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Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana March 21st, 2021 by

It’s a simple matter to play a soundtrack about farming on the radio. The tricky part is making sure that the program connects with the audience, as I learned recently from Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei at ADARS FM, a commercial station in Kintampo, a town in central Ghana.

Since 2010 Gideon has been pleased to be part of an effort by Farm Radio International (FRI) that supported radio stations in Ghana, including ADARS FM, to reach out to farmers. With encouragement from FRI, Gideon started a weekly magazine show for farmers, where he plays Access Agriculture audio tracks. The magazine, Akuafo Mo, means “Thank You Farmers” in the Twi language. Before he started the show, Gideon (together with FRI) did a baseline study of the farmers in his audience. He found that they had more time on Monday evenings. Farm women do more work and have less time than most people, but they told Gideon that they were usually done with their chores by 8 PM, so that’s when he airs Akuafo Mo, every Monday for an hour.

The show starts with recorded interviews, where farmers explain their own knowledge of a certain topic, like aflatoxin, which is so important that Gideon had several episodes on this hidden toxin that can contaminate stored foodstuffs. After the interviews, Gideon plays an audio track, to share fresh ideas with his audience. Gideon has played Access Agriculture audios so often he can’t remember how many he has played. “It’s a lot more than 50,” he explains.

Gideon plays a portion of the audio in English, and then he stops to translate that part into Twi, the language of the Ashanti people. Every week there is a guest on the show, an extension agent who can discuss the topic and take questions from listeners who call in.

Gideon’s experience with the magazine inspired him to start listener groups, in coordination with FRI. Visiting listener communities, Gideon found that some did not have a radio set. So, with project support, he bought them one. “We give them radio sets so they can come together weekly and listen to the magazine,” Gideon told me. He has 20 groups, each with 12 to 30 people. Five groups are only for women, especially in areas where males and females don’t casually mingle. The other listener groups have men and women.

Gideon visits at least some of the groups every week. Because of these visits, Gideon is now downloading videos as well as audio from Access Agriculture. “Sometimes I see if they have electricity, and I rent a projector, to show them the video they have heard on the air.” Gideon says. “This is my initiative, going the extra mile.”

Some of the farmers are learning to sell their groundnuts, maize and other cereals as a group, netting them extra money and helping them to be self-sustaining.

Gideon is also a trainer for FRI. Before Covid, he would travel to other towns and cities in Ghana, meet other broadcasters, and go to the field with them to show them how to improve their interview skills and to craft their own magazine shows. Now he continues to train broadcasters, but online.

Working with the farmer listening groups gives Gideon insights into farmers’ needs and knowledge, making his magazine so authentic that 60,000 people tune in. That experience gives Gideon the confidence to train other broadcasters all over Ghana.

When I was in Ghana a few years ago, I met excellent extension agents who told me how frustrated they were to be responsible for reaching 3,000 farmers. It was impossible to have a quality interaction with all those farmers.

However, there are ways to communicate a thoughtful message with a large audience, for example with a good radio magazine.

Gideon has creatively blended his own expertise with resources from two communication-oriented non-profit organisations: Farm Radio International and Access Agriculture. Hopefully, his experience will inspire other broadcasters.

Videos in the languages of Ghana

Find videos and soundtracks in these languages of Ghana: Buli, Dagaari, Dagbani, Ewe, Frafra, Gonja, Hausa, Kabyé, Kusaal, Moba, Sisaala, Twi, Zarma and English.

Book rate November 29th, 2020 by

Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General of the United States, during the second Continental Congress. He had experience, having been Deputy Postmaster General for all the American colonies under the British (1753-1774). But even in 1775, Franklin was one of the most respected of the founding fathers, and older than most of the others; he could have rejected the mail job. But he took it in part because he saw that a postal service would knit the States together. As a printer, writer and publisher, Franklin also understood the strategic advantage of the post for newspapers, and he established a special, low rate for publications. Newspapers could be sent through the mail for just a penny, or a penny and a half, while a letter could cost the fat sum of 25 cents. For its first 50 years, the post office was largely a newspaper delivery system, owned by the federal government, but financed by the sale of postage.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Abraham Lincoln’s postmaster general, Montgomery Blair, added to Franklin’s ideal by guaranteeing mail delivery at a uniform rate of postage, even to the new, distant states out west. Blair was clearly a visionary who also proposed the first international postal conference (held in Paris in 1863) and created the postal money order, to cut down on cash going through the mails, to avoid robberies. In recognition of these achievements, on 12 July 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early burned down Blair’s home in Silver Springs, Maryland.

