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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)

Farmers produce electronic content August 6th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación 

Earlier in this blog we have told how smallholders in India and Kenya are using smartphones and tablets to surf the web for information. In Bolivia, some smallholders are not only accessing content on the web, but also using it to share their own observations and experiences.

quinoa standBernabé Choquetopa and Antolín Salazar are two quinoa farmers on the Bolivian Altiplano, the astonishingly high plains at 3,700 meters, between the ranges of the Andes. At this altitude it can be difficult to grow even potatoes. Quinoa does well, if it rains, but the Andean rains are now coming later in the year, threatening a whole way of life on the high plains.

Bernabé and Antolín are part of a group of 98 expert farmers, called yapuchiris, who teach their neighbors techniques to adapt to the changing climate. In 2015 a Bolivian organization, Prosuco, formed a group on WhatsApp, an online social media platform that one can access from a cell phone. Ten yapuchiris from different parts of the Altiplano joined the group, and called it the Observer’s Network, dedicated to sharing information about the weather in their areas. Farmers in other parts of Bolivia, and a few non-farmers, have joined the network, so that it now has over 60 members.

In 2016 several farmers wrote in to tell how the drought was killing the harvest of nearly all the crops. But there is also encouraging information. Bernabé often reports on “indicators,” the name the group uses for signs that predict the weather in the near future. For example, when the foxes leave the plains to seek out warm cover in the hills, the night will be cold. This knowledge reminds farmers to double check that livestock are well sheltered.

nest of oven birdThe oven-bird makes a round, hard, covered nest. The birds seem to sense the coming wet weather and do their best to build a dry nest, so if the walls of the nest are especially strong and hard, it will be a wet year. Knowing this lets farmers know that they can plant even in somewhat dryer areas, and that they can start planting with the first good rains. Some of the users also upload satellite based weather predictions onto the Observers’ Network. At first I thought the yapuchiris might feel upstaged, and might stop uploading their own predictions, but they didn’t. The farmers are happy to see satellite images and bird nests alike. Information is appreciated no matter where it comes from.

The internet, inexpensive cell phones and user-friendly social media are making it possible for at least some smallholders to start posting their own ideas. It’s an exciting new trend, because those of us who share information with farmers on the Internet may soon find it easier to use the web to share high quality messages with farmers on a mass scale.

Acknowledgement

Written with the help of Eng. Sonia Laura who works at Prosuco, www.prosuco.org, a non-profit organization.

Related blog stories

Village smart phones in India

Connected to the world in Kenya

AGRICULTORES PRODUCEN CONTENIDO ELECTRĂ“NICO

6 de agosto del 2017 por Jeff Bentley

Ya hemos escrito en este blog que los campesinos en la India y en Kenia usan smartphones y tablets para navegar la web para buscar información. En Bolivia, algunos productores no solo bajan contenido del web, sino que también lo usan para compartir sus observaciones y experiencias.

quinoa standBernabé Choquetopa y Antolín Salazar son quinueros del Altiplano sur boliviano, esa planicie sorprendentemente alta que está sobre los 3,700 metros, entre las cordilleras de los Andes. A esta altitud puede ser difícil producir hasta la papa. La quinua da bien, si llueve, pero ahora las lluvias llegan cada vez más tarde, amenazando toda una forma de vida en esas zonas altiplánicas.

Bernabé y Antolín son parte de un grupo de 98 productores expertos, llamados yapuchiris, quienes enseñan técnicas a sus vecinos para adaptarse al cambio climático. En el 2015 la institución Prosuco formó un grupo en WhatsApp, una plataforma de medio social que se usa desde el celular. Diez yapuchiris de diferentes zonas del Altiplano se unieron al grupo y lo llamaron la Red de Observadores, dedicada a compartir información sobre el clima en sus zonas. Algunos técnicos, y agricultores en otras partes de Bolivia, se unieron a la red, hasta tener más de 60 miembros.

En el 2016 cuando varios campesinos escribieron para contar que la sequía atrasaba azotaba a la cosecha de casi todos los cultivos. Pero también hay información alentadora. Bernabé a menudo informa sobre los “indicadores,” el nombre que el grupo usa para las señales que predicen el tiempo a corto plazo. Por ejemplo, cuando los zorros salen de las llanuras para buscar lugares cálidos en los cerros, hará frío en la noche. El saber eso hace recuerdo a los agricultores a asegurarse que sus animales estén bajo cobertura.

nest of oven birdEl hornero hace un nido redondo, duro y cubierto. Los pájaros sienten la llegada del tiempo húmedo y hacen lo posible para hacerse un nido seco, entonces si las paredes del nido son fuertes y duras, será un año lluvioso. Este conocimiento informa a los agricultores que pueden sembrar hasta en lugares más secos, y que pueden empezar a sembrar con las primeras buenas lluvias. Algunos de los técnicos también suben pronósticos basados en satélites a la Red de Observadores. Al principio pensé que eso podría quitar protagonismo a los yapuchiris, pero no fue así. Los agricultores están felices de ver imágenes satelitales y nidos de pájaros. Se puede apreciar información de varias fuentes.

