Colourful, even dramatic, audiovisual tools bring alive new ideas and techniques; they energise programmes of training and human resource development whenever they are used.
Audiovisual materials can be produced locally at a reasonable cost. Then, duplicated in quantity, they can help to train large numbers of people.
Audiovisuals have many additional advantages for users. Trainees - even if they are illiterate - can see and discuss quite complex techniques and procedures before practising them. This audiovisual training method improves mental retention enormously: making it four or five times better than just hearing a lecture, and nine times better than merely reading the information.
In just one sitting a training group using audiovisuals can explore, for example, improved agricultural practices from sowing to reaping, the problem of deforestation and the solution of afforestation, or the symptoms of undernutrition and how people can obtain a better diet. Trainees can travel - through pictures - to places that are otherwise too distant and expensive to visit. Limits of time and space can be overcome, thanks to the skillful use of communication media.
The trainers and field staff themselves also benefit from using audiovisual training packages. The technical information presented is standardised and of high quality, coming directly from technical specialists without any intervening distortion; the presentations are attractive and interesting; and the training packages guide dialogue from beginning to end. Overall audiovisuals allow trainers to be more confident and professional.
The priority need for better training in agriculture and rural development can be illustrated by the tragic example of the use of agrochemicals. The World Health Organization, in its Global Health Situation and Projections (1992), reports: "Worldwide, agrochemicals alone lead to about 4 million poisonings each year, with at least 15 000 deaths. Millions of people are exposed to toxic chemicals via food, drinking-water or air." Improved training in this and other areas could save lives and improve the quality of life enormously.
"What I hear, I forget.
Farmer's proverb from Peru
Based on the above proverb, a training methodology using video was created in Peru for farmers. It received such attention that the same method has been taken up by governments around the world - in Brazil, the Caribbean, China, Honduras, the Republic of Korea, Mali and Mexico.
In Peru, from 1975 to 1986, over 1 000 video programmes and training packages were produced and used with over 450 000 farmers. Subjects included agricultural and livestock production, natural resources, health, habitats, mechanisation, forestry and aquaculture. The courses utilized existing farmer knowledge merged with new technology.
The videos were made in a way that permitted maximum comprehension by farmers, many of whom were illiterate. Moreover, the video programmes were part of a package, with guidebook for the farmer and another for the trainer, as well as practice in using the techniques after viewing and discussion.
In an evaluation, 92 percent of the farmers applauded the video approach because it was like "actually being in the field". The video equipment was portable and battery-powered, allowing the training to take place where farmers live and work. Some of the farming communities contributed to the cost, which worked out at US$30 per farmer per course over the life of the project, but was down to US$13 by 1984, when the project was in full swing. The project received external support from UNDP, a bilateral donor and the FAO/TCP programme, but also generated its own income of US$1.5 million.
In Mali, the Peruvian experience was adapted to create the Centre for Audio-visual Production Services (CESPA), assisted by UNDP. The facility not only handles the needs for farmer training video materials in Mali, but is also planning to service clients across West Africa. It provides advice and training so that local development agencies can define their communication strategies. CESPA was granted parastatal status through national legislation, allowing it to generate and retain income. It already recovers some of its costs and aims eventually to be financially self-sustaining.
Often the news, as well as information on new techniques and issues of development should be made known to people throughout a region or an entire country. Used with skill, the mass media can provide a powerful service to spread this information far and wide.
The use of radio, television, other electronic media and newspapers has grown considerably in many developing countries over the last four decades. The cost of using these media to spread information to large numbers of people can be low. For example, studies have shown that radio broadcasts are 2 000 to 3 500 times less expensive per contact hour than extension workers are. Of course, extension workers do much more than pass messages, but the cost-efficiency of the mass media can be indisputable for certain purposes. One example comes from Turkey where free-of-charge "public-service" television time was given ; to air spots and programmes on health and social ~ themes such as teenage pregnancy. This resulted in reaching every person in the entire country at | the extraordinarily low cost of just US$0.02 each.
Universally, whether media organisations are state-owned or in private hands, they and their audiences want interesting material. This is where good communication skills are essential to identify, I write and produce informational materials in a professional way. Building such skills among national staff for these purposes should be a priority.
"... INCALCULABLE DENSITY MILLIONS ADULT LOCUSTS STOP ... NO INSECTICIDE TREATMENT POSSIBLE STOP REASON CATEGORICAL REFUSAL OF HERDERS TO ALLOW SPRAYING STOP ..."Excerpt from a telex from field staff in Kalait region, Republic of Chad, to the headquarters of the Sahelian Mission and Ministry of Agriculture, N'djamena, 1 August 1987.
