How MEDA Used Talking Books as an Agricultural Extension Strategy to Empower Women Farmers
Updated: Mar 17
MEDA's GROW project economically empowered women farmers. Photo: MEDA
Talking Books improved training and knowledge across five key areas for MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project.
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 to use Talking Books for an ambitious project to economically empower women farmers in Ghana.
Launched in 2012, MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project economically empowered over 23,000 women farmers in northern Ghana to improve food security and income for their families by growing and selling soybeans.
The six-year project was funded by Global Affairs Canada.
Barriers to reaching women farmers
To achieve this, MEDA provided access to agricultural extension services and resources and identified 1,000 lead farmers to help 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 Ghana's rural communities. 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.
An inclusive digital solution for agricultural services
Recognizing the limitations of other information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) tools, MEDA integrated the Amplio Talking Book into the GROW project in 2013. an agricultural extension tool for delivering technical lessons and social and behavior change messaging.
MEDA selected the Talking Book for multiple reasons.
From a program delivery perspective, the battery-powered Amplio Talking Book is a rugged, easy-to-update audio device that can deliver hours of content in any language. Unlike radios or mobile phones, Talking Books don't get lost or stolen. It's a dedicated device and is viewed as a shared community resource, which prevents theft and misuse. (You can't go online with a Talking Book or call your brother.)
For program participants with low literacy skills, the Talking Book is convenient, fun to use, and easy to operate. The device runs on locally available batteries, with no need for electricity or connectivity. Users can listen on-demand, when and where it's convenient. They can play messages as many times as they want and record their feedback. A built-in speaker allows families and groups to listen and learn together.
See how Talking Books helped amplify MEDA's GROW project reach and impact.
GROW's Talking Book program and content design
For the GROW project, Amplio provided the Talking Book devices at no cost. Talking Books were distributed to 116 lead women farmers to share with their Village Savings and Loan Association groups. The women listened to Talking Books during their weekly VSLA meetings. If a participant missed a meeting or training session, she could borrow a Talking Book to listen at home with her family and explore other topics of interest.
Amplio Ghana produced the Talking Book content, provided training, and managed the devices in the field. The team produced technical and behavior change audio messages in the form of songs, dramas, interviews, and endorsements in four local dialects and updated Talking Book content on a quarterly basis, to reflect the growing season.
In addition to providing technical training and sustainable agricultural information on topics such as crop rotation, pest management, and soil improvement, the GROW project used Talking Books to share knowledge across four other key areas:
Financial literacy: To help the women plan budgets, manage their resources and savings opportunities, and invest in expanding their productive activities.
Value chains: To deliver a deeper understanding of the economic impacts of farming and financial practices, including negotiation skills.
Health and nutrition: To help women make sound health and nutritional choices for their families, including the integration of soy into their diets.
Gender roles and issues: To support fair and equal access to land and foster gender-positive behaviors in the home, including shared decision-making.
An example of Talking Book topics and messages for MEDA's GROW project.
A key source of information for rural farmers
When the project ended 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 of the topics covered, including agriculture, health/nutrition, financial services, values chains, and gender roles.
GROW farmer sources for agriculture and health information.
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.
Talking Books were the top source of gender and value chain information.
Impact on farming practices and crop yield
Survey respondents shared 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. Nearly 13% of respondents mentioned fertilization methods (use of manure and 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 (PPEs), and non-burning of crop residue.
Overall, respondents reported that Talking Books helped them to make more efficient use of their small plots of land.
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.
During the project implementation, GROW women and men farmers who listened to Talking Books won the top awards in their districts on Ghana Farmer Day.
GROW farmer Cecilia Belintaa won Best Female District Farmer.
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.”
Shared household chores and decision making
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.”
New knowledge, attitudes, and practices
Almost all the survey respondents (98.4%), both women and men, said listening to Talking Books had impacted their knowledge, attitudes, and practices about specific topics that were covered. For example, a male participant said the Talking Book changed his 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.” Likewise, most respondents (96.7%) agreed that they had adopted a new practice they learned from the Talking Book.
What is a Village Savings and Loan Association?
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. The VSLA model provides a simple savings and loan option for communities that lack 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.
CARE International launched its first VSLA in 1991 in Niger. Today, the VSLA model is used as a financial inclusion strategy around the world. Learn more at:
Microsavings through Village Savings and Loan Associations (CARE International)
The VSLA methodology (VSLA.net)
Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. Learn more >