WHO WE ARE SERVICES RESOURCES




Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed
Blog

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.

Videos to teach kids good attitudes March 7th, 2021 by

Kenyan schools recently moved away from memorizing facts, and towards learning skills, knowledge and attitudes. This “competency based curriculum (CBC)” includes new topics like ICT, and agriculture. Lawrence Njagi, the CEO of Mountain Top Educational Publishers, explained that the challenge was finding a way to integrate both subjects. He eventually decided that the best way was with videos from Access Agriculture.

In 2020, Mountain Top published a new textbook for fourth and fifth graders, to build students’ confidence step-by-step. The text book lists URLs for almost 20 videos on Access Agriculture, on gardening, legumes, pumpkins, small animals, innovative gardening, and mulching. Teachers help students to pick a video topic, type in the URL and watch it.

“They can watch the videos in either English or Kiswahili”, Lawrence explains. “It was great, because they could hear the voices of African people on the videos.”

Ninety percent of the schools in Kenya are on the national electric grid, and 70% of those have access to Wi-Fi, including some schools in poor and remote areas. Watching the videos was “an equalizing factor for those who could download,” Lawrence says.

The students watch a video on, for example, making a vegetable seedbed. The textbook comes with a teachers’ guide that explains how to lead the children in a project. The teacher organises them in groups and the kids make a seedbed and plant  kale in the school garden. The children also watch videos on how to make compost. Then they make the compost and fertilise their vegetables. The project lasts a whole term. The kids eat some of the vegetables, and on Parents’ Day, the proud students show their produce to the adults, who are allowed to buy some, teaching the students another valuable lesson: farms can make money.

This is important, because the Kenyan government is now encouraging young people to stay in the countryside. There are no more jobs in the cities. Young Kenyans have to employ themselves, and feed others while ensuring that Kenya is a food sovereign nation.

Kenya’s schools were closed for the Covid pandemic, but they opened in October and November of 2020. During the closure, some schools and students tried to continue their studies with textbooks, educational TV and radio, and the internet. Some continued to watch Access Agriculture videos during the lockdown.

It is too soon to judge how well the learning videos have helped teach the next generation of farmers to have a good attitude about farming, but the stakes are high: Kenya has 1.2 million pupils in each of the grades 4 and 5, in 25,000 schools. When they sit for their exams in July of 2021, Mountain Top and the educators will measure the results of the videos. But Lawrence is optimistic. “We are equipping the children to produce food for themselves, and to sell.”

Watch the videos

Making a chilli seedbed

Composting to beat striga

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Videos in Swahili

Access Agriculture has 130 videos in the Kiswahili language. Check them out here.

Videos in other languages of Kenya

Access Agriculture has videos in some of the other languages of Kenya as well: Ateso, Dholuo, Kalenjin, Kiembu, Kikuyu, Luhya, and Samburu.

Writing tips from Marco Polo February 21st, 2021 by

If Covid has idled you, this might be the time to take a tip from Marco Polo, and write a book or an article.

In 1271, a 17-year-old Marco set out for China and Mongolia with his father, Niccolò and his uncle, Maffeo Polo. At the court of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, Niccolò presented Marco as the great Khan’s servant. The Khan liked Marco right away, and sent him to various cities in China, perhaps as a tax collector, or as an official in the royal salt monopoly, or maybe just to report back.

Even then, Marco had a gift for storytelling, and he reported back to the Khan in detail of the people and things he had seen. Marco kept notes to remind him of what to tell the Khan.

Twenty-four years after leaving Venice, the three Polos arrived back home again, but they were soon dragged into a pointless war with Genoa. As a noble, Marco was obliged to outfit a galley. But when he and his sailors ventured into the Adriatic Sea they were captured by the Genoese, who took him to prison. For centuries, Genoa had been competing with Venice for the trade in salt and other goods in the Mediterranean, so the city states were arch rivals.

The Genoese recognized Marco as a noble (in no small part because he would tell anyone who would listen that he was a Venetian nobleman). So, Marco was placed into a reasonable comfortable captivity, for at least a year, and perhaps as long as three, waiting for his family to ransom him.

