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Local language podcasting in Zimbabwe

100,000 farmers are now accessing advice via mp3 players (© Practical Action)
100,000 farmers are now accessing advice via mp3 players
© Practical Action

Sheba Majoka, a 52 year old farmer, confidently draws a syringe of vaccine as she prepares to vaccinate her herd of 25 cattle against Lumpy Disease. This is an uncommon sight in rural Zimbabwe, where such tasks have traditionally been the preserve of men. Majoka is one of 100,000 farmers from two districts in Mashonaland Central Province, northern Zimbabwe, who are now accessing advice from veterinary health and agricultural experts via mp3 players. More surprisingly, this is taking place in a remote and semi-arid area that has no grid electricity, a poor radio signal and no reliable mobile phone network.

The project, "Disseminating Knowledge Content in Local Voices and Language," has been implemented by Practical Action Southern Africa, with participation from a multitude of local stakeholders. Practical Action programme team leader, Lawrence Gudza, explains more. "Knowledge, no matter how good it is, and no matter how appropriate it is, if stored in inappropriate formats and languages, and without gender considerations can only benefit very few of the target beneficiaries," he says. "Podcasting is particularly useful, as it can be applied with voice-based information and knowledge sharing, especially in communities with low levels of literacy."

With the participation of communities, extension experts and development agents capture information about crop and livestock production. With the help of Practical Action, content is recorded by the extension agents or by using the voice of community members. This collaborative approach ensures that knowledge from government extension agents and other development organisations is developed, recorded and converted into digital formats and loaded onto mp3 devices. Community Animators are then used to disseminate the knowledge content using the mp3 players and speakers in their respective wards and villages. In addition to sharing the information at community meetings, Community Animators are also approached by individual farmers for information on specific topics. With support, the animators ensure that the mp3 devices are charged and loaded with the newest content.

Information gaps

Information provided has included explanations on how to vaccinate cattle (© Practical Action)
Information provided has included explanations on how to vaccinate cattle
© Practical Action

Initiation of the project involved identification of each community's knowledge needs, literacy levels and administrative structures as well as understanding gender sensitive aspects in the community. Existing knowledge sources were also studied, particularly why development knowledge was not transforming people's livelihoods after many years of extension work. The research revealed various challenges to traditional extension services, including low pay, exodus of skilled extension staff to greener pastures, inadequate resources and poor roads. Additionally, extension officers tended to follow prescribed formats rather than community needs, leading to inappropriate design, packaging and dissemination of information.

''The new digital knowledge formats that the project introduced in local voices and language broke literacy, age and gender barriers that existed previously,'' says Gudza. The mp3 devices have been used to record and replay various types of voice file, including question and answer sessions and short explanations of technical procedures. Ten animal health products with indigenous content, contributed by community leaders, have been fused with scientific content. Information provided has included explanations on how to immunise, dehorn, and castrate bullocks and controlling ticks on cattle, tasks which were previously performed by the Department of Livestock Development.

Power in podcasting

Despite never having used computers, the rural communities in the district have embraced the new technology. ''Podcasting is very useful," says Sheba Majoka. "It gives a set of instructions to people; the content doesn't change so I can listen several times. I also get the lessons quickly unlike when I go to formal sessions which take longer. The lessons I've learnt from the podcast are how to diagnose a sick animal and how to treat it.'' Building on that success, the communities now want to record their own voices, providing an opportunity to capture indigenous knowledge and disseminate it more widely. And while the mp3 devices cost around US$130, Practical Action believe the benefits in improved agricultural practices are a good return on investment.

Community members come together to listen to recorded extension messages (© Practical Action)
Community members come together to listen to recorded extension messages
© Practical Action

Practical Action Southern Africa is now scaling-up this work to cover three districts in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland South Province. A Knowledge Node has been established in the province and digital extension methods targeting at least 100,000 farmers will be introduced, focusing on agricultural production, agro-processing and water and sanitation. By working with communities, the project has demonstrated that new techniques can be embraced and knowledge shared. However, Practical Action is calling for the Government, NGOs, and the private sector to make more progress in the use of multi-media formats, multilingual websites and decentralised knowledge centres, where people can share knowledge with those who need it most, resulting in major impacts on people's quality of life.

Written by: Thembinkosi Nyathi, Practical Action Southern Africa

Date published: March 2012


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