Working in partnership to communicate down-to-earth messages on integrated soil fertility management
Published: January, 2014
The Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC) works to build capacity and develop exemplar development communication materials, primarily for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa on integrated soil fertility management (ISFM). Soils in most sub-Saharan countries have inherent low fertility and do not receive adequate nutrient replenishment. Consequently, yields are relatively low, despite high potential for improvement1 (FAO 2001). Improving soil health is the underlying challenge that ASHC seeks to address. ASHC’s approach is to work with partners to achieve both access to and understanding of ISFM knowledge.
Accessing reliable ISFM information, as well as addressing the research/end-user divide, has been documented by a number of studies (Adolwa et al., 2012; Damisa & lgonoh, 20072; Odendo et al. 20063; Sanginga and Woomer, 20094).
The challenge for ASHC is to find ways to share knowledge through a variety of channels and create nuanced messages that can be transmitted in environments constrained by low levels of adult literacy, especially amongst women smallholders. With that in mind, ASHC builds capacity by developing resources, including ‘how to’ guides covering the major tasks necessary for creating communications materials, handbooks and cropping guides for use in higher levels of education and training. The project also encourages active participation in ‘write-shops’. These are highly structured activities, driven by simple intuitive exercises, which help determine the media choices and messages for getting smallholder farmers to take up ISFM practices and techniques at scale.
Where ISFM is applied with other good agricultural practices – the combined effect of seeds, fertilizer and organic matter – should in most cases double crop production supporting both food security and incomes. Sources of ISFM knowledge can be diverse from local community church groups to international scientists (Adolwa et al., 20125), so ASHC’s approach of working with a variety of clients and partners is critical to achieving success at scale. ASHC produces content wherever possible as open source and open access with opportunities for groups to customize materials in line with local needs and customs (an essential element of ISFM).
Two further factors are fundamental to ensuring that knowledge enhances community resilience. These are understanding and appropriate application (Visman, 20146). ASHC’s approach is to work with partners to achieve both access to and understanding of knowledge. ASHC uses a participatory write-shop as one of its approaches to developing accessible materials and works with clients and partners to test materials to ensure the content resonates with audiences.
Although ASHC’s scope does not extend to application of the knowledge, we aim to work with clients based on demand and the need to ensure ISFM research is put into practice and ultimately helps farmers increase their yields. Increasingly, ASHC is supporting research partners to develop communication plans that involve government and NGO-led extension.