Gracias al internet, los celulares baratos y los e-medios accesibles, hoy en día es posible que algunos campesinos empiecen a publicar sus propias ideas. Es una tendencia emocionante, que facilita el trabajo de los que compartimos información con los campesinos. En el futuro será más fácil compartir mensajes de alta calidad, a gran escala, por el web.

Agradecimiento

Escrito con el apoyo de la Ing. Sonia Laura, quien trabaja en Prosuco, www.prosuco.org, una entidad sin fines de lucro.

Cuentos relacionados del blog

Village smart phones in India

Connected to the world in Kenya

Call anytime March 19th, 2017 by

It’s difficult to know who reads a fact sheet, listens to a radio broadcast or watches a farmer learning video, but those of us who produce such information always want to know what happens to it, once it leaves our hands. In 2011 my colleagues at Access Agriculture tried a new way to do audience research. Access Agriculture and partners distributed 20,000 copies of a DVD on striga (the devil weed) across East Africa. Each copy contained a questionnaire, formatted as a letter, asking the viewers to tick off a few boxes and mail back the letter in the post. No one bothered to return the survey.

GerardSo in 2015, PhD candidate GĂ©rard Zoundji tried a slightly different way to get feedback from viewers in Benin, as he explains in a recent paper in Cogent Food & Agriculture. First he compiled a DVD in five languages, with nine different videos on growing vegetables. Next, GĂ©rard distributed his DVD through the private sector, mainly through agro-input dealers and people who sell movie DVDs. Previously DVDs had been distributed through extension providers, NGOs or government agencies, not from small shops.

GĂ©rard asked the vendors to collect names and phone numbers of people who bought the DVD, so he could do follow up work with the buyers. GĂ©rard gave the vendors the DVDs for free, in exchange for their cooperation, but allowed them to keep the equivalent of a dollar or two which they collected for each sale. He also tried a new way of doing follow up. He put a sticker in the DVD jacket, with a note inviting the recipients to phone in if they had questions. The number was for a SIM card that GĂ©rard bought, just to receive such calls.

It was a pleasant surprise when people started phoning in. Of 562 who bought the DVD, a whopping 341 phoned GĂ©rard. Some just called to say how much they had enjoyed watching the videos. Others wanted to share their story. Nearly 20% of them had been so eager to watch the videos that they bought their own DVD player. Others called to ask where they could buy the drip irrigation equipment featured on one of the videos.

The six agro-input dealers who were selling the DVD were also impressed with the video on drip irrigation, and the interest it inspired in farmers. Two of these dealers actually began to stock drip irrigation supplies themselves.

As Paul has written in an earlier post, farmers who have been exposed to drip irrigation through development projects usually abandon drip irrigation once the project ends. Projects usually make little effort to involve the private sector. Yet here were dealers who were motivated enough to find out where to buy the drip irrigation equipment, and stock it, in response to interest shown by farmers who had watched a video. Sometimes simply watching a video can excite people more than participating in a full project.

I am always delighted to learn about someone using a cell phone in a new way, especially if it involves giving rural people the chance to make their voices heard. A sticker inside a DVD cover was enough to encourage buyers of a DVD to call in with comments.

Since publishing the paper, GĂ©rard has been discussing with Ministry of Agriculture staff in Benin about ways to design an advisory service via phone call.

Agro-input dealers and movie DVDs sellers, including some who were not involved in the study are now requesting new DVDs to sell.

In this story we see the phone was linked with the DVD. Both are ICTs (information and communication technologies), but the connection between the two was one of the oldest ICTs: the printed word on paper.

Further reading

Zoundji, Gérard C., Florent Okry, Simplice D. Vodouhê, and Jeffery W. Bentley 2016 “The Distribution of Farmer Learning Videos: Lessons from Non-Conventional Dissemination Networks in Benin.” Cogent Food & Agriculture 2(1):1277838. https://www.accessagriculture.org/publications

Related blog stories

To drip or not to drip

Beating a nasty weed

Watch all nine of the vegetable videos

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

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