Educating girls before they drop out of the schooling system can make a vital contribution to the elimination of poverty in rural Africa. If women have a good grounding in agricultural knowledge they are better able to run productive farms, to raise healthy, well-nourished families and to secure an education for their own children. How can we reach this group? Existing agricultural extension services, which in any case tend to be under-resourced and fail to meet the demands of the poorer sectors of the farming community, often marginalise women. Girls are often removed from primary school before completion. Where economic necessity requires families to choose which children to support in education, it is rare for sisters to receive priority over brothers.
Working in Kenya, The DFID Livestock Production Programme has supported a project bringing together extension agents, community-based organisations, an educational NGO, a media NGO and extension researchers, to make a concerted effort to find out from poor households what they need to know about livestock, and then find the best way to deliver that information.
By allowing disadvantaged groups to highlight the gaps in their knowledge and to suggest the topics on which they would like to receive information, the project is researching how best to respond flexibly to real need in the community. Farmer groups identified previously ignored livestock species, such as rabbits and bees, as being important sources of income and nutrition for poorer families, and particularly for landless farmers and women. Because of the unique nature of this project - not tied to any particular agricultural research institute - livestock information can come from the most appropriate source and therefore respond to the needs of the livestock rearers themselves.
Analysis of the social networks and communication channels in the area presented new routes for delivering information. The project is researching the effectiveness of delivery through primary schools, churches, women’s groups, and other informal organisations as well as through the established government extension service. These alternative channels are traditionally used and trusted by the poor as sources of information important to their livelihoods.
The information has been presented using the cartoon character “Wambui” in an illustrated storybook style. Wambui is a young girl living with her mother and baby sister on a typical smallholder mixed farm. She sets out to solve the family’s problems by talking to her neighbours and to the local extension officer. The stories are set in the project’s pilot location Embu District in Kenya.
The project has been running for eight months. It has already mapped formal and informal information exchange networks, and community information needs have been identified. Six different booklets have been delivered in the pilot location, each with a print-run of 6000. Three more are in preparation. School teachers have formed focus groups to give feedback on the impact of booklets on children, and repeat-transect surveys have shown measurable change in knowledge amongst adults following delivery of the booklets. The booklets have proved very popular with all the groups. A measure of popularity is that some of the schools insisted on the children returning the booklets so that they may be retained as a school resource - instead the project provided more copies.
The booklets have included technical messages from Medical Research Council (UK) studies and show that human health messages can be communicated alongside agricultural information. The project team believes that by taking this cross-sectoral approach to information supply, it is possible to deliver knowledge effectively and sustainably in support of the very diverse livelihood activities pursued by the rural poor. “Wambui” has had considerable impact on farming communities even as a one-year, low-cost pilot-project. Based on this success there is a need to explore further opportunities for contributing to poverty elimination by linking farming information to the delivery channels used by rural education and healthcare services.
We are pleased to mention that this Wambui Project took second place in the DFID Research Award Competition.
Bees for wealth and health: Wambui finds out
The Wambui Project discovered that people wanted more information on beekeeping. In response to this Bees for Development was commissioned to prepare appropriate text for one of the booklets. This 12-page booklet shows Wambui finding out how important bees are to everyday life. Pollination, the production of honey and beeswax, and value-added products are the storyline of this illustrated text.
[Bees for Development Journal #57]