When a scourge of locusts invaded the Sahel in 1987 to devour all vegetation in sight and threaten the very survival of humans and animals throughout the area, a refusal to stamp out the menace would have seemed inconceivable to an outsider.
However, such a refusal did occur in the important Kalait region which formed the frontline against desertification of the country and was the site of major agricultural projects. There, local livestock owners were deterrninined not to risk poisoning their herds with insecticide. Also, because of the ongoing conflict with a neighbouring country, they strongly disliked any low-flying aircraft, such as were needed to spray the insecticide, and so effectively blocked emergency action across 3 800 hectares, endangering the entire region.
Before it was too late, the Rural Radio Service of Chad was called upon to change the herders' minds - somehow. Instead of commanding them to cooperate by issuing increasingly dire threats over the radio - a tactic used by the government, which had already failed - the rural radio producers knew how to write a message which would appeal to the sense of dignity and responsibility of their loyal listeners. The broadcast made a simple proposition: to move the herds out of one zone for three days so that it too could be treated with insecticide. Then it would be safe to re-enter that zone: and vacate another so that it too could be treated.
Within 24 hours the herders across the large area had met and agreed. The plane was allowed to fly. The locusts were sprayed and destroyed. Good communication skills had helped to overcome this scourge.
When a new development orientation is being introduced within a ministry, when strengthened teamwork is needed, or when planners and policymakers need to keep abreast of the field situation regarding the social effect of their development programmes, communication approaches are crucial.
Workshops that bring together different levels of officials can be the best way to create common understanding and to obtain acceptance for change and a commitment to work together.
Such workshops, if well run, can be a rewarding exercise in communication skills. Participants from various levels can explore problems and opportunities in their development work and look for solutions, in a brain-storming atmosphere. Informal discussions allow centrally based managers to hear about the field situation in ways that are perhaps more meaningful than official reporting often is. They can also enter into the spirit of teamwork by helping to suggest new approaches and learning to work in a participatory way among staff of all levels. This experience boosts morale and commitment and provides insights into how participatory planning can work in practice.
Media materials, such as rural radio and video programmes, which feature rural people themselves as a prime source of information, can have an additional purpose beyond their use in rural areas. They can provide management with direct raw information and a barometer of people's concerns, which otherwise might not pass so quickly through an administrative reporting process.
Field staff, too, greatly appreciate the higher quality of information which communication techniques can provide as a supplement to the existing system of reports, memoranda and directives. Regular, accessible and credible communications can narrow the gap between headquarters and the field. Used for reporting purposes, video, photographs, sound recordings and printed materials can bring the field situation alive to managers who may not have the means or the time to visit project sites.
Top management sees video and finds a better way
Even successful projects like the Shivapuri Watershed Management and Fuelwood Plantation Project in Nepal can benefit from communication as a management tool. Since 1985 this project has restored parts of a severely degraded watershed - by reafforestation, erosion control, new fuelwood plantations, providing alternative sources of income to local people and helping them to live in better harmony with the environment.
Policy-makers, however, seriously reconsidered how best to carry out the second phase of the project after viewing a video programme made in 1991, and aired on national television. Interviews with local people in and around the project site revealed that they were experiencing a number of unanticipated difficulties. Most striking was the bitter complaint of one woman who, like a number of people originally living in the watershed, had been requested to move her residence outside the newly protected area:
"We were asked to leave our house in order that the project could restore the forest, but so far as we can see the forest is still not made, and neither are we well settled. Some of us who used to be farmers are now forced to work as porters. Neither the forest nor the people seem to have benefited from the project," she said in the video programme.
The UNDP Resident Representative in Nepal responded: "As I looked at the video it really struck me that [planning the project] wasn't done with the people early enough... The people had been involved in the decisions about the 'how-to'. But they weren't involved in decision-making about 'whether-to'. I think we could have done it better and in planning the second phase... I think we have to think a little about how to involve the people more."
As a result of the video programmes, consultations with the people were, for the first time, integrated into the work plan and situations similar to that reported above were not repeated. The project investment of US$2 279 000 was better safeguarded for sustainable results.
Decision-makers in government, technical agencies and donor countries should be well informed about the progress and achievements of new programmes in order to sustain, and even expand them when justified.
Communication tools can be a dynamic means to gain the attention and support of decisionmakers.
