Access to information improves the productivity of livestock farmers

“I am proud of Australia,” says James Machingura when he describes the impact his 2013 Australia Awards Short Course in Livestock Systems has had on thousands of farmers in Zimbabwe. “I gained a lot of knowledge and skills in livestock systems in Australia, skills in planning a programme and techniques in project presentation, among others.”

The Short Course also covered gender mainstreaming in agricultural extension and technological change – an area James felt could make a sustainable difference to farmers back home in Zimbabwe. “I used the skills gained to introduce knowledge and share new technology with vulnerable communities.”

The technology James refers to is podcasting – a digital extension method James introduced as Program Coordinator at his organisation, GOAL Zimbabwe. For many rural farmers in Zimbabwe, access to information is the difference between making a living or not. Sick or dying animals present a loss to farmers, yet often the closest animal health management centre could be up to 20 km away, making it costly for farmers to receive advice on caring for their livestock. Local veterinary experts come through communities intermittently, which is of value, but does not always sufficiently meet the needs of farmers or make a sustainable difference in farming methods. By bringing veterinary services and advice directly to communities in Buhera, through the podcasting initiative, farmers are educated and many now have the confidence to treat their own animals, as each lesson provides step-by-step instructions.

The podcasting process starts with lesson development in livestock and crop production, conducted by managers from the Ministry of Agriculture and GOAL Zimbabwe funding partners. These lessons are then recorded onto an MP3 and connected to a loudspeaker for 50 to 100 farmers to listen to at a time. Trained para-veterinarians (community-based animal health care workers), who are chosen by the community as their representatives, have custody of the MP3 player and the speaker. The lessons are in keeping with farming cycles so that they are always appropriate and involve themes that James explored during his Short Course, such as dairy handling and processing, meat quality and processing, and livestock value chains and markets. Some lessons are replayed often and have become favourites due to their timeless nature; for example, lessons on supplementary feeding where farmers learn how to appropriately prepare fodder for their animals.

The podcasts are also used for rapid information dissemination or sensitisation about disease outbreaks as the para-veterinarians can simultaneously play messages to affected groups of farmers. “Farmers are now accessing knowledge at their village any time they wish because they have information at their doorstep. For example, through one of the lessons, farmers learned how to treat a sick animal using a syringe and a needle following instructions from the podcast,” James explains.

The use of podcast technology has enabled livestock production education to reach the most vulnerable smallholder farmers, particularly women (a third of all smallholder goat sellers in Zimbabwe are women) who may be excluded from information. The results are improved livestock management, animal health and production. Because their animals are healthier due to knowledge and skills acquired by listening to the podcasts, farmers can demand better prices for their livestock, leading to improved livelihoods. Records of livestock conception, calving and kidding rate from the Department of Veterinary Services and Livestock Development and also farmers’ testimony show an increase in livestock productivity. “The productivity of livestock has increased from 46% to 75% to date due to the use of knowledge gained through the podcast,” James confirms.

To date, GOAL Zimbabwe has managed to educate 15,000 livestock farmers across three districts in Zimbabwe with the podcast technology, and it is expanding into four more districts next year. James believes podcasting is increasingly critical to rural agricultural productivity, “The use of podcasts remains the answer to [reaching farmers in] remote areas that are not accessible to information, and podcasts support other extension methods in the country.”

Podcasting has the following advantages

  • The content in the recorded information does not change once it has been recorded, even if played uncountable times.
  • Beneficiaries can access the information at any time they want.
  • The podcasting project has instilled a sense of ownership in the beneficiaries.
  • Information can be shared to a large number of people in a short space of time.
  • Podcasting saves time and resources.
  • The podcast equipment is the community’s inheritance, which they can use even after the exit of project funding.
  • The program is sustainable since it is driven by the community.

 Call to action: Use podcasting technology to reach the most vulnerable smallholder livestock farmers with vital information. The results are improved livestock management, and animal health and production, leading to improved livelihoods.

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