds, and insert the compost balls with seedlings in the plant bed. Farmers grow okra, various types of gourds, leafy vegetables, ginger and turmeric. The video also shows how some innovative farmers even connect two floating beds with trellises made of bamboo and jute rope to grow yard-long beans.

Farmers across developing countries, and Bangladesh in particular, have a wealth of knowledge. The many training videos hosted on the Access Agriculture platform pay tribute to these farmers and allow them to share their knowledge and experiences across borders. At Agro-Insight we celebrate these respectable farmers in our weekly blog stories. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoy writing them.

Watch the video

Floating vegetable gardens

Related blogs on farmers’ innovations

Ashes to aphids

No land, no water, no problem

Specializing in seedlings

Tomatoes good enough to eat

Further reading

Van Mele, P., Salahuddin, A. and Magor, N. (eds.) 2005. Innovations in Rural Extension: Case Studies from Bangladesh. CABI Publishing, UK, 307 pp. Download from: www.agroinsight.com/books

Acknowledgement

The Floating vegetable garden video has been made by the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), one of the partners trained by Access Agriculture to produce quality farmer training videos.

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Seed fairs February 18th, 2018 by

Seed fairs are gaining in popularity around the world, and are a great way to encourage farmers and gardeners to conserve global biodiversity. But the fairs can do more than just provide an opportunity for people to exchange and sell seed, as I recently learned during a visit to Guatemala to make a farmer training video on farmers’ rights to seed, with a particular focus    on women in biodiversity management. In Guatemala, donor agencies and organisations have supported community biodiversity conservation initiatives for over a decade.

Our local partner, ASOCOCH, is an umbrella organisation of 20 cooperatives and farmer associations, representing some 9,000 farm families in the western highlands of Huehuetenango. On Sunday, one day before the actual seed fair starts, we visit the venue. The seed fair has become a large annual event, unlike in Malawi, where seed fairs are less regular. The fair attracts hundreds of people from across the highlands, some travelling long distances. One elderly woman told me she rode a bus for five hours to get there.

The seed fair is a lively, social event, with a Ferris wheel, stalls with amusement games and one with wooden, artistically carved horses with leather saddles on which people can sit and have their photo taken against a painted background of lush vegetation, complete with mountains and waterfalls. Visitors can buy sweets and nuts. A young boy gently pushes his wheelbarrow full of mandarins for sale through the crowds, while indigenous women sell traditional delicacies. Families with grandparents and kids relish the event as the region does not have such a large fair very often.

But there is more to the fair than having fun and eating. The seed fair is held on school grounds and I soon see farmers in intricately woven, traditional clothes lining up to register for classes. There are four large rooms where farmers can learn about potato, agrobiodiversity, climate change and women’s rights. My wife Marcella and I first attend the talks in the agrobiodiversity room, where Juanita Chaves from GFAR explains about farmers’ rights to seed. To my surprise this is followed by two presentations on aflatoxins in maize by staff from a local NGO. The presenters graphically explain the relation between mouldy maize cobs and the disfigurement of children and internal organs. As most farmers conserve their own maize seed they need to be aware of the risks of fungal infections. I am still a little puzzled as to how this relates to the seed fair and agrobiodiversity conservation, but after lunch all becomes clear.

We accompany the farmers who attended the aflatoxin sessions to the Clementoro Community Seed Bank, less than 10 kilometers away. The farmers see seeds stored in plastic jars, clearly labelled and neatly stacked on the shelves. In the middle of the room, a young agricultural graduate working at the seed bank shows farmers how they can detect if their seed is contaminated with aflatoxins by using a simple methanol test. “When you store your maize crop and seed, you need to be sure it has less than 13% moisture so that moulds will not develop,” the enthusiastic young woman explains. “Here at the seed bank, you can have your seed tested and conserved in optimal conditions,” she continues.

Seed is one of farmers’ most precious resources, and storing it at a community seed bank requires lots of trust. They need to know that their seed will be safely stored until they need it, either for the next growing season or even a few years later whenever the need arises. By organising seed fairs, seminars and visits to community seed banks, ASOCUCH is building trust through sharing knowledge and explaining clearly what they do.

The next day, we film the actual seed fair itself. There is an overwhelming abundance of crop varieties, fruits, medicinal and even some ornamental plants. Farmers and their families are clearly excited as seed and plant material changes hands. There is brisk trading between farmers. While some exchange materials, most sell and buy seed. People tell each other about the seeds they have on offer. ASOCUCH, with the support of GFAR, had also prepared a booklet with traditional recipes. Copies are spread on tables at the entrance and they run out like hot cakes.

