Communication, multiplying the message
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CTA. 1988. Communication, multiplying the message. Spore 17. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The need to inform, educate and motivate rural people in ACP countries has never been greater because there are more mouths to be fed but fewer, and older, hands to produce the food. Many farmers still lack the basic knowledge and self confidence to...
The need to inform, educate and motivate rural people in ACP countries has never been greater because there are more mouths to be fed but fewer, and older, hands to produce the food. Many farmers still lack the basic knowledge and self confidence to try to improve their techniques. Good communication to and between rural people has been a prerequisite of agricultural development, yet it has so often failed to receive the priority it deserves. Historically, people communicated by word of mouth either person-to-person o; in small gatherings or groups. This remains the most effective technique for transferring information and stimulating discussion, whether at a social, political or technical level. Likewise, agricultural extension staff are the ideal channels of communication to farmers - always provided that their own knowledge is sound, that they can empathise with their farmerclients' problems, and that they have been trained in communication skills. However, even where well trained and motivated extension officers exist, their numbers are small and they have to struggle to reach a fraction of their clientele on a regular basis: the World Bank estimates that each extension officer averages about 8000 farmers! Additionally, distance, rugged terrain and lack of transport may add to their difficulties in some countries and language barriers complicate matters in others. In the majority of African countries, where the 'official' language is English, French or Swahili, farmers speak one of several languages. Where nomadic people are part of the population, language and culture are not those of the settled farmers. Finally, there is the problem of most extension agents being men even though many, if not most, farmers are women. Not surprisingly, women farmers respond best to woman extension officers These factors have often been overlooked or ignored: centralized government has taken the approach that centralized communication will suffice. But, too often, the lack of staff and transport and the fragmented nature of the audience have prevented efficient communication with rural people and resulted in lost opportunities and disappointment. Extending the extension agent How to extend or multiply the effects of a limited number of extension staff is a major challenge. In the past, one approach has been for agents to concentrate their attention and resources on selected farmers in the expectation that knowledge would diffuse through the community. Success was limited: rural people in stratified traditional societies tend to relate with members of their peer groups and so knowledge diffuses laterally in the society and there is little or no 'trickle-up' or 'trickle-down' effect. So, if this multiplier technique is to be used, as it can be with success there must be numerous selected farmers. Better still is to form groups of like-minded farmers in order for extension agents to meet as many of their clients at the same time as possible. However, a far greater multiplier effect is possible where extension staff are supported bv the use of other media. In recent years, some effort has gone into training extension staff, both in personal communication skills and in the use of audio-visual aids and mass media, but there has not been sufficient progress towards integrating all the elements of an extension campaign. Personal visits and groups meetings tend to operate without the coordination with mass media, particularly broadcast media, that would increase the impact of messages offered to farmers Radio - under-utilized potential Radio is a prime example of an under-utilized and often mix-used medium. It is estimated that in the developing world there is now at least one radio set for every 14 people and the World Bank has calculated that, per contact hour, radio can be 2000 to 3500 times less expensive than visits by extension workers. So, in theory, radio should be far-reaching and cost-effective for communicating messages to scattered rural target groups. However, radio is effective only if audiences listen and if the messages broadcast are understood and subsequently elicit the desired response. Even if the response is only to seek more information, or to discuss with others what has been heard, the attention and interest of the audience will have been engaged and the process of participation begun. In practice, radio can prepare the ground for follow-up media by introducing concepts and initiating discussion among farmers and their families and neighbours so that better use can be made of the more limited and expensive time available to extension agents when they meet farmers individually or in groups. Radio programmes can provide information in outline and raise questions in listeners' minds; group meetings and personal visits by extension agents can add detail, answer questions, correct misunderstandings and provide practical demonstrations. But radio rarely lives up to its promise. Programmes are often dull, sometimes in the wrong language, frequently male dominated and seldom coordinated with other extension activities. As a result, target groups may be little more than occasional listeners and, when they do hear broadcasts, there is not sufficient impact or reinforcement from other extension activities. Stimulating radio programming only results when broadcasters are well trained and imaginative. They must be motivated to do the necessary planning and research and to sound enthusiastic and committed in their programmes. Where staff lack training, direction from seniors, and work as individuals instead of interacting with colleagues, they become demoralized; and this is compounded by lack of funds and few opportunities to travel in rural areas. Senior management seldom shows a real interest in their broadcaster's activities and professional competence is limited. Finally, because rural broadcasting is often given a low priority, rural programmes may be transmitted at times to suit radio broadcasting schedules instead of when farmers and fishermen are most likely to be able to listen. Yet, there are examples of successful rural radio in developing countries. Some countries have had successes, but sometimes over rather