Marco beguiled his fellow jail mates with tales of exotic lands, and soon came to the attention of another prisoner of war, Rustichello da Pisa, a notary and a romance writer.

Rustichello realized the power of Marco’s story and the two became collaborators. Marco sent for, and received the notes he had written to report back to the Khan, and he dictated his story to Rustichello, who wrote it up (in French, oddly enough). In the words of historian Laurence Bergreen, in prison, Marco Polo found the freedom to write his story.

Hand-written copies of the book slowly appeared all over Europe, in English, Spanish, Italian and other languages. Marco himself, who had returned from Asia with a fortune in pearls and jewels sewed into the hems of his clothing, also hired scribes to copy his book. Each one was a bit different; Marco may have kept adding to his book each time he had it copied. At a time before the printing press, when a book could cost as much as a house, and a library might have only 100 volumes, a copy of Marco Polo’s Travels was a valuable gift. Marco would give copies to important people he wanted to impress.

Marco died in 1324, but his book lived on, and it was one of the first books (after the bible) to come off the printing press, almost two centuries after it had been written. The Travels appeared in print first in German, in 1477 and Christopher Columbus owned a Latin version, in which he wrote detailed notes in the margins.

China had thrown off Mongol rule not long after Kublai Khan died in 1294, and then closed itself off from the west for centuries. But Marco’s book inspired voyagers like Columbus and Magellan to seek a sea route to China.

Marco Polo was not the only European to visit Asia. His own father and uncle went not once, but twice, yet they appear as minor characters in Marco’s story.

Traveling and writing have both changed a lot since Marco stepped onto the Silk Road to China, but some principles remain the same: keep good notes and be observant; report back in a narrative style and write it up. It may be helpful to have a collaborator. Take advantage of any time or space you get, to write.

If Marco had merely travelled to China and not met Rustichello, the Polos would have been largely forgotten. Marco Polo is famous not because of his trip, but because of his book about his trip, in spite of all the technical limitations of publishing in the 13th and 14th century.

Further reading

Bergreen, Laurence 2009 Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. London: Quercus. 415 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

A history worth its salt

Illustrations

Caravana de Marco Polo, from the Atlas Catalán of Carlos V, 1375.

Map, The Route of Marco Polo’s Journey, by SY.

We think with our hands January 24th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

I live on a busy street. But the traffic is slow enough that I can observe the drivers. Many have their eyes on the road. Some are looking at their phones, but occasionally I see a motorcycle rider speaking to his passenger, and making hand gestures. Taking one’s hands off the handlebars to gesture is dangerous, and pointless if your listener is behind you and can’t see you wave and point.

So why would people in their right minds risk their lives to make hand gestures to someone out of view?

Anthropologists have found that people all the world over move their hands when they speak, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes to convey meaning. We know how to point at something to let the shopkeeper know we want to buy it, or to hold out our palm while saying “and the corn was this high.” Hand signs can be used to say anything. Deaf sign languages are complete communication systems, as expressive as speech. Native American sign language was once the lingua franca across the plains from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

But unconscious hand gesturing is different; we aren’t always aware that we are doing it. We gesture while speaking on the phone. Even the blind, who have never seen hand signs, instinctively gesture while speaking to other blind people.

In his book on translation, David Bellos tells a story about people giving speeches at international organizations like the United Nations. The speakers tend to read prepared remarks, so they know what to say. They stand and speak, hands resting quietly on the podium. To see the hand movements, you have to go down to the booth for the simultaneous translators, who gesture wildly as they struggle to find the right words in another language.

A recent review of the evolution of languages describes how our primate relatives communicate with their hands and with their voices. Over the past six million years, human gestures and vocalization probably developed together, even if spoken language eventually gained the upper hand, so to speak.

Speech has probably always been accompanied by hand gestures. Sometimes these are complete signs, like pantomiming a scribbling pencil to let the waiter know you’d like the check, but we often move our hands unintentionally, which may add clarity to meaning, like a wagging finger. And sometimes, we just move our hands as we make an effort to express ourselves. We may be unaware of the hand movements, but they help us to find the right words. We all gesture like the motorcyclists on my street, who haven’t lost their minds; they are just gathering their thoughts.