There is a judging competition to find the best seeds.  Judges visit each stand, measuring maize cobs, counting seeds, weighing potato seed tubers and taking notes. Agrobiodiversity is a serious matter. At the same time, outside the schoolhouse, sheep are being rated by another set of judges. In the late afternoon, the results are shared with the audience. People had brought dozens of varieties and over a thousand accessions of various crops. The audience is excited, and so are we. This has been a fascinating two-day event, and the drive of the farmers and their organisations has made us hopeful for the future.  Local initiatives are where conservation begins, but they need the support of local authorities, governments and international organisations to increase their impact.

Everyone has had a good time. More importantly, farmers have made new contacts, acquired seeds of traditional varieties that may have been lost in some areas and helped others to preserve them in new areas. They have learned about saving seed, but most of all, the farmers have learned that they have certain rights to seeds—they can plant their own native varieties as they wish, for example—and that these rights mattter hugely in sustaining local agriculture.

Related blogs

Quinoa, lost and found

Homegrown seed can be good

Bolivian peanuts

We share

Further viewing

Farmers’ rights to seed – experiences from Guatemela

Farmers’ rights to seed – experiences from Malawi

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) and the European Union for funding the production of the video discussed here. Support in Guatemala was kindly provided by the AsociaciĂłn de Organizaciones de los Cuchumatanes (ASOCUCH).

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Tools of the imagination February 10th, 2018 by

A few years ago, I was sitting in the airport in La Paz, Bolivia. At nearly 4,000 meters above sea level the air is so thin you can get light headed. I sat there fighting sleep after a two day trip home from Bangladesh. Then an airline official came to tell me that the police wanted to see me. I was wide awake now, as I followed the neatly dressed official downstairs to a backroom on the first floor where the criminal police search luggage for drugs and contraband. While screening my bag they had found a strange object.

A young policeman was sitting on a stool, holding a tool I’d picked up in Bangladesh. It was a crescent-shaped iron blade, with a metal shaft and a wooden handle, polished smooth with work and sweat. I’d bought it from a man selling used tools in a Bengali village.

“What is this?” the cop asked. His face and demeanor were more of curiosity than malice. I relaxed. I wasn’t a suspect. He was simply filled with that human sense of wonder.

And so I explained that the tool was a rice weeder. It’s called a “nirani,”or “khurpi.” It’s made to work the soil at ground level, while keeping your hand off the ground. People use the nirani to weed the rice while kneeling in the field. They also use it to uproot rice seedlings from the seedbed.

Many Bolivian police and soldiers grow up on farms. The cop listened to my story with the interest of a farmer; then he thanked me for my explanation and said I was free to go.

I think of that experience often, especially when I talk to farmers about videos they have seen. Rural people often recall the tools seen on a learning video, even devices not mentioned in the narration. Farmers notice tools that city people easily overlook.

For example, in Malawi I talked to farmers about rice videos made in West Africa. The Malawians often remarked on the little wheeled, hand-pushed weeders, and wondered where they could get one.

In Uganda, farmers noticed that the Malian rice farmers worked barefoot, and asked if the Malians could not afford gum boots, or if the bare feet were part of the technique. In fact, it is easier to work barefoot in a lowland, West African rice field, where the mud can pull the boots right off of one’s feet.

And in one final example, in my blog last week, “Private screenings,” I mentioned that farmers in Benin searched for drip irrigation equipment after seeing it on a video.

National officials and even some media experts insist that agricultural learning videos must be made locally, so a new video should be filmed for each country. Of course farmers can learn from a video made in their own country. But by watching videos made elsewhere they learn about tools and ideas they would not see at home. They learn how peasant farmers in other countries solve familiar problems with ingeniously different tools. That fires the imagination, and at times even inspires farmers to ask agrodealers to stock the new tools.

Photo credit

Top photo by Paul Van Mele

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Private screenings February 4th, 2018 by

A recent study by Gérard Zoundji and colleagues in Benin, West Africa, has shed light on a promising way to get training videos to farmers through local shops. Zoundji worked in four vegetable-producing regions of southern Benin, where farmers were so worried about pests that they sprayed pesticides even before the bugs appeared.  Convincing such apprehensive farmers to hold the pesticides would take some serious persuasion.

