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Teaching Rural Farmers With Cell Phone Videos

Farmers receive information on improving crop yields by watching how-to videos on their mobile phones.
Farmers receive information on improving crop yields by watching how-to videos on their mobile phones.

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Mobile phones are an important business tool for farmers in rural areas. But they also put a valuable educational tool in their hands.

The University of Illinois in the United States has a project called SAWBO -- Scientific Animations Without Borders. It produces educational videos that can be downloaded to cell phones. The goal is to help people in developing countries improve their lives.

One video shows farmers how to make a natural insecticide from neem seeds to prevent insect damage to crops. The process starts with sorting and drying the neem fruits, as explained in this version with a Nigerian narrator.

WOMAN: "Let the fruit dry in the sun for about three or four days, until they become brown. Using a mortar and pestle, the fruits are slightly pounded to remove the shells from the fruits without breaking the seed inside."

The videos use computer animation. Some of the animated characters are a little funny looking -- like a farmer with a long nose. But the subjects are serious, including a health video on preventing cholera.

Team member Francisco Seufferheld says the information in the videos is meant to be quickly understood.

FRANCISCO SEUFFERHELD: "The information is digested in such a way that in two minutes, we can transmit a complex idea."

The team has made a few videos so far. These are available in a total of eighty languages, dialects and accents. Professor Barry Pittendrigh says there are plans for more videos later this year.

Purdue University in Indiana is using videos to promote a project in Africa called PICS, Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage. The aim is to get farmers to use special bags to keep air and bugs out of their cowpea harvests.

The Purdue researchers have produced their videos in different countries in Africa. Crop scientist Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer says this helps local farmers relate to them.

The researchers did an experiment in Niger with a video showing how to close the bags. Professor Lowenberg-DeBoer says the process is not difficult to do, just difficult to describe.

JESS LOWENBERG-DeBOER: "Closing the bags is something that, if you see it, you will understand it very quickly. And most people do. But explaining it in words is quite difficult."

The researchers tested the seven-minute video on seven mobile phones. They wanted to see if people would share the video using Bluetooth wireless technology. With Bluetooth, files can be passed to a nearby phone even if neither phone is connected to the Internet.

JESS LOWENBERG DeBOER: "In one month, the video had spread to one hundred eighteen people in fifty different villages. And we think that this is just incredible impact."

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson and Steve Baragona. You can watch examples of the videos at I’m Bob Doughty.

Cholera Prevention

Natural insecticide from neem seeds

Purdue sketch for Nigeria