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Aflatoxin videos for farmers January 31st, 2016 by

When developing videos for farmers many things can go wrong. Yet most mistakes and frustrations can be avoided by proper research, planning and networking.

Projects that want to make farmer training videos do not always have a good idea of what farmers already know and do. The content of a video has to be shaped by the learning needs of the target audience, but this is often given insufficient attention. It always pays to investigate farmers’ knowledge and practices before you start filming, to avoid unpleasant surprises and mistakes.

8995 woman with harvested groundnutsLast year, the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) asked Agro-Insight to explore what was needed to develop a series of farmer training videos on aflatoxins in groundnut. Aflatoxins are invisible, poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals produced by certain moulds. Since the 1960s, many West African countries have seen their groundnut production and trade dwindle due to aflatoxin contamination and stricter food safety standards imposed by European and American markets.

8998 immature groundnuts attacked by insect because no crop rotationDuring a scoping mission in September 2015, I met farmers in three different places in southern Mali who had received training on aflatoxins. Only by interacting with such empowered farmers can you discover what they have learned and gaps in their knowledge. Few knew little about improved groundnut varieties that were resistant to aflatoxins or how to manage soils to suppress harmful fungi. The women we met on this field study wanted to learn more about how soil health and pest management strategies can reduce both the white worms (wireworms) that drill holes in the underground pods and the harmful fungi in the soil. We can make a video on these topics, if farmers tell us they need this information.

9061 Mariam CoulibalyMariam Coulibaly, president of a women’s group in Wacoro, with about 70 women seed producers, was one of the few women I met who had carried out small experiments to assess the effect of compost on groundnut diseases. One of the roles of the video producer is to highlight such experiments and local innovations. For instance, I learned about using chilli powder against insect pests in seed storage, or used engine oil against termites, which damage groundnut pods in storage and increase the risk of aflatoxin contamination.

At times, triggering farmers to adopt good agricultural or post-harvest practices may be hard unless there are sufficient incentives. A Belgian NGO (VECO) had trained groundnut farmers in Uganda for several years on good practices to mitigate aflatoxin contamination. Despite extensive trainings the farmers were reluctant to invest time and efforts in removing mouldy kernels, because they were not paid a higher price for cleaned groundnuts. A change in agriculture may demand social and economic innovations, which should be part of training videos.

aflatoxins 8879 Binta Coulibaly with her nutrition posterBinta Coulibaly from Kolokani village in Mali helped us in this regard by stressing how women food processors have a social responsibility to protect their children and families from poisons in their food. Before converting the groundnuts into flour and baby food products, she carefully sorts out all the bad peanuts, which she then turns into soap.

I thought this was a neat example of a practice adding an economic incentive to the tedious sorting. But after visiting farmers in Mali, I had a chance to interact with researchers and health specialists attending the Roundtable of aflatoxin experts in Brussels on “Building a multi-stakeholder approach to mitigate aflatoxin contamination of food and feed”, organised by PAEPARD. To my great surprise I learned that aflatoxins are also transferred via the skin, so even soap can be dangerous! The next step would be to tell farmers about this, and see if they can device a better use of the damaged peanuts. Sharing information between farmers and scientists can be a long-term dialogue.

For video topics that have such a global implication on human health, farmers’ livelihoods, and international trade it pays off to seek further international consensus on filming locations and final content of the videos. Even when local innovations look promising and attractive to include in farmer training videos, it is crucial to have further review by scientific experts.

Suggested reading

Bragdon, Susan H. and Smith, Chelsea 2015 Small-scale farmer innovation. Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva.

Other blog posts on developing videos for farmers

A hard write

A spoonful of molasses

On the road to yoghurt

The rules and the players

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