ECOVA MALI: Building Home Grown Knowledge

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet. This is the first part in a series about our visit with ECOVA MALI.

It’s not a new concept—farmers learning from other farmers about different agricultural techniques—but it’s one that can be difficult to execute. Foreign NGOs often offer trainings, but they don’t always fit farmers needs. But at ECOVA MALI’s training center, 35 kilometers outside of Bamako, Mali’s capital, farmers are getting the skills they need to be better stewards of the environment, as well as better business women and men.

ECOVA was started by former Peace Corps Volunteers, Gregory Flatt and Cynthia Hellman. Along with Yacouba Kone, a Peace Corps program assistant and trainer for agriculture and natural resource management and Madou Camara, ECOVA’s Country Director, they’ve created a training center—and testing ground—for environmentally sustainable agricultural techniques. They want to encourage “home grown knowledge” by building local expertise. The facility, near the village of Terenabougou, uses local experts to teach farmers how intercropping, water conservation, agroforestry, seed saving, processing shea butter, and other practices can help both protect the environment and increase farmer income. ECOVA also instructs farmers about basic business, accounting, and marketing skills and provides small loans and “mini-grants” to allow farmers to buy tools and equipment they need and to start businesses.

ECOVA holds workshops based on requests from farmer communities—for example, they’ve worked with women’s groups from nearby communities, teaching them how to process shea butter. ECOVA hopes to eventually start training farmers about small-scale livestock production, including raising poultry and goats. Listen to Madou Camara talk about ECOVA’s farmer to farmer training method:

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.

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Messages From One Rice Farmer to Another

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

Some 80 percent of the world's rice production is grown by smallholder farmers in developing countries, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). From Bangladesh to Benin, these farmers continue to develop different solutions to improve the process of rice production.  These methods include using flotation to sort seeds, and parboiling, which removes impurities and reduces grain breakage.  The Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) has developed a simple solution to help farmers share this knowledge: Farmer to farmer videos

Working with researchers, rice farmers and processors, they have developed a series of videos to instruct farmers, including, manual seed sorting manually and by flotation, seed drying and preservation in Bangladesh; rice quality and parboiling in Benin; land preparation for planting rice in Burkina Faso; and seedbed preparation, transplanting, weeding and soil fertility management in Mali.

Farmers in Guinea watched videos of Bangladeshi women creating solutions to improve the quality of farm-saved rice-seed. "The farmers pay a lot of attention to the quality of their seed that they store for the next season," said Louis Béavogui, researcher at the Institut de recherche agronomique de Guinée (IRAG). "Watching the videos on seed has stimulated them to start looking for local solutions to common problems that farmers face. It is by drawing on local knowledge that sustainable solutions can often be found at almost no cost."

To pique farmers' interest in the project, AfricaRice researchers approach them with videos on topics relevant to that particular region. And farmers are involved in the production of the videos from the very beginning, helping researchers decide which methods should be highlighted. Edith Dah Tossounon, chairperson from a rice processing group in Southern Benin, was one of the many women who demonstrated how to parboil rice in a video.

The strong presence of women in the videos also helps local NGOs and extension offices-which tend to be made up mostly of male agents-engage women's groups.  A survey of 160 women in Central Benin comparing the use of video with conventional training workshops showed that videos reached 74 percent of women compared with 27 percent in conventional training. Women who watched the videos worked with NGOs to formulate requests for training in building improved stoves and to seek financial assistance to buy inputs such as paddy rice and improved parboilers that allow rice to stay above the water during steaming, so more nutritional value is preserved.  More than 95 percent of those who watched the video adopted drying their rice on tarpaulins and removed their shoes before stirring the rice to preserve cleanliness and avoid contamination, compared to about 50 percent of those who only received traditional training.  In addition, illiterate woman could easily learn from the simple language and clear visuals of the examples shown in the videos.

"By giving rural women a voice through video, and disseminating these videos through grassroots organizations and rural radio stations," AfricaRice believes that they can "overcome local power structures and reduce conflict at the community level."

By 2009, 11 rice videos were available to communities in Africa.  AfricaRice partners translated various rice videos into over 30 African languages and held open air video presentations.  At least five hundred organizations and more than 130,000 farmers are involved.   Distribution has been most successful through farmer associations, where initial distribution to nine associations led to making the videos available to 167 local farmer organizations and their members. Farmers would spontaneously start organizing video shows, taking the initiative to find video and dvd equipment and gathering around an available television in a village.

AfricaRice also paid attention to how the videos could complement existing rural radio to enhance learning, build additional connections and share information.  In collaboration with Farm Radio International (FRI), the videos were also used for radio scripts, including information for listeners about how to obtain the rice videos.  The scripts were sent to more than 300 rural radio stations, making the videos more widely known and linking different stakeholders who were previously strangers to each other, allowing them to explore their common interests.

For more about innovative ways to share knowledge among rural populations, see Acting it Out For Advocacy.

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