FEATURE: Audiovisual shows bring climate research findings directly to African farmers
Carolyn Fry interviews Fatema Rajabali, Climate Change Convenor at IDS, about the Climate Photo-audio Project which is using slideshows as a form of digital storytelling to make research findings accessible to farmers in east Africa
Valuable research produced by Southern nations could help farmers adapt to climate change, but a conundrum is how to make useful findings accessible to rural communities. A project conducted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in partnership with the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), and supported by CDKN, sought to bridge this gap. Between 2008 and 2011, the team produced the regular briefing, Joto Afrika (Swahili for ‘Africa is feeling the heat’), which provided online resources covering climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. The briefings primarily contained African-produced research with easy-to-understand findings.
Findings from an evaluation of Joto Afrika gave rise to the Climate Photo-audio Project. In the evaluation survey, readers provided examples of action taken, such as a community adopting new technologies and approaches, as a result of a Joto Afrika case study or research article. These readers had gone beyond simply learning about climate change issues to applying in practice what they had learned. This evidence of ‘learning-into-action’ demonstrated that communities are looking to learn and engage with research findings.
The findings also showed, however, that complex language and jargon sometimes limited the extent to which individuals could learn from research, reducing the potential of development studies to lead to tangible improvements in peoples’ lives. “In response to this, we began to explore how photo-audio stories, a form of digital storytelling, could be used to help a wider range of communities better access climate change research,” explains Fatema Rajabali, Climate Change Convenor in IDS’s Knowledge Services Department.
To start off the process of creating material, the project team trained various participants from ‘intermediaries’ in the use of audiovisual technology and methods. Intermediaries have been defined as “organisations or units within organisations who are concerned with informing, linking, matchmaking, engaging, collaborating and building of adaptive capacity” of knowledge producers and users.
The intermediaries included members of the media, a researcher at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and NGO workers directly involved in projects on the ground. The participants worked with communities to capture their voices and present a community perspective on particular aspects of agricultural research. The audiovisual output, presented above, is aimed at showing farmers the benefits of growing cassava during times of drought. A photo slide show with captions and the audio podcast story are also available.
The photo-audio story combines reportage-style photography, interviews with farmers and descriptive captions to show how drought has affected people’s lives in Mutomo, Eastern Kenya, and how growing cassava is helping them adapt to the changing climate. “The region of Kenya in which the presentation was made is a Kamba-speaking area,” explains Fatema. “The aim was to produce the presentation solely in Kamba but when the interviews were conducted, people spoke in Kamba, Swahili and English. We realised it would be challenging to just create the outputs in Kamba, given that we had captured people’s narratives in multiple languages. We hope to get the narrative translated to Kamba, so it’s accessible to other local communities in the area.”
The response from farmers who have so far seen the above photo-audio story has been very positive. A community exchange forum brought together members from the local farmer field school, local agricultural extension workers, community members and the trainees. After the photo-audio was presented, the researcher, an expert in growing cassava, began a discussion to see if the farmers felt it had been a valuable experience and whether they would seek to explore to use of cassava as a result.
“A couple of farmers got very excited and said they would be growing more cassava, while others were keen to use the approach as a way of capturing what they were learning about other crops and plants, such as Aloe vera,” says Fatema. “The extension worker, who was not as well informed about the impact of cassava, was very pleased to have learned more about the crop and agreed to supply seedlings to interested farmers. And the researcher agreed to use his contacts to put farmers switching to cassava in touch with companies wishing to buy the produce. As an exercise in local community engagement, it was very interesting to see the responses of the farmers and other community members, and what they learned from watching the photo-audio story.”
IDS and ALIN are currently preparing a communications strategy laying out a plan for disseminating the audiovisual material more widely. One of the advantages of having ALIN implement the project on the ground was that the organisation has good networks in Eastern Africa, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. ALIN has a well-built mailing list developed through Joto Afrika and other products, and it has a number of Maarifa (Knowledge) centres in rural areas across the region.
“Using audiovisual products as a means to get messages across demands solid existing networks and suitable technology to show it to people,” says Fatema. “We’re going to send the link for the presentation to Maarifa officers across the Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and they will present it to their local communities. Meanwhile, the separate audio version can be used in radio broadcasts.
“Although we are targeting intermediaries who can be trained up in using tools to communicate research, we want to ensure their resulting presentations and broadcasts share relevant knowledge in a tangible and engaging way to communities on the ground.”
• A learning paper focused on use of the photo-audio story as a communications tool is being developed by IDS Knowledge Services and will be ready by April 2013
• Read the CDKN-supported version of Joto Afrika
• See other audiovisual outputs from ALIN at Blip
 CDKN funded the Joto Afrika Issue 10 that focused on Climate-smart agriculture for food security in Africa