Improving food security and economic empowerment for women farmers in rural Ghana
How MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project used Talking Books as an agricultural extension tool to help low-literate women farmers access training and knowledge across five key areas.
When your mission is to create business solutions to poverty, it’s critical to find innovative, cost-effective tools and strategies to scale your efforts. That’s why MEDA, an international economic development organization, partnered with Amplio and its affiliate, Literacy Bridge Ghana (LBG), to use the Talking Book for an ambitious project to economically empower women farmers in Ghana.
Launched in 2012, MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project used market-driven approaches to improve food security, income, and nutrition for families in the Upper West and Northern regions.
Funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), the six-year, $20 million GROW project helped to economically empower over 23,000 women farmers to transform their lives through the cultivation, utilization, and sale of soybeans. To achieve this, MEDA provided access to agricultural extension services and resources and identified 1,000 Lead Farmers to train other women in their communities on agronomic best practices, to maximize crop yields.
However, many persistent barriers make it difficult to reach and share knowledge with women living in rural communities in Ghana. In the GROW communities, low literacy and low numeracy among women farmers made the dissemination, comprehension, and retention of the technical information needed for the adoption of new farming practices a particular challenge. Lack of reliable access to electricity was also an issue.
GROW AT A GLANCE
Goal: Ensure that families in northern Ghana have nutritious food throughout the year as women increase agricultural production, strengthen their links to markets, diversify the food they produce, and understand more about nutrition.
Funding: Global Affairs Canada and MEDA
Project length: 2012-2018
Listening model: Talking Books were distributed 1016 lead women farmers to share with their Village Savings and Loan Association groups. The women listened during their weekly VSLA meetings and with their households.
Content categories: Sustainable Agricultural Method, Health, Nutrition, Financial Services, Value Chains, Gender
Languages: Dagaare, Sissaala (Tumu, Funsi, and Pina)
# of Talking Books: 1,016
Reaching: 23,368 farmers and their families
MEDA’S GROW project lead women farmers with Talking Books. Photo by Christian Kuder.
An Accessible Digital Tool to Support Agriculture Services
Recognizing the limitations of other information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) tools, in 2013, MEDA partnered with Amplio and LBG to use Talking Books as an agricultural extension tool for sharing technical information and social and behavior change messages.
MEDA selected Amplio’s Talking Book audio device for multiple reasons. From a program delivery perspective, Talking Books are rugged, easy to update, and can be loaded with a playlist of messages on a range of multi-sector topics. And unlike radios or mobile phones, the Talking Book is a designated device for a specific use, which prevents theft and misuse.
For program participants with low literacy skills, Talking Books are easy to operate, fun to use, and convenient. Because the Talking Book works with locally available batteries, users can listen to the Talking Book when and where it works for them and replay messages as many times as they want, to improve comprehension. The device has a built-in microphone, so users can record their questions and feedback. It also has a built-in speaker, which allows families and groups to listen together and share the learning experience.
For the GROW project, Amplio and LBG provided Talking Books at no cost, and the GROW communities bought the batteries needed to power the device. LGB produced technical and behavior change audio messages in the form of songs, dramas, interviews, and endorsements in four local dialects and deployed content updates on a quarterly basis, to reflect the growing season.
In addition to providing technical training and information to improve farming practices, the GROW project used Talking Books to share knowledge to empower women and their families across four other categories:
- Financial literacy: To help the women plan budgets, manage their resources and savings opportunities, and invest in expanding their productive activities.
- Health and nutrition: To help women make sound nutritional choices for their families.
- Gender roles and issues: To support fair and equal access to land and foster gender-positive behaviors in the home.
- Value chains: To deliver a deeper understanding of the economic impacts of farming and financial practices.
SAMPLE TALKING BOOK TOPICS FOR THE MEDA GROW PROJECT
The Talking Book Program Model for MEDA’s GROW Project
Talking Books were distributed to lead farmers to share with groups of 15-20 women farmers, who listened to messages during their weekly village savings and loan association (VSLA) meetings. If a participant missed a meeting or training session, she could listen to the Talking Book at home with her family and explore other topics that were of particular interest to her.
Village Savings and Loan Assocations
A Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) is a group of 15-25 people (most often women) who save together and take small-interest loans from their savings. CARE founded the VSLA model in 1991 in Niger. The purpose of a VSLA is to a provide simple savings and loan option for communities that lack easy access to formal financial services. VSLA activities typically run in cycles of one year, after which the accumulated savings and the loan profits are distributed back to members.
Today, VSLAs are used as a sustainable economic growth strategy throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Survey Shows Talking Book a Key Source of Information for Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Across Five Categories
In December 2018, a close-out survey of GROW communities in eight districts across Upper West Ghana showed that Talking Books were an important source of information. Participants were asked what lessons or changes Talking Books brought to their lives and households. Significantly, respondents ranked Talking Books as the top source of information across all five categories, including agriculture, health/nutrition, financial services, values chains, and gender.
