Not by word of mouth alone
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CTA. 2002. Not by word of mouth alone. Spore 99. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47540
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore99.pdf
Even in cultures dominated by oral tradition and history, the promotion of readership and of the book is one of the surest ways of breaking the cycles of lean lives. The book records, informs, exhilarates, liberates and makes history. Plough some...
Even in cultures dominated by oral tradition and history, the promotion of readership and of the book is one of the surest ways of breaking the cycles of lean lives. The book records, informs, exhilarates, liberates and makes history. Plough some pages today. Producing quality books is only part of the publishing story. The second part consists of getting them to the readers.' This comment by Serah Mwangi, of Focus Publishing in Kenya, sums up some key rules for successful publishing anywhere, and not least in the area of publishing books on agriculture and rural development in developing countries. How important are books in many ACP countries? As some people speak of the world entering the knowledge century and the Information Society , some ACP regions seem to be far removed from these notions. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average level of book production in the 1990s was less than 9,000 titles a year. A lot of ink and paper, and more books than most bookstores in a capital city have in stock. Yet the largest chunk of these titles was produced in one country South Africa and schoolbooks dominated the list of every country s output. That a book is an incalculably valuable way of storing and sharing knowledge is beyond any shadow of doubt. Yet in societies with oral tradition, and where literacy rates are low, there is little readership. The question then arises of which comes first, the book, or the reader? Some countries, with high rates of school attendance, have, relatively speaking, vibrant publishing sectors. Kenya, with an average literacy rate of 78%, in which 86% of men and 70% of women are literate, is a case in point, as are Zimbabwe, Jamaica and Fiji and many other countries. Some countries fare less well: Mozambique s average literacy rate is 40%, with 23% of women and 58% of men. Niger s literacy rate is 14%, with men 21% and women a mere 7%. Vicious or virtual circle? The impasse looks like it is blocked solid, and there seems no way except forward but how? It is all put succinctly by Gertrude Kayaga Mulinda, the former head of the Botswana National Library Service, and now at Uganda Martyrs University in Kampala. 'The phrases ours is not a reading culture and African society is an oral society are often used in discussions of literacy, of publishing, of education levels, of book publishing and bookselling and of the availability of reading material in Africa. The discussions often centre around the vicious circle that afflicts African reading and writing and its book industry: no reading material, therefore no reading culture; therefore no market for reading matter; therefore no publishing and This, like any other circle, could be started at any point in the circle.' Turning the vicious circle into a virtuous circle is the challenge that a number of publishing professionals have responded to emphatically in the last few years. Conceived in the late 1980s, the Harare-based African Publishing Network has now grown into a vast and respected association of publishers in the majority of African countries. It has inspired the bookselling trade, as personified by the Pan-African Booksellers Association, to seek creative partnerships with publishers, to address the issue of the virtuous circle. APNET has even inspired other regional networks to promote their publishing sectors: CAPNet, the association of Caribbean publishers, is the most renowned (see Spore 95), while a similar network organisation is emerging in the Pacific. Safety in numbers has certainly been a motif for these bodies, and those who have invested in their development can be proud of having made a wise strategic choice. Jane Katjavivi, who founded New Namibia Books in 1989, and was an early member of APNET sums up her ten years in publishing in Courage and Consequence: 'I felt very lonely in my work. The APNET and African Books Collective networks provided friendship, encouragement, support and guidance, and without this, I might well have not lasted ten years.' These and other professional and trading associations have strengthened their membership with training, resource guides, established standards, trading information, promotion support and representation at trade fairs, including Harare, Dakar, Accra and Frankfurt. They have also undertaken vital lobbying work in pulling donors and investors heading in the same direction, on issues ranging from funding priorities to respect of international conventions on copyright, and duties (or the need to abolish them) on paper, ink and printing. Publishing where there s no market Every Spore reader knows the meaning of access to reliable, published information, even in areas regarded as marginal and unprofitable by publishers. The trouble is, and has long been, the absence of a viable market for technical publications, at least the absence of a demand that express itself in paying. If there is one place to break the vicious circle it is though we can only write this with some trepidation at the level of viable income for publishers. The potential income from sales of agricultural publications is, realistically speaking, not enough to cover the costs of their production: the readers simply cannot afford to pay a realistic price. Is such pessimism justified? The only sure way to move it towards optimism is to cover any losses with income from other sources. These can include external grants and loans, sales from other activities and publishing in more profitable sectors, namely school books and popular fiction. This approach has been taken by publishers for centuries. Almost all publishers, though hard-headed enough to read a profit-and-loss statement, are also soft-hearted enough to treat their wobbly balance sheets kindly. There is something special about The Book, and, thanks to the superhuman efforts of the dedicated publisher, bookseller and distributor, and strengthened by new media which help in the complex task of publishing, it is as much part of the future as it is of the past. It s just that, in terms of agricultural knowledge, we still need to find ways to reduce the fear of losses. [caption to illustration] Less than 2% of the world s books are published in Africa The ABC of book publishing: a training manual for NGOs in Africa by J A Nyeko. Co-publication CTA/J A Nyeko, 1999. 118 pp. ISBN 9970 510 012 CTA number 961, 20 credit points.