During the Great Depression, president Franklin Roosevelt introduced a special “book rate,” endowed with a subsidy from Congress in 1933, to allow anyone to mail any publication at a special, low fee. A book could go across the country for a few cents.

I had my first brush with the book rate as a little boy, when my mom sent me to the post office alone with a package. “Be sure and tell them it’s a book, and they will charge you less,” mom said.

I handed the clerk the book, wrapped in brown paper. I hesitated and added, “It’s a book.”

“Alright dear,” she said. “Then that will be …” and she quoted me some ridiculous price, low enough to surprise even a kid.

The book rate lives on in the USA, now called the “Media Mail Service”, in recognition that a nation should promote information and learning.

Now, in 2020, educational materials are increasingly shared online, not through the postal system. Millions of smallholders in Southern countries now have a smart phone, and are online for the first time, getting an unprecedented amount of information, from sports, and science to nonsense.

Fortunately, there is a lot of free educational material online. Wikipedia is well written, by citizen scholars. Respected British newspaper, The Guardian, posts online stories for anyone to read, as does the BBC, the Smithsonian Institution and many others. And Access Agriculture has posted over 200 well-researched training videos for farmers, for free, in over 80 languages. The spirit of the book rate lives on.

Related blog stories

Lions, leopards and overnight delivery

The talking wires

Further reading

Boorstin, Daniel J. 1958 The Americans: The Colonial Experience. New York: Vintage Books. 434 pp.

For some history of the US postal service, see: https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/

Photo credits

Benjamin Franklin. Colored aquatint by P. M. Alix, 1790, after C. P. A. van Loo. From the Wellcome Library. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Portrait_of_Benjamin_Franklin._Wellcome_L0017902.jpg

Smallholders reading, by Paul Van Mele, Bangladesh, 2013.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Keith Andrews for suggesting the book rate as a topic and for reading an earlier version of this story. Thanks also to Paul Van Mele for his insightful comments.

Digital African agriculture September 6th, 2020 by

In the report Byte by Byte, seventeen African and international experts shed some optimistic light on the digital future of agriculture in Africa. In many ways, the continent is ahead of other regions of the world.

Africa is leading the world in cell phone finance. In Kenya in 2007, Vodaphone started M-Pesa for the mobile network operator, Safaricom. M-Pesa, (from “M” for mobile, and “pesa,” the Kiswahili word for money) offers simple financial services on the phone. Customers go to a small shop to exchange cash for online money which they can save or send to anyone else in Kenya who has a mobile phone. It is an effective way for rural and poor people to send and receive money. People in the city can send cash back home, to invest in agriculture, for example.

M-Pesa was so popular that mobile money has been replicated in Malawi, Uganda and many other African countries. Rural Africans who were underserved by banks were able to make use of the little shops that sprang up all over the small towns and in peri-urban neighborhoods.

Mobile finance is not the only innovative digital service in Africa. Other companies are offering tractor services online. TROTRO Tractor is a platform in Ghana that allows farmers to hire a tractor (and a driver), like getting a ride from Uber. Other companies use cell phones to sell agricultural supplies, or to connect farmers to buyers of agricultural produce. The largest telecommunications company in Zimbabwe has been providing weather insurance to farmers on a mobile platform since 2013. The National Network of Chambers of Agriculture of Niger (RECA) has been providing commodity price information online to farmers since 2011.

The Third Eye project in Mozambique has used drones to get an aerial view of farmers’ fields, and make recommendations on irrigation for 2,800 smallholder farmers, mostly women.

Digital technology makes sense for Africa, which has a young population. Young Africans like digital technology as much as youth on other continents. One advantage is that phones are also relatively inexpensive in Africa. I’ve seen smartphones for sale in Kenya for under $40. There are some limitations. Airtime tends to be expensive in Africa, and only about half of the population is on the electric grid.

Many Africans work around the lack of electricity, paying to charge their phones at weekly markets, barbershops or other small businesses when shopping in town. The popularity of cell phones has sparked a growing demand for small solar panels that are becoming a common site, propped up in the bright sunshine outside of an earthen house.

African farmers need appropriate new agricultural technology as well as digital devices. As more African households get online, it will be easier to reach them with digital extension, including videos.

