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Pictures MAY speak louder than words

ASHC looks at the role of images in a low- literacy environment …

Laurinda Cheng, under the supervision of Louise Mailloux, ASHC gender specialist, has just completed a literature review looking at best methods of communication in low literacy environments.

Dannie Romney,the ASHC project executive commented:
“This paper is useful reading for anyone interested in packaging messages where levels of literacy are low. Working with smallholder farmers often means working with women, who are working less likely than men to have benefited from an education. Or, we work with older members of the community who grew up when education systems were less developed. This profile means farmers are more likely to be functionally literate than other groups.

However, the ASHC paper also cautions us to remember that visual literacy may also be an issue. Farmers in rural areas are not exposed to visual images in the way that people living in the more developed parts of Africa would be.”

At the recent write-shop in Bolgotanga, Ghana estimates of the number of functionally literate smallholders varied from 15% to 40%. One of the farmers said, ‘I need the text to be simple because I rely on my son to read for me.’ In this context having images that strongly reinforce the messages and spell out the step and options are very important.

ASHC is also committed to building the capacity for organizations or individuals involved in producing extension material. To this end it has added to the suite of ASHC How to… guides.

The guide on How to… develop print material for low literacy farmers suggests:

• Create print material that includes related pictures with minimal text. The print material can be used to supplement practical face-to-face training sessions as follow-up or reference resources for farmers.

• Picture-based print materials can only be used to convey simple sequences of actions, thus should not be used as the only form of instruction/training provided.

• Employ a local artist to develop relevant and locally appropriate illustrations for the print materials. Illustrations that are simple and do not provide a lot of detail are more comprehensive.

• Black and white free-hand line drawings with computer enhanced shading are easy to photocopy and thus more likely to be made available to smallholder farmers by local agencies responsible for reproducing and distributing materials.

• Consult with local women and men smallholder farmers and local NGO and government workers when developing illustrations. These local groups can help determine which illustrations are easily interpretable and provide a clear message. At the same time, these groups can provide feedback on the appropriate sequencing of pictures in the instructions. Illustrations and print material should be modified based on feedback to create the clearest picture-based form of instruction possible.

• Test print material in the field with local smallholder populations and local NGO and government staff before producing and distributing print materials on a large scale. Feedback and responses from testing should be used to finalize the print material to meet the needs of the local providers and end-users.

• Ensure you have the resources and appropriate time-frame to develop effective print materials. In terms of resources, you will need access to local contacts, including farmers, local NGO and government workers, and extension staff to help you produce the material. As well, you will need to reserve time to consult these local groups and test and modify the print materials based on feedback.

All of the materials on the ASHC website are Creative Commons.

Also see the latest ASHC blog which comments on this literature review in the context of the current projects at ASHC.