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Early lessons from GALA on messages and channel selection

Silvia Silvestri reflects on the lessons emerging from the Gender and the Legume Alliance project.

The GALA project is designed to support small-scale farming households to improving their capacity to access and use information and knowledge, to achieve sustainable legume intensification.

The scale-up work in Ghana and Tanzania will leave a valuable legacy amongst small-scale farming households. In addition, GALA will provide research evidence for governments, investors and other decision makers that can inform the delivery of more effective policies and investments. This should lead to better-targeted, communication for farmers on sustainable agricultural intensification.

The research is testing innovative communication approaches following the hypotheses that different communication channels are more suited to different gender groups and that brokering the information can help improving supply and demand. In doing so the project is using a gender lens, looking more specifically at the impact on women and youth involved in legume value-chains.

The research evidence generated has produced so far some interesting lessons:

It takes multiple honest partnerships combined with mixed dissemination approaches to significantly increase reach and uptake of technologies

The campaign approach works. The more communication [e.g. print, radio, film-screenings, or SMS] and interpersonal approaches [e.g. training at demonstration plot, farmer field schools, or interventions by extension or village based advisors] reach farming households, the more likely they are to uptake the promoted technologies.

GALA is drawing lessons from campaigns for common bean, and soybean in Tanzania, and soybean in Ghana.

The campaigns engaged a wide variety of partners that bring answers to the complex web of challenges. The challenges included:

  • enhancing public information dissemination to support farmers’ aspirations. increasing uptake of priority messages
  • sharing up-to-date agronomy
  • accessing inputs such as seed, fertilizer and in the case of soybean – inoculant
  • accessing output markets
  • disseminating research
  • shaping an enabling policy environment

Increasing the access to information for farmers is undoubtedly essential. However, it is important that farmers receive coherent messages. Mainstreaming information dissemination among extension is therefore a key factor in order to avoid to send conflicting information to farmers. The GALA campaigns are all based on a technical brief signed off by all the partners, and the mandate holders for the technology in each country.

There are trade-offs between reach and targeting/suitability for complex messaging

The choice of the delivery mechanism depends on a number of variables, including:

  • the level of complexity of the innovation to be transferred
  • the desired reach (number of farmers)
  • the intended target audience (men/women; young/old tend to engage differently)
  • available resources (staff and money).

Options are also shaped by extensive reviewing of the media landscape and the experience and media access brought by the partners and sub-contractors.

Indirect methods such as mass media, may be useful to raise awareness for less complex messages (for example the existence of a new seed varieties) but deliver information to a relatively large number of farmers per dollar spent.

In contrast, very intense methods such as farmer field schools and trainings at demonstration plots which involve interactions between extension staff and a group of famers over a period of time, provides a deeper understanding. Interpersonal approaches train a relatively small number of farmers per dollar spent on the program. Inevitably the selection of the media mix involves trade-off.

The way a training or information dissemination event is organized and the format of the media have a significant impact on the reach. The arrangements for presenting the event are key to ensure presence of farmers – we have seen this particularly in the demos in Tanzania and during village-based film screenings in Ghana. Film screenings that happened after the meal times and prayers meant more women than men attended.

The time for sending SMS or radio to farmers can be crucial on determining how receptive the farmers are. For what concerns the format, we could see that radio programs led by farmer interviews and phone-ins made up the majority of the impact with respect to radio alone.

Social norms play also an important role in channelling information to farmers

Mass media and ICT oriented communication channels such as SMS and radio are still very much prerogative of men. Women mainly learn by doing or access information mainly from other household members. As result, men and women seem to not be benefiting equally from ‘digital transformation’. The main reason for this is linked with the lack of ownership and control over the use of mobile phones and radio.

Women have been more able to access information from village-based film screenings and radio listening groups (facilitated access to radio programs in a group settings). These approaches may be considered more narrowcast than broadcast – but effective at getting information to women using digital media. There is a strong social learning environment associated with these approaches which allows interaction and discussion. These approaches do not require women to have access to phones or radios.

The project is still under development and other lessons will be soon drawn from further exploring characteristics of sustainable business models.