For presentations in meetings and displays at conferences, the use of video programmes, photographs, audiovisual programmes and overhead projections helps participants to visualize the otherwise dry statistics and data typed in reports. Video programmes are especially useful because they can be given to decision-makers to view individually at a convenient time, away from the pressures and distractions of office hours.
Interesting programmes aired on national television and radio, and informative articles newspapers are often noticed by decisionmakers. Newsletters too, while primarily intended for people within development programmes, also keep decision-makers informed about achievements and needs.
A video for the Prime Minster
Deforestation is often a complex problem requiring complex solutions. If governments are to make informed decisions in-depth explanations from technical specialists and the serious attention of national policy-makers are needed. Unfortunately many policy-makers simply do not have the time.
In 1991, FAO a two-year study at the request of the Government of Dominica which wanted to know why several commercial logging ventures had failed, and to find out what the true economic potential of the island's tropical rain forest was.
The FAO study found that the amount of forest on the island and its commercial potential had both been overestimated. The study recommended strict limitations on any further use of forest land for agriculture, and measures to preserve the delicate balance required between logging, watershed protection and the preservation of a wildlife habitat.
Would the law-makers have time to appreciate the forest management plan described in a 90-page document, with additional background papers? Gaining their interest was certainly the first priority.
The Prime Minister, seven ministers and other members of the Cabinet were treated to a 14-minute video, "Our vanishing forests" produced by the local Rural Communications Centre under the guidance of the forestry specialists.
The visual impact of how Dominica's forests had been exploited in recent years was shocking to some viewers. After the programme, the Cabinet entered into extensive discussion about the findings and recommendations of the study, a document that many had not yet had the opportunity to read.
Four months later, the national Forestry Sector Plan was put to the vote of the Cabinet. It reflected many of the major FAO recommendations. There was no opposition.
The grassroots - on fire
Communication activities often reaffirm people's traditions, but not always. In 1991-92, in two areas of Chad, communication intentionally sought to stamp out an age-old tradition completely: that of bushfires lit by farmers.
Farmers around the world cite the advantages of setting ablaze agricultural land before planting crops: weeds are cleared, potent nutrients of ash are deposited on to the soil, and rodents, insects and other pests are destroyed. In Chad, from November to June, farmers have fired their land by tradition, confident in the ancient ways.
Tradition is not always best, however. The soil, in many places, is overworked and degraded - literally blowing away. Fires, occasionally out of control, devastate forest reserves and the desert advances.
Determined to halt the desert, the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment decided to campaign against bushfires. A participatory approach was chosen through the advice of the Technical Cooperation Programme of FAO.
Forestry agents and NGO field workers trained in communication skills, were posted to the villages in selected regions in order to conduct discussions. Two key zones consisting of 54 villages in total were covered. Using slides and audio-cassettes supported by radio broadcasts, villagers were encouraged to voice their opinions and propose solutions to the problem. The communities then made decisions based on the outcome of these meetings.
What were the results after one year? Forest fires reduced by 90 percent; 22 villages with active bushfire control committees, and a further nine planning the same; 10 000 hectares of forest protected by firebreaks created by 17 villages; 25 000 trees planted by 44 villages; and new tree nurseries established or planned in 29 villages. Using data collected from the village discussions, the campaign will be extended to other regions.
The morale of forestry officers is greatly improved. Said one officer who received the communication training: "Before, people saw us as the agents of repression. This training taught us that from now on we shall be the agents of development in villages, alongside the population!"
Communication has replaced one kind of fire with another.
Rural radio-letting the listeners speak
A villager's story, recorded in a radio programme about bushfires:
My uncle once told me how a bushfire burnt his field:
"That bushfire was angry-it charged like a herd of elephants, destroying everything! Even came near to our home!"
I said, "Don't be scared. With the right words, a good hunter can stop a herd of charging elephants. We too can stop bushfires with the right words. "
"Let's unite. "
"If the entire village gets organised to fight bushfires, you'll never be afraid of bushfires again!"
Rural radio programmes can be important tools for a variety of purposes such as promoting an antibushfire campaign in Chad.
Whether produced at the local, regional or national level, such radio programmes are most effective when made with audience participation, in local languages and taking into account cultural traditions. To achieve this, radio production teams should be multidisciplinary and mobile so that they can dialogue with many people and record a wide variety of important subjects for transmission.
In this way, rural radio programming, besides spreading information, can fulfil other important functions: it can stimulate a regular discussion and debate among the people involved in development; provide a forum where rural communities can express their views and their cultural heritage; and it can even be a powerful means of investigation for decision-makers, helping them to appreciate better rural people and their world, in order to approach them in appropriate ways.