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Not just an old oil drum!

Wheat and sheep country
Sharing farmers' experiences

G. Tansey

The author is a freelance writer and journalist specializing in development issues. He can be contacted through the Food Policy Research Unit, Department of Biomedical Sciences University of Bradford, Bradford, UK, where he has a visiting research fellowship.

Finding improved farming methods is not enough, other farmers must hear about them. The author reports from a small livestock project in Turkey, where the innovations were not only developed on the farms but the farmers themselves played a starring role in spreading the word.

For Riza Ayhan, his wife and dozens of other farmers around Konya, in central Turkey, an old oil barrel has helped them to see and breathe more easily. How? Well, "before we had proper ventilation in our barns," says Riza, "our eyes stung when entering them and it dripped like rain from the roof on to the sheep because of humidity." Now they no longer dread entering smelly barns stinking of ammonia, sweat and dung because the air is fresh.

The traditional sheep barns had only a small window or two and no roof ventilation. The sheep spent the cold winter inside these, usually fed on chopped straw remaining from the harvest, and came out in spring in very poor condition. Even the new cattle barns had only small roof vents that were quite insufficient. Although many farmers were sceptical at first about putting big oil drum chimneys in and leaving the windows open in winter, fearing the cold would harm the animals, some farmers decided to try it. They soon found that their fears were unfounded and that the chimneys made a big difference. Working in the barns is now easier and more pleasant, the ventilation helps the roofs and buildings last longer and the animals stay healthier and in better condition. It is interesting to note that the farmers' first concern was the building and that the animals took second place.

Wheat and sheep country

Konya is wheat and sheep country. There is a local proverb, "Koyun ve bugday, gerisi oyun", which roughly translated means "Wheat and sheep, the rest's play". Its truth shows in Konya's most famous dish, firin kebab -tender and tasty oven-cooked lamb served on flat bread.

From 1988 to 1992, Riza and about 100 other farmers worked with a small group of extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Konya Provincial Directorate, to make simple and cheap but effective changes to their animal production methods to improve their livelihoods. This experimental work was done by the farmers themselves and at farm level.

Much of the effort was focused on sheep - there are over 3 million in the province-but as dairy castle and beef fattening have become more important, these were also included. The extension workers were working in a small project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with technical assistance provided by FAO.

Not everything that was tried by the farmers worked, but the ventilation chimney as well as an intensive lamb fattening system, some feed improvements and the installation of watering systems for cattle did. The "do-it-yourself', low-cost improvements were designed to increase returns to farmers from animal production -in cash, in kind or in improved working conditions.

The problem for the technical staff, however, was how and what to tell other farmers about the innovations, since they were animal specialists and tended to see benefits to the animals as a first priority. The farmers, on the other hand, saw the benefits first for themselves or their buildings and secondly for the animals. Both, of course, are important. But understanding benefits seen by the farmers is vital if the project results are to be shared with other farmers. Extension is a form of social marketing, and it must match farmers' concerns.

As in many developing countries, Turkey has a sizeable government extension service, but it often lacks appropriate techniques. After four years, the Konya project team had clear results to share with other farmers in the province and in the rest of central Anatolia, where similar conditions existed.

A practical and simple solution to ventilation problems: local Turkish farmers installed oil drums on roofs of sheep barns to serve as air vents - Une solution pratique et simple aux problèmes de ventilation - des agriculteurs turcs ont installé des barils de pétrole vides sur les toits des bergeries en guise de bouches d'aération - Solución práctica de los problemas de ventilación: los agricultores turcos instalaron bidones de petróleo en los tejados de los establos de las ovejas como respiraderos

An example of exchange between developing countries: a Malagasy farmer is interviewed on the occasion of a special ceremony honouring Indonesian farmers who donated funds to help rural families in this village - Exemple d'échange dans les pays en développement - un agriculteur malgache est interviewé lors d'une cérémonie en l'honneur des agriculteurs indonésiens qui ont donné des fonds pour venir en aide aux familles rurales de ce village - Ejemplo de intercambio en países en desarrollo: un agricultor malagasi entrevistado con ocasión de una ceremonia en honor de los agricultores indonesios que donaron fondos para ayudar a las familias rurales de esta aldea

Sharing farmers' experiences

But how? Somewhat unusual for Turkey, it was decided that the project farmers should tell their stories themselves, based on the belief that farmers talking to farmers is more effective than just the instruction of extension staff. Now Riza and his wife are two of a dozen or so farmers and, in some cases, their families who feature in a series of videos that extension staff showed during the winter of 1993/94 in villages all over Konya. These videos form the centre-piece of a package of materials for both farmers and technical staff A pictorial bimonthly calendar with key messages for different times of the year was also widely distributed. Separate leaflets on each topic of the video series were produced to serve as reminders of the key points, in addition to a technical guide for extension staff

In order to produce these materials, the extension staff needed their own "appropriate technology". As part of the project they received a desktop publishing system, but choosing it had been difficult since it had to include Turkish, be easy for non-specialists to use and have servicing facilities in the city. in the end, because it provided manuals and menus in Turkish and there were other users in the town, an Apple Macintosh system was chosen.

The video equipment was already in place. It was a relatively simple video 8 that had arrived a few years earlier as part of a reorganization of the extension services. Information staff from the Farmers' Education and Training Section of the Provincial Directorate, together with the project team, used it to film both the techniques and the farmers. The video 8 tapes were edited on to Beta and VHS tapes and a soundtrack was added. All this took place right in the office in Konya. These five- to ten-minute videos also proved helpful in reaching the village women - which is a government priority - who do most of the work with animals. Thanks to the good working relations with the farming families established by the six-member project team, which included one female subject-matter specialist, it was possible to film both men and women. Usually only men attend meetings in the villages and extension workers end up talking only to them, missing out on the opinions of the women. The videos can now be used at village meetings held separately for men and women, where they will be able to see other local farm families talking about how they have benefited from the changes they have attempted to make.

As projects go, it is very small and the changes are quite simple, both for the farmers and extension staff. But if it works, the programme will help lead the way for other provinces in Turkey to use village video recorders for more worthwhile and productive causes than just showing the latest films.

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