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.
Peter 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 heâ€™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 Peterâ€™s customers, Mr. Matola.
â€śLast 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.â€ť That is a lot of innovation to adopt after watching videos on a phone: urea, nursery, and row planting.
Before 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. Matolaâ€™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 videosâ€™ sound and picture quality was good enough on the cell phones he snaps back: â€śDo 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.â€ť 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. â€śCan you plant in lines without making a rice nursery?â€ť
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.
Peter 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: â€śOnly 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.â€ť 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.
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.
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