Department of Media and Information works to improve farming in eastern Africa

Posted at 3:40 PM, Aug 01, 2017

Researchers from the Michigan State University Department of Media and Information presented on the power of communication technologies to improve agricultural practices in East Africa through a workshop in Tanzania in mid-June.

Professor of Media and Information Charles Steinfield partnered with MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation to facilitate a one-day workshop on how to develop and apply learning videos created with input from local communities. The 22 attendees included representatives from government agencies, non-governmental organizations and African universities that provide agricultural extension services.

“MSU is a global leader in agriculture and in supporting agricultural innovation around the world,” Steinfield said. “This project combines intellectual resources from across MSU to develop creative solutions to agricultural problems, and continues our long tradition of capacity building to enhance food security worldwide.”

After securing funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development through GCFSI, Steinfield assembled a cross-departmental team to launch a project that involved local communities in creating educational videos about the viability of new, climate resilient maize varieties.

The team collected narrative elements by visiting small farmers throughout western and south central Kenya. Steinfield and colleagues listened to farmers’ stories, assessed their reasons for not using drought resistant varieties and created a low-cost video based on those perspectives. A translator worked alongside the team so the video could be created in Kamba, the local language of the target region.

Once the video was completed, Tian Cai, media and information doctoral candidate, led a detailed study involving 27 villages, with 16 villages receiving a video screening followed by a moderated discussion. The other 11 villages served as a control group and were not shown the video. In eight of the “treatment” villages, Cai and the team further investigated whether adding mobile phone reminder messages would help the farmers remember the video content throughout the growing season.

“A key finding from Cai's thesis is that the combined video plus phone reminder approach clearly had the strongest impact on farmers’ learning and intention to use drought-tolerant maize,” Steinfield said.

He said attendees at the recent workshop were persuaded by the findings, and were eager to apply participatory video in their approach to improving farming practices.

“It is important to first spend the time needed to understand the local context and involve the local community in order to create solutions that use technologies in ways that are more appropriate to peoples’ lives,” Steinfield said. “This project was very much aligned with the philosophy of the Media and Information Department at MSU.”

Other members of the project team from Media and Information were Associate Professor Jennifer Olson and Kirk Mason, an undergraduate who filmed the 30-minute video. Tara Mock, a doctoral candidate from the African American and African Studies program, also contributed to the project.

For more details, visit this website. View the video here.