Zoundji took nine videos on vegetable production from the Access Agriculture video platform (www.accessagriculture.org), including how to reduce pesticide use, and put five language versions (English, French, Fon, Yoruba and Bambara) on one DVD. Zoundji had the brilliant idea of reaching the farmers through local shops, in an attempt to overcome the limited distribution available through the extension service. In 2015 he convinced 13 owners of small shops (mostly farm supply stores and movie DVD vendors) to stock copies of his DVD, titled Improving Vegetable Production. From August to December, the shopkeepers sold the DVDs to customers for up to $4. Starting in June, 2016, Zoundji tracked down 120 vegetable farmers who had bought the DVD, received it as a gift from friends or family, or watched it with their neighbors. He visited the farmers’ fields to learn more about what had happened after watching the videos.

Most of the video-watching farmers were young, with an average age of 28. Youth are drawn to vegetable production, which can be profitable on a small piece of land, and to videos, complete with music and a compelling narration. A third of the farmers were women. Almost half had no formal schooling, but the videos require no reading.

Zoundji found that only a third of his farmers regularly received extension visits, while twice as many got information from agro-dealers. All the farmers shared information through their own informal networks.

Zoundji’s collaborating shopkeepers sold 669 DVDs. I was surprised that only 58% of the DVDs went to farmers. Government officials, students, their parents and extension workers bought the rest. Such folks often grow their own gardens, or they have links to vegetable-growers.

After watching the videos, farmers realized that they had been over-using pesticides. Aristide, a vegetable farmer, from Abomey-Calavi said:

Before the video training, I used to manage nematodes, pests and other diseases by using any agrochemicals I could get hold of. I just needed to see insects and pests in the field to unleash a treatment. But after watching the video, I realized how wasteful and harmful I have been.

Farmers had been applying pesticides up to seven times during each season, but after watching the videos, 86% said that they had reduced pesticide use. Mr. David, a farmer at Sèmé-Podji, said:

To grow tomatoes on a 400 square meter plot, I often used for example 1 kg or 1.5 kg of fungicide, one to two litres of insecticide, 2 kg of nematicide and about 30 kg of NPK (fertilizer), but since September 2015 I started applying the knowledge from the videos. I’m progressively reducing the chemicals … and the tomato yield is still the same as before videos, but now they keep longer than before (I watched the) videos. This is the third time I’ve harvested.

Some farmers reported that although they had heard about alternatives to pesticides from extension agents they remained unconvinced until they saw the videos. The videos show farmers from Benin and other countries using the recommended alternatives, making a novel idea seem much more practical. A farmer on a video can be more convincing than a conversation in real life. “Videos stimulate learning and facilitate more experimentation for change than face-to-face extension carried out by an extension worker,” Zoundji writes.

It wasn’t only crop protection practices that were improved. Crop rotation, compost, and nets to keep insects out of vegetables were widely adopted as alternatives to agrochemicals.

There were further changes that took place in the shop owners selling the DVDs. One third of the agrodealers began to stock the equipment for setting up drip irrigation. This was astounding, an unexpected consequence of Zoundji’s original idea. Changing business practices matters because in previous experiences with drip irrigation, farmers have been dependent on projects to buy the necessary equipment. (See Paul’s earlier story, To drip or not to drip). Now, after watching the videos, farmers were investing in drip irrigation equipment and asking agrodealers to stock items they needed, such as hoses, nozzles and tanks. Other farmers were making their own kits.

Family farmers are used to shopping at family-owned businesses. It may not be necessary to have a project just to share information with farmers. Small shops may be just the place to sell videos with useful ideas that farmers can use.

Further reading

Zoundji, Gérard C., Florent Okry, Simplice D. Vodouhê & Jeffery W. Bentley 2018 “Towards Sustainable Vegetable Growing with Farmer Learning Videos in Benin.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. Read it here.

Watch all nine of the vegetable videos (in English, French and other languages)

Managing nematodes in vegetables

Making a chilli seedbed

Insect nets in seedbeds

Transplanting chillies

Drying and storing chillies

Making chilli powder

Drip irrigation for tomato

Reviving soils with mucuna

Managing soil fertility

Videos in the languages of Benin

Access Agriculture hosts videos in several of the languages spoken in Benin, including:

French, Adja, Bariba, Berba, Dendi, Ditammari, Fon, Gourmantche, Hausa, Ife, Idaatcha, Mina, Nago, Peulh (Fulfuldé), Yoruba and Zarma

Photo credit

Photos are by G. Zoundji.

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