A draft brochure in a day at ASHC write-shop
… with the potential to increase maize yields 14-fold
The first of the ASHC facilitated write-shops in Ghana resulted in 10 clear messages on maize farming being produced in just one day. Collectively this advice could result in a 14-fold increase in maize harvests. These messages will be packed into a range of innovative extension materials over the coming weeks. The write-shop process brings together a range of experts to share what they know. In this case ASHC worked with scientists from the Soil Research Institute (a grantee of the AGRA Soil Health Program and extension service personal from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana. At the start of the write-shop the delegates emphasized that they wanted to produce materials that were farmer friendly. So ASHC asked what this meant – explanations of what made materials farmers friendly included:
- Easy to understand information – in a logical order and format
- Good design and layout strong use of colour
- In the right language (Twi and English in this case) in their jargon not scientific language – mindful of the fact that for many people it will be the children in the house that do the reading
- Real pictures – reflecting real conditions – with named farmers in named locations
- Realistic suggestions of what can be achieved and an honest assessment of the impact a technology will make
- An explanation of the risks
- A clear cost benefit analysis (even allowing for fluctuating commodity values)
- Clear comparisons – with improved seed and without, with organic material and without,
- Use of non-conventional methods to explain qualities and distances based on available and familiar items in addition to standard metric measurements
The group set two priority integrated soil health fertility (ISFM) technologies. These were maize mono-cropping and explaining the advantages of strip farming of maize legumes over intercropping. The next step in ASHC’s write-shop process was to set out how maize farming and maize/legume intercropping is currently practiced in the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions. ASHC set this information out as timeline.
The write-shop participants next identified the technologies and innovations they felt the farmers should be adopting. The emphasis was on identifying the benefits to the farmers. This process gave a rough skeleton for the delegates to start writing. By the end of day one messages had been developed that became 10 tips to improve maize harvests.
The tips covered:
- Tip 1: Simple soil tests
- Tip 2: Keep moisture on your plot
- Tip 3: Get the right certified seed for the right season
- Tip 4: Plant in rows
- Tip 5: Plant when the soil is moist
- Tip 6: 3 seeds per hole – thinning to two plants when you do first weeding
- Tip 7: Use the right amount of fertilizer
- Tip 8: Remove the weeds 6 weeks after planting and add the right fertilizer in the right way
- Tip 9: Harvest at the right time and in the right way
- Tip 10: Dry and store in the right way There are also trouble shooting messages on identifying pests and diseases and the safe use of chemicals. These tips were refined through the write-shop process. A similar set of messages is being developed for maize-legume strip farming. On day three a small group of the delegates met with farmers in Wioso, approximately 36 miles from Kumasi, to test the 10 tips. Two focus groups were facilitated. One group was made up of 8 men and a second group consisted of 5 women. Early involvement of farmers is an essential part of the development of good extension materials. ASHC prefers, where possible, to meet farmers on their own turf which is a more reliable way of getting farmer input. It can also be useful to have women only groups to guarantee that their views are able to be captured.
Collins Marita (above) from the ASHC monitoring and evaluation team said, “Going to the field helped to gain insight into the current farming practices and test the appropriateness of the messages produced in the write-shop. This helped to define additional information needs not covered by the draft materials. The focus groups stated they wanted to see photographs showing examples of any farming innovations that were recommended. This is partly to show that the technologies work and partly because many of the farmers were functionally illiterate. However they could retain a vast amount of information from hearing it once. We read the leaflet to them and they could recall almost everything we told them.” Despite low levels of literacy amongst the farmers, improvements in the education system mean that the children can read information on behalf of their parents.
JaneFrances Asaba (above), added, “I helped to facilitate the focus group with the women. They were very empowered and there was very little difference between the men and the women in terms of involvement in the farming practices or how they received information. The men tended to do more of the heavy work in soil preparation and the women tended to be more involved in the weeding stages. But the women told us they shared most other roles including spraying chemicals.”
In this community radio was not as effective as we had anticipated – because of poor FM reception for some and the multiplicity of radio stations. They also felt they did not have time to sit and listen to radio programmes.
However in the course of the discussions it became clear that the farmers had received useful information from radio, television and from films they played on CD players.
The write-shop group has asked ASHC to help with packaging the messages into the following outputs: Training materials for extension workers/ group leaders in farmers based organisations (flip charts) a radio drama (for the part of the region with better FM coverage) a farmer’s calendar a leaflet Feedback from the delegates attending the write-shop showed a very high level of satisfaction with the process.However some of the delegates felt that a longer workshop would have been more productive.
The length of the write-shops is proving to be a tricky balancing act. he pilot exercises in Mali and Tanzania involved a four days’ workshop and one day in the field. This was seen as too long – and many of the delegates could not commit fully to the five-day process.
ASHC would like to thank our partners in AGRA, the Soil Research Institute, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the farmers in Wioso who helped to make this write-shop a success. A longer article setting out the workshop process will appear in the next ASHC newsletter Soil Health News in early September.
For more information contact Duncan Sones from the project delivery team.