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Movies & SMS inform soy farmers in N Ghana

21 July 2017: Duncan Sones, one of the communications specialists on the ASHC team reflects on the recent soybean campaign in Northern Ghana. This campaign has been delivered by the Africa Soil Health Consortium and its partners with support from the Gender and Legumes Alliance project. 

The rains have arrived in Northern Ghana, and our colleagues at Green-Ef tell me that this year should be a good season for soybean growers.

Soybean is one of the more demanding legumes – too much water or too little have very similarly adverse effects on yields. But if the weather is kind, soybean farmers can do well. They will do particularly well if they follow the advice from the ASHC-backed soybean campaign.

We have been working with farmers in Northern Ghana to encourage them to combine good agricultural practices with use of more inputs especially improved seed varieties, inoculant and P fertilizer.  The agricultural practices are good land preparation, getting the spacing right, weeding regularly and harvesting at the right time.

This week is traditionally towards the end of the planting season – but it seems many farmers are still to plant including some commercial farmers due to the increasingly unpredictable nature of the season. The rains are quite heavy now and the soils are really wet.

Over the past month the team at Countrywise Communications Ghana has been screening films in three villages a night. The films cover all of the key all aspects of soybean cultivation. Countrywise have three tri-cycles (motor bikes with trailers) which are taken into villages for makeshift cinema shows. They usually attract 50-100 people who are members of the farming households. The first week we showed the films I asked the team what the reaction of the crowd was like. Richard Nabia said ‘well the parents made the children keep quiet!’ he explained that if the films are interesting the children have to listen in silence – if not they are allowed to play. We passed the first test.

Countrywise have visited nearly 100 villages to screen the films. At each event the farmers were encouraged to share their phone contact details. This means we can contact them to tell them about other films, to find out more about them for research and also to tell them about inputs. In another 25 locations extension officers held training days – this will help us to find out if the learning sticks better if you see a film or hear it from an extension officer.

Countrywise point out that the timing of the screenings is a tricky issue to resolve. First of all we want to have the screenings close to the point of planting, so that the material is relevant. But the process of the rains arriving is not predictable and so film screenings can be frustrated by the rains that herald the start of the planting season.

The crew work closely with the communities and their leadership to get the timing of the film right. Usually the films are screened after the family has consumed the evening meal. These times vary depending on local tradition and other cultural and religious factors, such as Ramadan, which impacts on meal times.

We tested three approaches – using the film alone, using the film with a very simple  2-sided A4 leaflet  and a more comprehensive leaflet on4 sides of A4. This is because we want to look at issues of recall and traction with different combinations of print and film.  Basically did longer leaflets help people remember more and/or make them more likely to attempt new ways of doing things.

A great deal of thought went into the format of these leaflets. The shorter leaflet was A4 folded top to bottom to make a long thin leaflet. This seemed to give more panels to set out the steps to be taken. Both leaflets dispensed with the usual decorative cover and started the instructions on the front page instead. Too often valuable space needed to pass on information to farmers is used up with decorative images, fancy type and logos. We wanted these to be more like manuals you get inside products, rather than promotional materials. This part of the experiment will help us advise others on investment strategies. We also wanted to see if having more comprehensive information had any impact on uptake. This can help us to decide if it is better to use the budget to create twice as many simpler leaflets and extend the reach of the campaign, of if the detailed step-by-step approach is what helps convince famers to change.

In Africa, small-scale farming families and their communities have traditionally not been well served by effective agro-dealerships. However, our delivery partner Green-Ef has been helping to set up hub agro-dealerships with networks of local dealers. Cutting down the distance to agro-dealers is an important step towards farmers accessing the inputs that are recommended in campaigns.

So, as the planting time is nearly upon us. It is time for the final push on the campaign to get farmers to commit to buying input. Our partners at Green-Ef are leading this phase of the work in three ways. First their staff are dealing with any calls that come to the free phone number shared with farmers at the screenings. Second they are putting out radio messages to remind everyone planting soybean is better with inputs. These programs started on 11 July 2017 on Radio Savannah in Tamale. Programs have also been broadcast on Nkilgi FM in Bole district, Union FM at Buipe in the Central Gonja District, PAD FM at Damongo in the West Gonja District and Eagle FM at Walewale in the West Mamprusi District all in the Northern region of Ghana. ASHC helped the team at Green-Ef edit the excellent technical detail supplied by Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) into a script that farmers would be able to follow. SARI has been an essential part of the process of developing the technical messages – providing quality assurance for the printed material and the films.

ASHC is also working with Green-Ef to co-finance the setting up of the phone lines and the SMS messaging. This has involved using reviewing over 3,000 contact details obtained at the film screenings, checking they have consented to be contacted, removing duplicate numbers and then clustering the numbers based on their proximity to one of the network of agro-dealers. A message reminds farmers that they saw the film on how to use inputs and that DAP, inoculant and improved seed is available from an agro-dealer near them. The name and phone number of the agro-dealer is included. The second part of the Green-Ef phone strategy is offering a free-phone helpline to support farmers with technical and product enquiries.

The agro-dealers also received poster that promotes soybean inputs. We opted for simple banners that are printed on fabric so that they will last many years. We also left space for the agro-dealers to add contact details.

Green-Ef is working across three of the Northern regions – whereas the ASHC-backed campaign has, so far, only worked in one. It will be interesting to see if sales are noticeably stronger in the areas where the soybean films have been shown and/or other promotional activity has taken place.