Back in 2015, a group of like-minded organizations came together to explore the idea of forming an alliance to improve the information provided about improved legume techniques for farmers. The idea of this Legume Alliance was to test a new integrated approach to developing and sharing agricultural information. Farmers did not always get their information, for instance about using fertilizer or rhizobium inoculants in legumes, in a clear and consistent way. This made it difficult for new techniques to gain a foothold.
The new approach was based on two hypotheses:
- Targeting smallholding families at multiple entry points, with media that reach both younger and older people, men and women, whether literate or not gives us the best chance of creating a shared understanding across the generations of new agricultural technology;
- Making sure different age cohorts and demographic groups access messages first hand should create a debate in the family leading to higher levels of adoption for the technologies. It also makes sure that no one person is responsible for remembering how the technology should be applied, thereby making it more likely the technology will be applied correctly.
The Legume Alliance implemented a first campaign on Maharage Bingwa (Bean Champions) in northern Tanzania in 2015. The Maharage Bingwa campaign assisted the dissemination of technologies and practices for the common bean recommended by the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Tanzania and by N2Africa. Multiple media and distribution channels were used simultaneously, each targeting different members of the farming family, with nuanced messages that meet the information needs of these different members.
Coordinated by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), partners of the Alliance took up various roles: Farm Radio International and CABI handled radio broadcasts. Well Told Story: Shujaaz, a youth communications platform, developed two story lines in their comic and social media platform which showed how a young farmer and an agro-dealer were working with improved legume technologies. The CABI-led African Soil Health Consortium (ASHC) worked with the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) to develop point-of-sale information for agro-dealers. The role of N2Africa and SARI was to give technical support and to ensure that the messages given were consistent and based on sound science.
After the campaign, farmers’ preferences for various legume technologies were assessed through computer-aided telephone interviews. A key finding of these interviews, conducted among over 2,600 farmers, was that stocks of registered improved seeds were in short supply and the logistical challenges of providing bean seed at scale are significant. In a subsequent phase, the Legume Alliance therefore included the Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA), working to bulk up more seed, and AFAP, who would pursue the policy issues associated with matching supply to demand for common bean seed. The research therefore also showed that information is essential, but not sufficient to bring about lasting change. Access to both input and output markets is required to make investments viable.
Another and unexpected outcome of the interviews was the very strong preference among farmers for the yellow common bean variety called Soya Njano. This variety was not part of the technologies being spread because, at the time, the variety was not registered for use in Tanzania. Whilst an informal, unregulated economy was operating at scale to provide farmers with this preferred bean variety, projects like N2Africa must not circumvent the national systems, which meant that the project could not include this popular variety or develop proper agronomic advice for it. However, the conclusions from the interviews created enough pressure on the agricultural research institutes when shared by the Alliance that the seed was registered (under the name Selian 13). Now the seed could be legally produced and sold in Tanzania.
In 2016, the Alliance implemented scaling-up campaigns in northern and southern Tanzania under the umbrella of the Scaling-up Improved Legume Technologies (SILT) project. The multimedia campaigns included various combinations of leaflets, posters, comics, interactive radio, text messages, demonstration plots and farmers’ training sessions and they reached 600,000 farming family members. The Alliance impact survey conducted under SILT found that 100,000 farmers increased their use of the techniques promoted, including improved varieties, inputs and good agronomic management practices. Moreover, 85 per cent of the respondents mentioned that they had learned something new about beans or soyabeans after the campaign, largely through demonstration plots that were implemented under N2Africa and its partners along the value chain.
However, different approaches proved to be useful for different types of messages: mass media like radio can be used for simple messages, e.g. to raise awareness about a new variety or the presence of a pest, but are less suitable for more complex information like the proper use of inoculants or the benefits. Demonstration plots played an important role for such more complex messages.
Covering 11 regions and 23 districts
The Legume Alliance built on and linked to communication campaigns sponsored by projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, IFAD, UKAid and IDRC. In leveraging these partnerships and projects, the Alliance could benefit from a variety of stakeholder networks, including knowledge, delivery, value chain, and communication and research partners that facilitated and brokered its access to farmers, input suppliers and other stakeholders covering 11 regions and 23 districts in Tanzania.
The Legume Alliance has since expanded to Ghana and Nigeria, taking the same approach while adding new partners and insights. The addition of video to the dissemination campaigns in particular proved to be highly effective in creating awareness and knowledge about soyabean inoculants in Ghana.
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