Further reading

Bellos, David 2011 Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything. New York: Faber and Faber. 373 pp.

Corballis, Michael C. 2012. How language evolved from manual gestures. Gesture 12(2): 200–226.

Fröhlich, Marlen, Christine Sievers, Simon W. Townsend, Thibaud Gruber, and Carel P. van Schaik 2019. Multimodal communication and language origins: Integrating gestures and vocalizations Biological Reviews. doi: 10.1111/brv.12535

Iverson, Jana M. and Susan Goldin-Meadow 1998. Why people gesture when they speak. Nature 396(6708): 228-228.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

At the end of the words

The wine rose

PENSAMOS CON LAS MANOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 24 de enero del 2021

Vivo en una calle con bastante tráfico. Pero caminan lento no más, y puedo ver a los conductores. Muchos sí se fijan en la calle. Algunos miran sus celulares, pero de vez en cuando veo a gente manejando moto, hablando con su pasajero y haciendo gestos con las manos. Quitar las manos de la manilla para hacer gestos es peligroso, y no tiene sentido si el pasajero está detrás de ti y ni puede ver lo que señalas.

Entonces ¿por qué la gente en su sano juicio arriesgaría su vida para hacer gestos con la mano a alguien que ni le pueda ver?

Los antropĂłlogos han comprobado que los pueblos de todo el mundo mueven las manos cuando hablan, a veces de forma inconsciente y otras para transmitir un significado. Indicamos algo con el dedo para hacerle saber al tiendero que queremos comprarlo, o extendemos la palma de la mano mientras decimos “y el maĂ­z era asĂ­ de alto”. Las señas manuales pueden usarse para decir cualquier cosa. Las lenguas de signos de los sordos son sistemas de comunicaciĂłn completos, tan expresivos como el habla. El lenguaje de signos de los indĂ­genas norteamericanos servĂ­a para comunicaciĂłn entre las tribus en las llanuras desde el sur de Canadá hasta el norte de MĂ©xico.

Pero el gesto inconsciente de las manos es diferente; no siempre somos conscientes de que lo hacemos. Hacemos gestos mientras hablamos por teléfono. Incluso los ciegos, que nunca han visto los signos de las manos, gesticulan instintivamente cuando hablan con otros ciegos.

En su libro sobre la traducción, David Bellos cuenta una historia sobre las personas que dan discursos en organizaciones internacionales como las Naciones Unidas. Los oradores suelen leer los discursos preparados para saber qué decir. Se ponen de pie y hablan, con las manos apoyadas tranquilamente en el podio. Para ver los movimientos de las manos, hay que ir a la cabina de los traductores simultáneos, que gesticulan a todo dar mientras se esfuerzan por encontrar las palabras adecuadas en otro idioma.

Una reciente reseña de la evolución del idioma describe cómo nuestros parientes primates se comunican con las manos y con la voz. A lo largo de los últimos seis millones de años, los gestos y la vocalización del ser humano probablemente se desarrollaron juntos, aunque el lenguaje hablado ganó la carrera.

Probablemente, el habla siempre ha ido acompañada de gestos con las manos. A veces se trata de signos completos, como la pantomima de un lápiz que garabateamos para hacer saber al mesero que queremos la cuenta, pero a menudo movemos las manos sin querer, lo que puede añadir claridad al significado, como al mover el dedo para decir “ya no”. Y a veces, simplemente movemos las manos en un esfuerzo por expresarnos. Puede que no seamos conscientes de los movimientos de las manos, pero nos ayudan a encontrar las palabras adecuadas. Todos gesticulamos como los motociclistas de mi calle, que no han perdido la mente; sólo están juntando sus pensamientos.

Lectura adicional

Bellos, David 2011 Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything. Nueva York: Faber y Faber. 373 pp.

Corballis, Michael C. 2012. How language evolved from manual gestures. Gesture 12(2): 200–226.

