Madagascar: RAILS and video for versatility in farming
In a country where going to bed on an empty stomach is becoming a norm for poor smallholder farmers, providing extension services is a challenge for government and the private sector.
Providers of extension advisory services in Madagascar have to be innovative and resourceful in freeing farmers
from poverty through, for example, video training to improve farming techniques, add value to produce, and
More than 70 percent of Madagascar’s population of 22 million live on less than a dollar a day. Many of them are smallholder farmers who grow rice. According to a World Bank briefing, the country’s political crisis increased poverty levels by above 9 percentage points between 2005 and 2010, affected nearly 80 percent of households – the highest rate in Africa by 2011 World Development Indicators.
To enhance livelihoods and assist poverty reduction, FARA supported the Knowledge Management Platform (KMP), facilitated by Farming and Technology for Africa (FTA), to boost extension activities in Madagascar. The
FTA initiates and facilitates the IPTA in Madagascar. KMP, which also includes the IPTAs, is an effort to strengthen agricultural research and extension. The platform produced low-cost participatory farm videos that have helped close the information gap on how to improve farm productivity. The goal is enough food, of the right kind, for everyone.
FARA gave KMP USD 40,000 to develop 40 DVDs in Malagasy, covering subjects such as how to improve rice growing, quick compost-making, and growing potatoes. They run between 5 and 30 minutes and were produced by researchers and some farmers. The project established eight viewing sites within a 100-kilometre radius of the capital, Antananarivo, where farmers meet regularly to view the videos and implement some of the advice. Each of the videos is adapted to a particular region of Madagascar, making them versatile for the different challenges that farmers may face. Without farm schools in Madagascar, the videos have become an important teaching aid and will provide a basis for the resuscitation of institutional extension training which has been hampered by lack of government funding and personnel. The 6-month programme trained researchers who entered the competition on writing scripts for both radio and TV. This enabled them to explain technical concepts in simple language for farmers that are unable to read or write. The criteria for producing the videos were: relevance, affordability, technical quality, and accessibility. The training imparted multimedia skills to researchers and farmers including using web-based platforms like Facebook and Drupal used by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). They also learned how to use Cool Edit and other open source software. ‘Meeting the project deadline to produce something innovative with a transformative impact on Madagascaragriculture was a feat,’ said Andrianjafy Rasoanindrainy, the FTA manager. ‘And producing the videos as a kind of competition was the carrot which got the researchers thinking about how to ensure that the products were understood by the farmers.’
Rasoanindrainy added that in terms of applicability and affordability, the videos had to offer something farmers can apply that did not need a lot of investment. Compost-making, for example, usually takes two months, but one video illustrates a technique for making it in 7 days. A challenge encountered during the production of the videos, said Rasoanindrainy, was that researchers found the production time too short to illustrate some techniques. It takes more than three months to capture the full cycle of potato growing, for example. ‘One of the major challenges was to bring appropriate information with practical techniques from the research centres and extension agencies directly to beneficiary farmers in a relatively short period of time,’ he explained. The original KMP target was 100 videos, but owing to cost this was revised to 40. The major achievement was to get researchers and extension specialists together on a common platform as Madagascar does not have a NARS. Statistics for the project show that 65 people were trained in the production of the videos and multimedia materials, 47 were from extension services including five model farmers, and 18 were from research centres.
‘In the future we have to invest more in this project and find incentives for people to share information, not just worry about what they will eat tomorrow,’ said Rasoanindrainy. ‘The main food in Madagascar is rice, but once you start telling farmers about sweet potato, they begin to say “let’s learn”.’
Rasoanindrainy explained that they were still assessing which has the greater impact: face to face explanation or videos. ‘We are still trying to understand that, but what we know is that many of the techniques shown in the videos have been adopted by farmers, instead of hiring 40 people to explain 40 techniques,’ he said. ‘We can’t yet evaluate the economic impact of the project. Knowledge cannot be easily quantified, and it will take 2 years or so to determine this at farm level, but a change in habits and techniques is important.’ The videos have
been uploaded on YouTube and there are plans to make them available on the internet too.
KMP produced a virtual platform – agriculturemadagascar.net and blog.agriculture-madagascar.net – highlighting key events. There is also a virtual forum and mailing list, a document and media space, and a database of researchers and extensions agents. An online system for monitoring the project is combined with Web 2.0 tools, enhancing the possibilities.
Building linkages between researchers and extensions agents, and between both of them and farmers, was a serious challenge. ‘Like many other societies, Malagasy institutions are very hierarchical,’ said Rasoanindrainy in his report on the project. ‘An informal, flexible networking initiative can easily be interpreted as destabilizing influence to be avoided, especially in the unstable political conditions of Madagascar since 2009.’ The project aligned its objectives to FARA’s Framework for African Agriculture Productivity (FAAP) and the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). The two initiatives are focused on fighting poverty and famine, improving farmers’ livelihoods by increasing production and productivity. Rasoanindrainy says a major result of the project was bringing researchers and extensions agents together to disseminate research results and new techniques.
The Secretary-General in the Ministry of Agriculture, Philibert Rakotoson, is confident that Madagascar has the potential to improve its agricultural productivity by promoting sector-wide approaches that increase farmers’ capacity and boost investment in the sector. ‘We expect to sign the CAADP compact process in Madagascar soon,’ he said. ‘This should enhance investment in agriculture and enhance our technical Vegetables: products participatory video can help develop Participants at various points in the process work.’ Rakotoson’s vision is for Madagascar to be self-sufficient in food by 2025. He adds: ‘The FARA programme is useful for Madagascar, and by building the capacity of our farmers to improve their productivity, I am convinced that we can achieve food self-sufficiency. The beauty of the project is that it also shares knowledge from researchers down to the community level in improving the livelihoods of farmers. That is why we support it, even if there is no funding for it from our ministry.’ Agriculture, fishing and forestry form the backbone of Madagascar’s economy and provide most of its population with employment, while the main exports
and foreign currency earners include coffee, vanilla, sugarcane and a variety of beans and spices.