short periods and, when key staff have moved, the service has suffered. In eastern Africa, countries with a single language, such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland, have found it easier to reach farmers than Zambia with its several regional languages. Likewise Tanzania, where Swahili is commonly spoken among rural people, may be contrasted with Kenya where traditional languages retain their strength and broadcasting to rural people in Swahili is not so effective. In West Africa, rural radio has persevered in Mauritania since the 1970s through national crises of drought, and its success owes a great deal to the interest and support of the Ministry of Rural Development. Other francophone countries have also had rural radio success, among them Burkino Faso Cameroon, Niger, Togo and Senegai (see SPORE No. 10, page 7). In island countries of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific, rural broadcasting has been less problematic because of the small and more homogeneous populations largely speaking the same language. Yet even with fewer obstacles, rural radio has not made a sustained impact for many of the same reasons: there has not been a long term strategy for incorporating mass media into general extension programmes and staff have not had the training encouragement and materials to provide stimulating and motivating proarammes. 'Narrow-casting' with cassettes The distribution of audio cassettes is called ''narrow-casting' in contrast to radio broadcasting because audio cassette technology (ACT) aims more refined messages to clearly defined audiences in their own languages. In Kenya, for example, it would be possible to make cassettes on improved coffee production and to target them specifically to Kikuyu speaking coffee farmers, many of whom are women. Other cassettes on livestock could be specific to the Masai people or the Kalenjin or Turkana and would relate to the mix of livestock species and the conditions in each region of the country. Audio cassettes can also be listened to and replayed when it suits the listener's own convenience. Tape players are becoming more common, particularly among younger people, and it has been found that concern over rural people abusing players and cassettes is misplaced. Because the value of the equipment and the tape is recognized, most rural people involved in audio cassette programmes have taken great care of the equipment entrusted to them However, for ACT to be effective, the programmes must be well structured and produced. ACT is a very personal medium and akin to personal study: the listener, having committed himself/herself to the tape, must feel involved and be able to relate to the programme. ACT can thus be an effective way of tailoring messages to meet specific audience group's needs. ACT also enables 'feedback' from audiences as listeners can record their reactions on the reverse side of the cassette and so influence programme makers planning future programmes. Indeed, extracts of comments can be incorporated in future programmes, resulting in audience participation and the organic growth of an information campaign. Again, ACT should be integrated into a multi-media campaign of information transfer so that different media are used in roles for which they are most cost-effective and messages are reinforced by the various media used TV and video Television has been used for broadcasting agricultural programmes but suffers from many of the constraints of rural radio and to a greater extent. Programmes are expensive and tend to consist of studio-based 'talking heads' or of film shot on research stations and farms close to the capital city. Times of broadcast and language barriers again limit impact on rural people and, most important of all, is the availability (or lack) of electricity in the villages. However, where rural electrification has reached the majority of villages and where there are large audiences speaking the same language, TV can bring that visual element to communication which is such an enhancer of messages compared with words alone. Drama, puppet theatre and practical demonstrations all benefit from the visual movement of TV The alternative of video can prove more attractive and effective under a much wider range of conditions. The FAO has used inter-active video with success in Peru, and other countries interested in this approach. As with ACT, video can use relatively low-cost recorders and small teams to make programmes involving rural people. Maximizing communication output There is a wealth of experience which can be used to maximize the impact of communication in the rural sector. Past experience has shown that educational messages are most effective when a variety of media is used cohesively so that they jointly extend and multiply extension messages well beyond the small number of extension agents, important as these are in the overall communication process. For example, an FAO-sponsored campaign to boost rice production in Sierra Leone in 1984, using radio coupled with tape-slide presentations by extension workers, raised farmers' knowledge by 60% in a few months. Development of Mexico's tropical wetlands has been established using a variety of media in an intensive rural communications system with backing from the World Bank and other donor agencies. One of the longest-running and most successful projects in agricultural distance-learning is the INADES-Formation programmes established in West Africa in 1962. Based in Abidjan, Cote d'lvoire, it offers correspondence course supplemented by radio broadcasts, a quarterly journal (AGRIPROMO) and seminars for farmers and extension workers. Some 14 countries use the service and more than 43,000 farmers and extension agents have completed courses so far. What the successful examples of rural communication have in common are clear objectives, careful planning, adequate resources and trained personnel. There is no escaping the fact that good communication is costly but, equally, bad communication is more expensive in terms of wasted resources and opportunities. Future agricultural progress and the very economic survival of many ACP countries will depend on the establishment of informed groups of farmers (men and women) and an educated and receptive rural population. For more information, see: 'Basic education and agricultural extension' Working Paper 564, World Bank, Washington, 1983 'Perspectives on communication for rural development, Development Communication Paper, FAO, 1987 'The educational use of mass media', Working Paper 491. World Bank. Washington, 1981
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