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Late night learning April 17th, 2016 by

It takes some effort to go to a remote village in the evening and show a farmer learning video, but it can be worthwhile, as I saw recently in Uganda. Robert Ogwang, an extension supervisor with GADC (Gulu Agricultural Development Company) took me to the village of Tumbafu, in Northern Uganda. We were joined by Obalim Morris Cankura, a local farmer who doubles as extensionist and as a commodity buyer for the company.

Morris and Robert set up speakersRobert and Morris quickly unload the sound console, a wooden folding table, laptop, big box speakers and a heavy steel frame that holds the screen (a bedsheet). Robert plays some West African, French pop music and attracts a crowd, including some toddlers who start to dance. Three Acholi music videos are next on the play list. Robert believes in local content. The videos are entertaining and playful but with serious messages. The first one is about taking your time when you decide who you want to marry; chose the right person to spend the rest of your life with. The second one is on the importance of staying in school to get a good education and the third one is a traditional Acholi dance, performed in modern dress, in what looks like a large, new hotel. The moral is: be Acholi, keep your identity, and adapt gracefully to the opportunities that this changing world offers.

The music ends and several people introduce the learning videos: first Morris, then a local leader, then me (briefly) and Robert. The people of Tumbafu have never grown chilli. Robert knows this so he starts by telling them that GADC will give them seed, and buy the crop from them. He explains how chilli is graded A, B and C, with different prices. Then he shows them four videos on chilli:

Then Robert shows his own video, featuring Rachel, the local farmer who has a solar dryer.

people watch the videoAfterwards, Robert invites questions. People come up to the microphone and speak one at a time. As they ask their question, in Luo, Robert types them in English on the screen. (He’s not typing in English to impress me, but as someone who’s formal education has been in English, it is easier for him to write in English than in his native language).

Robert then answers all of the questions in one go, in some detail, and then takes no further questions. He says that this keeps people from asking too many questions about one point, which can often be tangential. In 20 minutes Robert answers 14 questions. It is an admirably efficient system, and one that leaves a permanent record, at least of the questions. He doesn’t jot down his answers. The farmers are not just motivated; they also learn from the videos and from Robert’s responses. The local field agents, who live in the villages, also attend the viewings and can answer farmers’ questions over the next few days.

It was well after 9 pm by the time Robert completed the session on chillies. I was falling asleep, and it was way past the villagers’ bedtime, but they were excited by the videos, and wide awake. When Robert asked them if they wanted to watch more videos, they roared in appreciation and we watched all three of the sesame videos, plus Robert’s own video on how to make a sesame dryer.

No one left. There was more discussion after the sesame videos and we got back to town at midnight. The villagers had stayed up very late to watch the videos. They would have watched all 34 videos that were translated into Luo by Access Agriculture with support of Mercy Corps, but we were too tired.

Rural people will stay up way past their bedtime to learn new information, as long as it is relevant and in the local language. They know that video shows do not happen every day, so when an opportunity to learn arrives they embrace it. Robert often stays out late to show videos, starting at dusk and leaving late at night, with the audience still ready to see more.

Further viewing

The four chilli videos that Robert played can be viewed here (in English):

Making a chilli seedbed, Managing nematodes, Chilli solar drying, and Drying and storing chillies.

And here are the sesame videos:

Maintaining varietal purity of sesame, Row planting of sesame and Harvesting and storing sesame.

If you are interested in watching videos in the Luo language, you can see them all here.

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