Further reading

Malabo Montpellier Panel 2019. Byte by Byte: Policy Innovation for Transforming Africa’s. Food System with Digital Technologies, Dakar.

Related blog stories

Cell phones for smallholdersPay and learn

Pay and learn

Earthworms from India to Bolivia March 29th, 2020 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

A few weeks ago, I met a young Bolivian journalist, Edson RodrĂ­guez, who works on an environmental program at the university (UMSS) television channel in Cochabamba called TVU. He helps to produce a show called Granizo Blanco (white hail), a dramatic name in this part of the Andes, where hail can devastate crops in a moment. The show covers all environmental issues, not just agriculture. For example, the program recently featured mud slides that have destroyed homes, and the impacts of a new metro train system in the valley.

I first met Edson in the field, where he was filming the tree seedling distribution that I wrote about earlier in this blog. Later, I told him about the agroecological videos on Access Agriculture.

Edson wondered if some of the videos on Access Agriculture might be suitable for the TV show. After watching some of the videos, he downloaded one on making compost with earthworms. The video was filmed in India, and it had recently been translated into Spanish, crucial for making videos more widely available. Without a Spanish version it wouldn’t be possible to consider showing a video from Maharashtra in Cochabamba. The two places are physically far apart, but they have much in common, such as a semi-arid climate, and small farms that produce crop residues and other organic waste that can be turned into compost.

Edson asked me to take part in an episode of Granizo Blanco that included a short interview followed by a screening of the compost and earthworm video. He was curious to know why Access Agriculture promotes videos of farmers in one country to show to smallholders elsewhere. I said that the farmers may differ in their skin color, clothing and hair styles, but they are working on similar problems. For example, farmers worldwide are struggling with crops contaminated with aflatoxins, poisons produced by fungi on improperly dried products like peanuts and maize.

I told Edson that farmer learning videos filmed in Bolivia are being used elsewhere. My colleagues and I made a video on managing aflatoxins in groundnuts, originally in Spanish, but since been translated into English, French and various African languages. The same aflatoxin occurs in Bolivia and in Burkina Faso, so African farmers can benefit from experience in South America. In this case the video shows simple ways to reduce aflatoxins in food, using improved drying and storage techniques developed by Bolivian scientists and farmers in Chuquisaca.

“What other kinds of things can Bolivian farmers learn from their peers in other countries?” Edson asked me, as he realized that good ideas can flow in both directions. I explained that soil fertility is a problem in parts of Bolivia and elsewhere; Access Agriculture has videos on cover crops, compost, conservation agriculture and may other ways to improve the soil, all freely available for programs such as Granizo Blanco to screen.

Many older people, especially those who work for governments, feel that videos have to be made in each country, and cannot be shared across borders. This closed vision makes little sense. The same civil servants happily organize and attend international conferences on agriculture and many other topics to share their own ideas across borders. If government functionaries can gain insights from foreign peers, farmers should be able to do so as well.

Fortunately, younger people like Edson are able to see the importance of media, such as learning videos that enable farmers to share knowledge and experience cross-culturally. Smallholders can swap ideas and stimulate innovations as long as the sound track is translated into a language they understand. It costs much less to translate a video than to make one.

Related blog

The right way to distribute trees

Translate to innovate

Aflatoxin videos for farmers

Related videos

Making a vemicompost bed (The earthworm video from India)

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage

See also the links to soil conservation videos at the end of last week’s story: A revolution for our soil

Acknowledgment

The McKnight Foundation has generously funded many video translations, including the earthworm video, besides the filming of the aflatoxin video and its translation into several languages. For many years, SDC has offered crucial support that enabled Access Agriculture to become a global leader in South-South exchange through quality farmer-to-farmer training videos.

LOMBRICES DE TIERRA DE LA INDIA A BOLIVIA

Por Jeff Bentley 29 de marzo del 2020

Hace unas semanas conocí a un joven periodista boliviano, Edson Rodríguez, que trabaja en un programa de medio ambiente en el canal de televisión, TVU, de la Universidad (UMSS) en Cochabamba. Él ayuda a producir un programa llamado Granizo Blanco, un nombre dramático en esta parte de los Andes, donde el granizo puede arrasar los cultivos en un momento. El programa cubre todos los temas ambientales, no sólo la agricultura. Por ejemplo, el programa recientemente presentó los deslizamientos de mazamorra que han destruido varias casas, y los impactos de un nuevo sistema de tren metropolitano en el valle.

