Access to agriculture services
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The fact that other mothers hear the same thing from the Talking Book makes them take our efforts seriously and believe we are telling the truth.Nadowli Kubataanono, Ghana Birth Attendant
For many smallholder farmers in Africa, information about farming techniques is essential but many lack access to life-changing agriculture information. Even when an agent can reach a village, the up-to-date farming techniques shared are often lost shortly after that agent leaves because wide-spread illiteracy makes note-taking impossible.
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Amplio Talking Book is a digital audio device designed to help organizations to provide access to information to low-literate populations to improve their lives and livelihoods.
Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Cameroon, Niger, Ethiopia, Somalia, Zambia, Liberia
UNESCO, USAID, World Vision, and the World Bank
2008 – Present
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The Amplio Talking Book (ATB) audio device provides smallholder farmers with technical information and lessons to help them increase their productivity, food security and nutrition. Implemented by Literacy Bridge Ghana (LBG), the Talking Book program has reached 23,000 women farmers in northern Ghana, with participants rating the programme as their top source of information for farming.
In northern Ghana, smallholder farmers – and especially women – face several challenges, including limited access to and control of land. Even when women and youth are able to find land, it is often infertile. Furthermore, agriculture extension services in remote rural areas are limited (or non-existent) in their ability to reach communities and promote improved farming practices. As a result, women and youth find it difficult to increase their farm yields and improve their household income levels. In target communities under the Mennonite Economic Development Associates’ (MEDA) Greater Rural Opportunities for Women Project, women farmers struggled to increase their farm yields and income levels mainly because they lacked access to information about farming and financial management skills. They did not have the necessary knowledge or access to credit to be able to expand their farms and increase production. Due to these challenges, most of the households suffered from food insecurity and could not generate enough income. In addition, because women were not contributing enough to household income, their participation in decision-making processes was limited.
Through the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project, the ATB empowered 23,000 women farmers and their families by enabling them to access key information. Talking Books were distributed to 1,016 Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) groups in eight districts in the Upper West Region. The devices, which do not require data to use, are designed for settings with limited or no access to the Internet.
Talking Books are pre-loaded with technical lessons, songs, dramas and interviews produced by LBG and aimed at promoting behavioural changes. Topics include sustainable agriculture, financial literacy, value chain, health, nutrition and gender.
GROW farmers listened to Talking Book messages during weekly VSLA meetings, both individually and with their families. Members could also take Talking Books home, which reinforced messaging and promoted effective learning. Women smallholder farmers reported that they practiced improved farming methods after learning about them through Talking Book messages. Beneficiaries reported increased farm yields and the consequent effects of increased incomes.
Because Amplio’s technology collects data usage and user feedback, LBG was able to identify issues and trends and share that feedback with MEDA. Gender issues were quite sensitive in some communities, and the women found the Talking Book a safe way to anonymously record questions, complaints or suggestions.
For the GROW project, Amplio provided technology and program support. Community Aid for Rural Action, a local NGO, supported community mobilization activities, while the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and various District Assemblies (DAs) provided technical and coordination support.
“Our voices were not heard, and we thought it was normal though we were always hurt,” explained Amadu Asetu Tipeani, a GROW woman farmer. “But as we become economic empowered, we are able to demand for space. I never became a coward to the men whom I was contesting the elections with, because I was economically and socially active.”
The GROW project reached over 23,000 women farmers and their families. About 85 women farmers at the end of each farming season were certified as quality seed producers.
The project achieved 178 per cent adoption of no-till farming in soybeans and other crop production among project beneficiaries. No-till farming increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients. It reduces or eliminates soil erosion.
About 8,873 farmers, both men and women, practiced non-burning agriculture on their farms. The majority of the beneficiaries reported that ATB helped them to greatly increase their knowledge and skills so they could grow more food, feed their children, and earn incomes from the surplus produce they sold. Ninety-two percent said that ATB was the main source from which they received essential farming information.
The number of hectares cultivated by women farmers increased by 77 per cent, and about 98 per cent of the women farmers reported the adoption of a new farming practice after listening to the ATB messages.
In Kenya, community health volunteers used Talking Books to share consistent, quality maternal and child health information with 31,154 households, resulting in 40% increase in skilled deliveries. In Ghana, 91% of residents who participated in a UNICEF communication for development program and used Talking Books in their homes said they’d applied a new health or agricultural practice.
For message design and content production, it’s important to consider the gender of the resource person and target audiences. For example, messages recorded by female MOFA officers performed better with GROW women farmer sessions than those recorded by male officers.
Complementary activities, such savings and loans, help increase the impact of Talking Book messages and other program interventions to increase knowledge acquisition. For GROW, the VSLA component explained the financial messages that were disseminated and allowed women to practice the knowledge gained.
If development projects seek to reach more women with equal access to information, they need to look beyond mobile phones. There is a gender gap in digital information access and as development projects increasing turn to mobile phones and new technologies to deliver services and information, there’s a risk of leaving women behind. It is also important for projects that seek to build capacity for women to ensure the active engagement of men.
Talking Books significantly improved the success of MEDA’s GROW project. LBG will undertake follow-up visits to target communities and farmers to monitor the ongoing changes. Also, the project will continue its resource mobilization efforts to reinforce uptake of recommended farming practices and extend the solution’s benefits to other vulnerable communities. A Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning framework is in place to provide guidance on monitoring. LBG will lead all local-level capacity-building initiatives for this action. Amplio will continue to provide technology and program support, including monitoring and evaluation assistance.
Last update: 28/05/2021