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Beating a nasty weed September 25th, 2016 by

All over Africa, small shops are offering affordable movies and music videos on DVDs and memory cards. In Malawi the shopkeepers who sell videos are called DJs.

In 2014, in Malawi, the international NGO Access Agriculture asked me and Malawian media expert, Ronald Kondwani Udedi, to meet some of these DJs and to explore their interest in distributing farmer training videos.

Later, Ronald travelled around southern Malawi, giving DVDs of farmer learning videos to some 70 DJs. Ronald gave away the DVDs for free, but told the DJs they could sell the videos to farmers; we hoped that the profit motive would encourage the DJs to copy the DVDs, and to install the videos onto farmers’ phones.

Ronald compiled 3 DVDs: one on chilli, one on rice and one on Striga, a parasitic weed. The videos were in English and in local languages: Chichewa, Senna, Yao and Tumbuka.

We wondered what happened when the videos left the DJ’s shop. Did the farmer-customers watch the videos and learn from them? Bear in mind that the farmers got these DVDs cold, with no one to answer questions. The videos had to be completely self-explanatory.

To answer this question, last week Ronald and I visited two farmers who had picked up the Striga DVD from DJs. Ronald rang up one farmer, Patrick Sungani, and introduced himself. Even though the call was a total surprise, Sungani readily agreed to meet us.

Sungani is a young smallholder in Mwanza district, in a village 14 km off the highway. Sungani bought his video at a shop near Mwanza town, on the Mozambique border, some 20 km from home.

afoso-jowanjge-patrick-sungani-and-mideo-chisimani-who-pull-up-strigaSungani watched the Striga videos with his friends. They learned that Striga reproduces by tiny seeds. Sungani, like many other farmers, had seen the Striga seeds without realizing what they were actually seeds. Sungani and four of his friends organized themselves to uproot Striga plants before it could set seed, just as the videos suggested.

As we went to look at Sungani’s garden, he showed us old, dry Striga plants in neighbors’ fields. He shook some of the seed capsules, to show us the dust-like seeds. His own garden was free of Striga. He and his friends had plucked all the Striga from five neighboring fields.

striga-seedsSungani watched the videos many times, which farmers often do when they have their own copy. African smallholders recognize Striga as a weed, but the plant spends much of its life underground and seems to appear late in the year, so many farmers do not realize how much damage Striga causes. Sungani learned that Striga “Is a unique plant. Its seed is like a dust. You can’t see the plant when it is inside the ground. I learned that it is a dangerous weed and how to control it.”

patrick-sungani-and-strigaThe video encouraged Sungani to make his own observations. For example, he taught himself that older Striga plants have a tough root, which can be dug up with hand tools.

We visited a second farmer, Lester Gandari, in Thambani, a town that is barely more than a farm village. Gandari was attracted to the idea of intercropping maize with cowpeas, another innovation shown in the video.  Legumes, like cowpeas, are trap crops that kill Striga before it can attach its parasitic roots to the maize roots. Gandari decided to alternate one hill (a cluster of two or three plants) of maize and one of cowpea, even though the video teaches several other patterns of intercropping, in alternate rows. Gandari had understood the basic idea from the video (intercropping legumes and grains controls Striga) so well that he could experiment with intercropping in ways not shown in the video.

Gandari was pleased with his efforts to control Striga. “It worked well. I have bumper crops of maize and of cowpea.”

Like Sungani, Gandari had watched the videos several times. Sungani then showed them to about 30 other farmers; about half of them were women. Gandari will continue to watch the videos “because there is (still) more to learn.” Gandari is excited about videos now, and would like to see some on maize, eggplant, sugar cane, bananas, and potatoes.

These finely crafted videos feature real farmers, speaking on camera, explaining practical innovations. The videos capture the audiences’ imagination, and inspire them to experiment with the technologies.  No one convinces a smallholder like another farmer, even when (or especially when) they are on video.

Further reading

Other stories about the DJs in Malawi Village movies in Malawi, Watching videos without smartphones, and Can I make some extra money?,

Stories about striga videos in Africa Fighting striga and improving soil fertility with videos in Mali, Killing the vampire flower, Travels around the sun,  I thought you said “N’Togonasso”, and The truth of local language.

Further viewing

You can watch the striga videos here: http://www.accessagriculture.org/search/striga/all/

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