Conocí a Edson por primera vez en el campo, donde él estaba filmando la distribución de plantines de árboles, el tema de un blog previo. Más tarde, le hablé de los videos agroecológicos en Access Agriculture.

Edson se preguntaba si algunos de los videos de Access Agriculture podrían servir para el programa de televisión. Después de ver algunos de los videos, descargó uno sobre cómo hacer abono con lombrices de tierra. El vídeo se filmó en la India y recientemente se había traducido al español, lo que era imprescindible para hacer los vídeos más disponibles. Sin una versión en español sería imposible mostrar un video de Maharashtra en Cochabamba. Los dos lugares están físicamente alejados, pero tienen mucho en común, como un clima semiárido y pequeñas granjas que producen residuos de cultivos y otros desechos orgánicos que pueden convertirse en abono.

Edson me pidió que participara en un episodio de Granizo Blanco que incluía una breve entrevista seguida de una proyección del vídeo de lombricultura. Él quería saber por qué Access Agriculture promueve videos de los agricultores de un país para mostrarlos a los campesinos de otros países. Dije que los agricultores pueden diferir en el color de su piel, su ropa y peinado, pero están trabajando en problemas similares. Por ejemplo, hay agricultores de todo el mundo que luchan con la contaminación de aflatoxinas, venenos producidos por hongos en productos mal secados como el maní y el maíz.

Expliqué que los videos filmados con agricultores en Bolivia se están usando en otros países. Mis colegas y yo hicimos un video sobre el manejo de las aflatoxinas en el maní, originalmente en español, pero luego se ha traducido al inglés, al francés y a varios idiomas africanos. La misma aflatoxina se produce en Bolivia y en Burkina Faso, por lo que los agricultores africanos pueden beneficiarse de la experiencia en América del Sur. En este caso, el vídeo muestra formas sencillas de reducir las aflatoxinas en los alimentos secos, desarrolladas por científicos y agricultores bolivianos en Chuquisaca.

“ÂżQuĂ© otro tipo de cosas pueden aprender los agricultores bolivianos de sus homĂłlogos de otros paĂ­ses?” Edson me preguntĂł, al darse cuenta de que las buenas ideas pueden fluir en ambas direcciones. Le expliquĂ© que la fertilidad del suelo es un problema en algunas partes de Bolivia y que afecta a muchos otros agricultores en otros lugares; Access Agriculture tiene videos sobre cultivos de cobertura, compost, agricultura de conservaciĂłn y muchas otras tĂ©cnicas para mejorar el suelo, todos disponibles gratuitamente para que programas como Granizo Blanco los proyecten.

Muchas personas mayores, especialmente las que trabajan para los gobiernos, consideran que los videos tienen que hacerse en cada país y no pueden compartirse a través de las fronteras. Esta visión cerrada tiene poco sentido. Los mismos funcionarios públicos organizan y asisten con gusto a conferencias internacionales sobre agricultura y diversos temas para compartir sus propias ideas a través de las fronteras. Si los funcionarios del gobierno pueden obtener ideas de sus colegas extranjeros, los agricultores también deberían poder hacerlo.

Afortunadamente, los jóvenes como Edson ven la importancia de los medios de comunicación, como los vídeos, que permiten a los agricultores compartir conocimientos y experiencias entre culturas. Los pequeños agricultores pueden intercambiar ideas y estimular innovaciones siempre que la banda sonora se traduzca a un idioma que entiendan. Cuesta mucho menos traducir un video que hacer uno.

Historias relacionadas del blog

La manera correcta de distribuir los árboles

Translate to innovate

Aflatoxin videos for farmers

Videos relacionados

Hacer una lombricompostera (el video de la lombriz de tierra de la India)

Manejo de aflatoxinas en maní (también disponible en quechua y en aymara)

Vea también los enlaces a los videos de conservación del suelo al final de la historia de la semana pasada: Una revolución para nuestro suelo

Agradecimiento

La Fundación McKnight ha financiado generosamente muchas traducciones de video, incluyendo el video de la lombriz, además de la filmación del video de la aflatoxina y su traducción a varios idiomas. Durante muchos años, la Cosude ha ofrecido un apoyo crucial que ha permitido a Access Agriculture convertirse en un líder mundial en el intercambio Sur-a-Sur a través de vídeos agricultor a agricultor.