For the health/nutrition category, 92% of respondents cited Talking Books as a key source for information and 49% cited health workers. Agriculture results were similar, with Talking Books ranked the highest (92%), followed by KFPs (75%), and agricultural workers (39%). For value chains and gender information the gap was even greater.
How Talking Book messages helped impact crop yield for GROW farmers
Survey respondents provided examples of farming practices they learned from Talking Books, indicating they understood and engaged with agricultural extension information. Two-thirds (68.6%) mentioned field layout and design topics as the most helpful. This included linear sowing, appropriate site selection, and crop rotation. 12.9% of respondents mentioned fertilization methods (use of manure amd compost) as the most helpful information shared. This was followed by appropriate Weed & Pest Control (11.4% of respondents), including messages about how to deal with Fall Army Worms (FAWs), use of Personal Protective Equipment (
Overall, respondents reported that Talking Books helped them to make more efficient use of their small plots of land.
A close-out survey showed showed that Talking Books were a key source of information across all GROW communities for all five content categories.
In July 2018, MEDA reported that 21,378 women farmers cultivated about 13,678.9 hectares, up from 7,740.4 hectares the previous year — a 77% increase.
Managing earnings from the sale of soya
Respondents described how their learnings in price comparisons, record keeping, selling in bulk, and appropriate timing for sales led to a better understanding of business and, in turn, better returns and sustainable livelihoods. One respondent stated, “I was able to finance activities this year solely on the sale of soya.” Another respondent described the importance of record-keeping, “I used to fail business-wise but because of the records, now I can refer to them and know where there is a problem.”
Shifting gender norms
As a result of listening to Talking Book messages about gender roles, respondents said their relationships have improved. Both women and men described changes in their household roles and responsibilities. A woman respondent said: “My husband is taking good care of the girls, not ready to give them out for marriage, sending them to school instead.” A man said: “I help my wife with household chores.” As a result of increased joint responsibility for the household, GROW women farmers said they had more time to pursue farming and business endeavors: “My husband and family take care of themselves (cooking and eating) while I go to my business.”
Changing knowledge, attitudes, and practices
Almost all (98.4%) of participants surveyed stated that the Talking Book messages changed his/her mind or beliefs about specific issues covered. A male participant, for example, stated that the Talking Book changed his mind and beliefs as it encouraged him to provide “access to lands by women which allow them to farm on bigger plots than it used to be.”
Driving lasting behavior change
Referencing the message that changed respondents’ beliefs, almost all (96.7%) stated that they adopted the practice after listening to a Talking Book. The remaining 3.2% of respondents stated
A GROW lead farmer and her husband discuss Talking Book messages. Photo by Christian Kuder.
In Her Own Words
A GROW lead farmer describes her experience
Situation before participating in the GROW project
My main occupation is tailoring. To supplement my income, I farm maize on a one-acre plot of land that I own. I had very low maize yields because I didn’t know about maize culture and field management. The maize cultivated from my farm was not even sufficient to meet my household needs. I used not to practice all activities involved in the production stages.
Knowledge gained from agricultural training and Talking Books
A friend encouraged me to join a GROW project group. GROW gave me the training and confidence to realize that with better knowledge of soya techniques, I could turn my maize farm into a profitable farming business. The field officers provided us with technical support from the Talking Book. Because of these changes, I decided to practice improved soya cultivation and to raise more valuable crops for income and family consumption. After listening to Talking Book messages, I adopted proper field conditions to help my crop to grow and increase in yield. The Talking book taught me that maintaining good farm practices, especially eliminating weeds and pests, is important for cultivating soya.
Greater confidence and social status
My involvement with GROW made me feel confident about my ability to gain financially from soya initiatives after harvest. Because I prepared and maintained proper care of my soya field, lat year I had an increased yield of 3 ½ bags just from my one acre. Thanks to the knowledge I gained from Talking Books, my family has income choices from soya every day. My success has encouraged other women farmers to take joining a VSLA more seriously.
For example, my annual income from the soya grew from nothing in 2015 on the maize field, to Ghc 340 in 2016 from soya production. The bulk of this income came from selling. The total amount of soya I consumed at home through partial harvesting was around 40 kg. I sold almost 300 kg of soya in the market and made an additional income to support my tailoring business. All these activities contributed to my growing status in my community.
Most significant change
Before participating in the GROW project, I purchased seeds without knowing about germination or nutrition. Now, in addition to generating income, my soya field provides enough produce to satisfy my family’s needs, and my children can eat nutritious food on a regular basis. My personality has changed a lot. I can now talk and communicate with people with ease. People know me, and many visitors come to talk to me and learn about my soya activities and my membership in the group.
Inclusive technology to positively impact lives in rural Africa
At Amplio, we’re committed to providing an inclusive, knowledge sharing solution to help strengthen and scale the effectiveness of projects like GROW. We focus on serving the most vulnerable populations — including women, men, and youth in rural, low-literate communities. We believe that accessible technology like the Talking Book can play a valuable role in removing the barriers that many organizations face as they work to share knowledge that empowers people living in poverty to improve their lives.
Interested in using Talking Books for your next project?