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ASHC asks is profit a dirty word?

When ASHC set up its Creative Commons license it took the very deliberate decision to make all its materials open to all, including the commercial sector. This was done on the basis that most smallholder farmers see an afro-dealer at least as often as they do an extension worker.

George Oduor of ASHC explains: “ASHC is a communications project,however we are encouraging smallholder farmers to use recommended farm inputs. The inputs include improved seed and planting materials, mineral fertilizer, and in some cases it can also include purchasing organic amendments such as chicken manure or seed treatments to improve the ability of beans to fix nitrogen from the air. These inputs may need to be acquired on credit. Financial institutions are often over-looked,private sector input supplier to farms. So the long term success of ASHC will depend to some extent on how we are able to work with the private sector. One of the interesting challenges for ASHC has been to identify how we can effectively work with the private sector.”

ASHC has developed a large number of farmer-friendly materials using a collaborative process known as a write-shop. Grace Omondi of ASHC explains: “ASHC brings together research scientists who have the knowledge of proven ISFM approaches with those that can help shape messages. There are two groups central to this process. First is the extension service with their detailed knowledge of how to create messages for farmers.Seconds is a group of private sector media practitioners who work with the group to deliver messages in different media. To date this has included graphic design companies who have worked alongside printand radio journalists. In some cases we are working with the commercial arm of a social enterprise. Working with media organisations to make them better able to service the agricultural sector was seen as critical to ASHC producing sustainable legacy. They also bring their knowledge and experience to the write-shops which means that we are trading knowledge rather than one of us teaching the other.”

Outside of the write-shop process ASHC has an innovations budget that is used for exemplar projects.The youth initiatives (see the May 2014 ASHC newsletter for details) worked with two private sector communications companies. Well Told Story and Jacaranda Designs are both companies with established products and distribution channels in place.

George Oduor noted: “The private sector media companies work to very demanding production schedules. This can be a challenge to get all the information and approaches signed off in the timescales that the media dictates. So, we need to select messages we are very confident about for dissemination through these channels. There is so little time to adjust a message once the production countdown has started.

We have learned some valuable lessons from these partners. In the case of Jacaranda they showed us how freelance youth workers could be employed to support our projects in schools and get young people more motivated about agriculture. Shujaaz, owned by Well Told Story,helped us to see that to appeal to young people we need to speak their language. In Kenya this is street slang called Sheng (a hybrid of Swahili and English) and also to inject humour and human interest into our messages.”

In 2012 ASHC became the communication partner for another Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded project called COMPROII. Efficacy trials in COMPRO I helped to identify 3 biological agriculturalproducts suitable for taking to scale in the 6 participating countries. These included rhizobia inoculants and so ASHC has been working closely with MEA Fertilizers Limited in Kenya and Notore Chemical Industries Limited in Nigeria as the companies making these products available to smallholder farmers.

Grace Omondi reports; “NOTORE is the second private sector organisation to work with ASHC on farmer level materials on ISFM approaches. What is exciting is that there is demand from Notore for the films.NOTORE asked ASHC for technical assistance to help to ensure the films were farmer- friendly and impactful. NOTORE’s dissemination plan is to first begin with training of their village-based promoters, and then screening the videos to farmers in July 2014. The target regions for dissemination are in the states of Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Benue in the middle to upper belt.”

ASHC delivered the films in English in May 2014 and Notore added Ibo and Hausa language translations. The films were disseminated through their village-based promoters across the Nigeria in June/July 2014. This coincided with the introduction of a new range of rhizobia inoculants and the start of field preparation for rice farmers.

Four short films were produced:

  • Land preparation for soybean
  • Planting soybean
  • Inoculating soybean
  • Urea deep placement for rice

ASHC was able to supplement Notore’s detailed product knowledge with research undertaken by N2Africa on legumes and IITA on rice in addition to the draft ISFM cropping guides on rice produced by ASHC. This helped to ensure the quality of science.

“COMPRO II has ensured that we focus on private sector input suppliers,” commented George Oduor. “Often funded projects struggle to find a suitable relationship with the private sector. On one hand there is nervousness that the private sector has unlimited access to resources and so projects wonder how they can add value. Then there is a concern that profits are being made. Development that ignores the private sector makes long-term sustainability less likely. It is important that projects like ours do not see profit as a dirty word.”

About Notore: Notore Chemical Industries Limited joined COMPRO II project in 2012. They are Nigeria’s leading fertilizer and agro-allied company. They have a production plant in Port Harcourt and an already existing distribution network of over 80 partners and over 300 retailers. They employ an executive/agronomist to train and advise the extensionists.