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Can I make some extra money? November 22nd, 2015 by

Should information be public or private? This is often presented as a stark choice between two alternatives, especially in agricultural extension. But just like with hybrid cars, blending two different power sources may be the way forward.

Access Agriculture has just held a two-day writeshop for some 40 people from Africa and Asia on experiences in producing, distributing and using farmer training videos. At a conference after the writeshop, about a hundred people listened to a selection of stories which revealed surprising and exciting developments.

aa DSCN7422 DVD selling shopRonald Kondwani Udedi from Malawi told the audience how young village people, known as DJs, set up “burning centres”, often nothing more than a second-hand PC on a table in a small room, to sell Malawian music videos, and movies from Hollywood, Bollywood and even Nollywood. For 5 US cents the customers can get their flash discs, or the memory cards of their cell phones filled up with films to watch at home. When Ronald provided some 100 DJs across southern Malawi with farmer training videos, the DJs may not have realised it, but they all became “new extensionists”.

Gérard Zoundji from Benin told how he compiled a DVD with existing videos on vegetable-growing in different local languages. He distributed copies to mobile vendors of entertainment DVDs, agrodealer shop owners and even to taxi moto drivers. These vendors were able to sell these farmer training videos.

As part of his experiment, Gérard put a sticker with a free phone number inside each DVD jacket. Surprisingly, people started to call from as far away as Niger, Ghana and Nigeria, yet he had only distributed the DVaa IMG_3346 drip irrigation on tomatoDs to vendors in Cotonou and Porto Novo, both large cities in southern Benin. Clearly, the DVDs had ended up where people needed them. All had clearly understood the videos and many asked where they could buy drip irrigation equipment.

One truck driver from Niger told Gerard he was passing through Benin when he noticed the DVD and bought one as a gift for his brother, who was just starting to grow vegetables. Many Africans living in cities have family in the rural areas, and as much as they can, they support their relatives. Goods are often delivered across thousands of kilometers, using a network of taaa IMG_1544 loaded busxi drivers, bus drivers, and people they know along the road who can pick up a parcel and put it on the next track.

In the above examples from Malawi and Benin, the videos were all produced by organisations using public funds. Nearly all translations of the quality training videos on the Access Agriculture website used public funds. Yet, recently Equity Bank in Kenya has started to invest in local language translations and the distribution of DVDs through their village agents. Making videos accessible to the thousands of agricultural service providers (in the broadest sense) will remain a public service that Access Agriculture continues to provide, but to deliver videos to farmers, the private sector may become as important or even more so than the public sector.

aa 6433 banana porridge cheersConferences are a great way to stimulate cross-fertilisation of ideas. When talking to Fatuma A. Nyanjong, a young staff member of the Kenya National Farmers Federation (KENAFF) that serves over 2 million members, she asked me: “Paul, can I sell farmer training DVDs?” When I said that Access Agriculture even encourages people to take such initiatives, she continued: “The presentations really gave me some new ideas. Farmers are eager to get their own copies of DVDs, they are willing to pay, and I am willing to start selling them.”

“My mum sells farm produce at the village market and not too far from her there is a young chap selling music DVDs. He has a TV screen and DVD player to attract customers. When I next go to my village, I will provide the man with some agricultural DVDs to test his reaction and see how it goes.”

Then Fatuma continues her reflections, clearly having seen the business opportunity it offers: “I learned we need to start thinking outside of the box. At bus stations people come from far away places, hanging around waiting for their bus to leave. I think it is a great opportunity to sell farmer training videos there as well, and I will also give that a try, providing vendors of entertainment DVDs with all the farmer training videos that are already available in Kiswahili.”

In Kenya, bus stations are where competition to sell entertainment DVDs is probably the toughest, with various DVD vendors cramped into the small area, each using TV screens and DVD players to attract customers to buy the latest music and film DVD releases. Letting one of the vendors offer something which the others do not have (DVDs with local language farmer training videos) will give him an advantage over the competition.

Improving extension is not only looking at what new skills extension staff require, but also about developing new distribution channels for quality extension materials. The presentations at the conference showed how young entrepreneurs across Africa have started to provide creative solutions to problems that the public sector has failed to solve. When farmer training videos are available in local languages, young entrepreneurs will find their way to earn some extra money.

The story-telling write-shop was facilitated by Agro-Insight, ICRA, CTA and Access Agriculture.

Related blog stories:

More than a mobile

Village movies in Malawi

Watching videos without smartphones

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