Fröhlich, Marlen, Christine Sievers, Simon W. Townsend, Thibaud Gruber, y Carel P. van Schaik 2019. Multimodal communication and language origins: Integrating gestures and vocalizations Biological Reviews. doi: 10.1111/brv.12535

Iverson, Jana M. y Susan Goldin-Meadow 1998. Why people gesture when they speak. Nature 396(6708): 228-228.

Previos blogs de Agro-Insight

At the end of the words

The wine rose

Pony Express December 13th, 2020 by

From April 1860 to October 1861, a private mail service, called the Pony Express, carried letters by horseback. By running at full throttle day and night, horses and riders could relay a mail pouch, called a mochila, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento California, by way of Salt Lake City, Utah: over 1,900 miles (3,100 km) away in ten days. Depending on the terrain, “swing stations” were placed about ten miles apart, where a stock tender kept a corral full of small, swift horses. The rider would gallop into the station, swing his mochila over the saddle of a fresh horse, and ride off. After some 70 miles, he would hand his mochila to the next man at a “home station” where the riders ate and slept.

The riders were just boys; “orphans preferred” said one classic ad (perhaps written to entice teens with the thrill of danger). Riders were small men, who could weigh no more than 125 pounds (57 kilos), to be light on the ponies.

As a teenager, I also worked briefly on the Pony Express, not riding it, but digging it. I was 19, about the same age as the riders had been. I worked as an archaeological laborer for one of my professors, Dale Berge, under a government contract to excavate the Pony Express home station at Simpson Springs in the Great Basin, southwest of Salt Lake City.

The sagebrush stretched for miles, rimmed by distant mountains, a bit like it must have looked when the ponies still ran. The ruined station was easy to spot. The lower walls of a three-room cabin and a corral were clearly visible.

For all its originality, the Pony Express did rely on some earlier endeavors, especially existing roads, like the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake City. Some of the stations were already in place, including the one at Simpson Springs, founded in 1859 when entrepreneur George Chorpenning set up a tent on a stone foundation to serve his mail freight line from Utah to California. In 1860, the Pony Express simply bought Chorpenning’s station after the government conveniently cancelled his mail contract that same year.

The Pony Express built the stone cabin and installed a station keeper named George Dewees, to cook the bacon and beans, and to bake bread for the boys. No booze was allowed on the Pony Express.

In spite of the lure of sudden death, the Pony Express was well organized and dependable, operated by the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company. Yet expenses were high and the Pony Express never made money. The enterprise stopped taking mail two days after the transcontinental telegraph was completed on 24 October 1861, linking the Eastern USA with California. The ponies’ last letters were delivered in November. The Pony Express was killed by the telegraph, a faster information and communication technology (ICT).

Bits of the Pony Express system lingered for a while. The telegraph was like the email of the 1860s. It carried text, but parcels had to go by snail mail, or in this case, by stage coach. Wells Fargo kept delivering mail to California in wagons along the old Pony Express route until the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. A family named Mulliner was living at Simpson Springs in 1890, operating a local stage line. But by 1891 even the station was abandoned.

For all its originality, the Pony Express only lasted a year and a half. The Western Union telegraph that replaced it lasted for 145 years, until 27 January 2006. A communication technology that is carried on by many actors, like book publishing, can evolve for centuries, but a complex system like the Pony Express that is centrally controlled, complicated, and serves a narrow, localized demand, can end as suddenly as it began. Still, any enterprise as romantic and audacious as the Pony Express may stay in the public memory for a long time.

Further reading

My main source of information was Dr. Berge’s site report on Simpson Springs. Ever the gentleman, in his acknowledgements Professor Berge was kind enough to mention me, although I was just a 19-year-old student.

Berge, Dale L. 1980. Simpson Springs Station Historical Archaeology in Western Utah 1974-1975. Salt Lake City: Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Cultural Resource Series No. 6. https://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=45926

Related blog stories

Book rate

Lions, leopards and overnight delivery

The talking wires

Dick’s ice box

Khipu: A story tied in knots

Photos

Pony Express Route by Jkan997 source: http://sharemap.org/public/Pony%20Express%20Route

Pony Express recruitment poster from Berge (1980).

Design by Olean webdesign