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Comic spreads new farming approaches

Raymond Jumah from FIPS-Africa shares case notes from a youth media experiment in farming families in Tanzania 

As part the ASHC innovation communication pilot projects two ISFM comic strip stories were commissioned from Well Told Story. These stories appeared in Shujaaz and 600,000 comics were distributed in Kenya. In Kenya Shujaaz has a following amongst young people, but ASHC wanted to explore if the same approach worked were the comic is unknown. So, this experiment looked at how young people could be used as a conduit for integrated soil fertility management innovations using a comic story within Tanzania, which is beyond the current reach of Shujaaz.

ASHC worked in partnership with Farm Input Promotions-Africa (FIPS-Africa) to distribute 16,000 copies of the comic to smallholder farming families in the districts Tanzania. This was undertaken by 180 village-based agricultural advisors in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. FIPS-Africa advisors are self-employed enthusiastic and hard-working farmers, recruited from within their target villages and are trained to provide advice and sell farm inputs that can transform productivity and profits for smallholder farmers.

The comic featured good agricultural practice message on growing maize, graphically presented within a story of a girl helping on her grandmothers farm. It focused on simple and adaptable farming practices that matched the advice that FIPS-Africa was already promoting.

Farmers in the Southern Districts of Tanzania received 7,200 comics. FIPS-Africa returned to the villages a few months later and talked about the impact the comic had had on farming families.

Tegemea Musola is Tanangozi FIPS-Africa advisor in Iringa District. He disseminated the comic to smallholder farming families in the the region. The comic helped him reach farmers he rarely found at home when making follow-ups in the villages. Tegemea explains: “They used the comic books as a point of reference. In fact it was a reinforcement of the good agricultural practices I promote.”

One of the young people in the area was inspired to use the Shujaaz comic to help her neighbours. Vumilia Nyomolelo of Tanangozi village in Iringa explains: “I am not so fluent at reading, but I found it easy to clearly explain contents of the comic to other farmers. The illustrations helped me learn how to read and share the knowledge. I liked the illustration of seed and fertilizer separation, it was so clear,” says.

Vumilia is a neighbour to a FIPS-Africa advisors, before the comic she would constantly seek guidance and advice on maize planting, but then she herself turned into an advisor.  Because it was easy for her to comprehend the message in the comic, she would hold mini-agricultural meetings in the village. She said “I found it easy to start the discussion with women from neighbouring farms.  I could gather neighbours for quick lessons on maize farming using thecomic as reference.  The information matched that from the FIPS advisors, good seed and poor management still gives poor results!  I taught that spacing should be 75 cm × 25 cm, separating seed and fertilizer and planting one seed per hole, were important”.

Most farmers in the village planted the PHB 2859W maize, as seen in the comic. Vumilia continues “It is a guide book that I have kept as key to my success with maize farming. Last season she harvested 20 bags of maize weighing 100 kilograms, she used to harvest 17 bags from the same plot.

In the neighbouring Songea District, Abilai Mwegelo found the comic entertaining and educative at the same time. “The message was packaged to look like a comedy. Those who were not harvesting enough food like Malikia and the Bibi were thin, while the modern farmer healthy,” she giggles.

“The story depict the youth as a solution to changing the long held traditions of farming. These approaches have been a stumbling block to good yields. The old believe in recycling seed and that the soil is still fertile therefore needs no nourishment but the young people are smart, they can teach us the new ways of farming.”

Mwagelo lives in Gumbiro ward in Songea District, said she does not like reading, however the comic had graphics that made her get the message without straining.  Mwagelo explains: “It was the easiest tool for learning. It is a modern way of helping us improve yields. Other farmer also got interested because the publication had very few pages so she went through it fast.” Three of Mwagelo’s neighbours borrowed the comic and she shared the lessons with other farmers too.

Rob Burnet of Shujaaz concludes: “We have good evidence that our comics are kept and swapped and exchanged amongst communities. This means that up to 10 people can easily read one of our comics. In this case the comics were a catalyst for farmer-to-farmer training.  A version of Shujaaz designed for Tanzania launches in September 2014 with seed money from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Half a million copies of the 32 page comic book will be distributed free around the country every month, accompanied by FM radio, social media and SMS. We are aiming to reach and inspire millions more young people to change their lives through agriculture, like Vumilia”