Purdue University

Engaging hard-to-reach farmers through Scientific Animations without Borders

Stories from the 2023 GAP Report partners.

Total Factor Productivity (TFP) can be effectively increased through the adoption of technological advances by marginalized smallholder farmers. Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO™) is an effective tool for communicating technology and best practices in agriculture for particularly hard-to-reach farmers. SAWBO™ transforms extension information on relevant topics into 2D, 2.5D and 3D animations, which are then voice overlaid into a diversity of languages. SAWBO™ covers a range of topics, such as agriculture, economics, health, women’s empowerment, peace and justice, and climate change resilience. Evaluations have proven a high level of technology adoption by farmers receiving and sharing animations on their mobile phones. For example, in Benin, 70% of the farmers adopted steps to apply neem as a natural pesticide after viewing a SAWBO animated video.[1]

A major challenge for agricultural extensionists is providing technical assistance to smallholder farmers who live in remote, hard-to-reach areas. In addition, some farmers may only speak local languages. Women farmers and minority ethnic groups in particular have limited access to education and extension services. Smallholder farms (< 2ha) account for 80% of farms in lower- and lower-middle-income countries and produce 35% of the world’s food.[2] Total Factor Productivity (TFP) – or the comparison of total outputs relative to the total inputs used in production of the output – can be effectively increased on smallholder farms by introducing technology to overcome barriers of distance, literacy, and marginalized languages.

Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO™) is a tool for communicating technology and best practices in agriculture, particularly to hard-to-reach farmers[3].  It is a university-developed initiative focused on the development of educational content for people around the planet, no matter where they are or what language they speak. SAWBO™ transforms extension information on relevant topics into 2D, 2.5D and 3D animations, which are then voice overlaid into a diversity of languages. SAWBO™ videos can be downloaded for free and used by any institution for their own local educational programs in the field. Animations are available in a variety of file formats, including for mobile phones.

SAWBO™ was originally developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, and through their collaboration with “information deployers” (scientists in developing nations who do extension work, extension agents in developing nations, NGO employees/volunteers, and Peace Corps volunteers) created a methodology to use animations to reach populations with low-literacy with important extension practices. Since then, Michigan State and Purdue University have contributed towards the refinement and wide-scale deployment of SAWBO™ in partnership with multiple institutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In 2012, SAWBO™ was first piloted in the Maradi region of Niger and focused on the local acceptability of a mobile phone-based platform of three different SAWBO™ animations: hermetic storage, biological pest control, and water treatment. The results of the pilot project determined that the videos were effective in transmitting messages on integrated pest management practices and cholera prevention, while also illuminating challenges in sharing them with others with limited access to smart phones. Animations were developed to be less data heavy and viewable on simple mobile phones. Next, researchers expanded the piloting into Nigeria with a focus on pest management in cowpea. These SAWBO™ videos were designed to combine pest control methods from scientific research with indigenous knowledge. The videos were then disseminated to farmers with low-literacy and followed up with field surveys. The findings acknowledged SAWBO’s potential for technology transfer. It also identified challenges in utilizing indigenous knowledge that may not be readily transferable because it is embedded in local traditions that are not followed in other geographical areas. Further research utilizing SAWBO™ animations for integrated pest management revealed that complex topics can be animated and utilized widely, and not just in a local context. The animated characters from one location were deemed to be acceptable in others where the character’s physical traits were different. For example, animations with Latin American farmers were found acceptable in African countries. The effectiveness of SAWBO in addressing the gaps and solutions related to gendered agricultural learning is proven through a case study in Mozambique using animations[4]. Women, who make up about 90% of those employed in the agricultural sector, have lower literacy rates and less access to training and technical advice by extension agents[5]. SAWBO overcame these gaps in delivering animated technical messages for practices that lead to improved productivity and sustainability.

Figure 1 below illustrates how SAWBO works.[6]

Figure 1. Flow chart for the development of SAWBO™ animations through an international collaborative approach.

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