The power of the pregnant man August 27th, 2017 by

A memorable poster catches the eye, conveys a simple message and makes you think. Achieving all this demands careful planning and good design, balancing content with visual impact. Too much information and the passer-by moves on, having failed to get the full message. Too little information and the viewer leaves unsatisfied, wondering what the point of poster was. When you know who you are writing for, it is easier to know what to include and what to leave out.

Armyworm is a generic term describing the tendency of some caterpillars to congregate in large numbers, chomping like hungry troops through crops. The African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta, has been around for a long time, causing lots of damage on cereals. Now a new species has made the journey from the Americas to Africa, where it is causing high alarm. S. frugiperda, known as the fall armyworm, has recently been recorded from most of sub-Saharan Africa and will doubtless spread to more countries that grow maize, the fall armyworm’s favourite crop.

Scientists have been quick to respond to the arrival of the fall armyworm, first recorded in Sao Tomé in 2016, and soon after in southern Africa. FAO have held meetings in recent months in Harare, Nairobi and Accra to bring interested parties together, marshal resources and make plans for combatting this new pest. Unlike other new diseases which have appeared in Africa, such as banana bacterial wilt, a lot is already known about the fall armyworm and control strategies are well established.

CABI has produced an attractive poster showing the life cycle and damage caused by fall armyworm on maize. The poster appears to be part of a general campaign to raise awareness of key features of the new pest, though details of the campaign are sketchy. The poster has attractive drawings and clear information, yet the more I looked, the more questions I had.

I noticed some curious omissions. There is no date on the graphic and no contact details, such as an email address or a website. The scientific name of the fall armyworm is not given. But my main question concerned the target audience: extensionists or farmers? Both? Scientists?

Some hints are given by the layout. The circular cutaways and links to the far left hand column of text, running from bottom to top, would confuse a low-literate audience. An understanding of the insect’s life cycle is essential for designing a control programme, yet do extension officers, for whom this poster appears intended, need all this information?

These questions reminded me of my first effort at designing a poster for Sumatra disease of cloves in Indonesia (see earlier blog). I assembled photographs of the symptoms and the insect vector, a planthopper called Hindola, my own drawing showing the spread of the disease in a plantation, and a cartoon of the insect feeding on the branches. The photos and drawings were accompanied by short bits of text explaining key features of the disease.

I was rather proud of my efforts until a visiting project evaluator, Caroline O’Reilly, asked me who the poster was for and what it aimed to do. My stumbling answers revealed that I hadn’t thought through these key questions. Before writing anything, the author must first decide who the story (or the poster) is for. Since then I’ve also learned the importance of validating all extension material with the people it is intended for, whether it is a poster or a fact sheet. The gulf between scientists who have never farmed or who have long since left their rural childhood behind, and the extension workers and farmers who live and breathe agriculture, is easy to ignore.

Posters can have great power, as shown in a brilliant example from a 1970s British health education campaign to promote better contraception. One’s attention is immediately caught by the swollen belly, looking remarkably like an advanced pregnancy, except that it’s a man in the picture. The statement in bold makes its point concisely before adding a clever punchline – contraception is one of the facts of life.

When I teach people how to produce extension material I emphasise the need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What does someone need to know? Depending on the audience it’s either: “Think like a farmer, act like an extension agent”; or “Think like an extension agent, act like a scientist”. The reason why the contraception poster works so well is because those designing it clearly understood the irresponsible ways of men. The poster designers also understood the power of simplicity.

The Health Education Council had a clear mandate to improve health outcomes in the UK. The pregnant man poster sought to change attitudes and behaviours, and was part of a wider campaign aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies, particularl y amongst teenage women. It is less clear how the fall armyworm poster will reduce the impact of this new pest. Raising awareness about the biology and damage caused is a useful first step, but further posters are needed as part of a coordinated campaign that directly targets farmers and tells them how to manage this new threat to maize production.

Click here for a full copy of the fall armyworm poster.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Eric Boa 2013 “The Snowman Outline: Fact Sheets by Extensionists for Farmers.” Development in Practice 23(3):440-448.

Related blogs

Ethical agriculture (discusses clove disease)

The rules and the players (validating fact sheets)

Chemical attitude adjustment (validating fact sheets)

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