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A hard write November 9th, 2014 by

Novice video makers are often surprised when we tell them that they should spend many days preparing their script before they ever get out their camera. Among other things, the video makers must organize their ideas and ask farmers to critique them. But one group of apprentice video makers was in for more than one surprise when they met farmers in central Benin to discuss a video on soya planting.

DEDRAS is one of the NGOs that Access Agriculture trained to make farmer training videos. As a first step, DEDRAS learned to write fact sheets for farmers. With my experienced colleague Jeff Bentley we have run many workshops in Africa and Asia, writing fact sheets as a stepping stone towards developing video scripts. DEDRAS and their colleagues based the first draft of their fact sheet on their technical manual and their own experiences in northern Benin where soya is planted on flat fields. But when they shared their fact sheet with farmers in central Benin, the farmers explained that their land was not only hillier but so rocky that they could not use a tractor and a plough. The video makers quickly learned that their video would need to address many kinds of farmers’ realities.

Later in the workshop, the team edited their fact sheet, and transformed it into a video script (one which now included alternatives to tractor ploughing). They then shared the script with another group of farmers. The first draft of the video script said that farmers had to use quality soya seed with a germination rate of 95% and that farmers should sow just two seeds per hill.

But the ten farmers in Togon village in Dassa, central Benin, had all grown soya for at least five years. Now the novice video makers were surprised to learn that farmers do not buy soya seed every year. Like other legumes, soya seed is oily, and spoils easily, but the farmers had ways to keep their seed viable during storage.

Farmers like to save their own seed, to save money, and to keep the varieties they like, so folks are quite happy if 80% of the seeds germinate. The farmers also said that turtledoves and rodents often eat some of the seed, so it is best to sow four seeds per hole. During the first weeding, the farmers thin the seedlings to leave just 2 plants per hill. Birds and rodents are among the pests most ignored by formal research; by talking to farmers the team learned to include ideas on these fine-feathered pests.

After these eye openers, the trainee video producers continued learning from other farmers to fine-tune their ideas. They gathered more insights on local innovations from the villages of Korobororou, Parisséro and Sakarou.

After a few weeks, birds leave the soya field alone, but wild rabbits can still cause damage. To control them, farmers organise night hunting and set traps in the fields, as the team learned from Apollinaire Ogoubi:

“I place traps. For this I look for the branches of thorn bushes, which I set all around the field to block the rabbits’ way. However, I leave small openings. At these small openings I set the traps. As the rabbits go through the small openings they get caught in the traps.”    

It took the DEDRAS video team 5 months and 8 versions of the video script, and another 2 months to film and edit the program (on top of 6 versions of the initial fact sheet). That may seem like a lot of writing and editing, but it is normal when making a high quality video. The team learned that developing effective training videos for farmers is much more than turning a technical manual into an audio-visual format, and that there is a lot of writing to do before getting out the cameras. As the novelist James Michener once said, “an easy read is often a damned hard write.”

Developing high quality videos with and for farmers requires time and devotion, and an openness to learn from farmers.

The Soya sowing density video made by DEDRAS is available in English and French. If you would like this video translated into another language, please contact info@accessagriculture.org.

Acknowledgment: The soya video was made by Issiakou Moussa and Raoul Balogoun from the NGO DEDRAS, with help from the extensionists Bérenger Dohounkpan and Abou Sanni Ogbon from the Benin national research institute (CRAN-Ina).

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