Tablet computers used as portable demo plots for sesame training
04 August 2015
Well suited to northern Tanzania’s dry conditions, Farm Africa has been helping farmers here grow bigger and better sesame crops and market them to earn higher prices, thanks to strong local and international demand.
In the latest development we have been experimenting with new methods and approaches to training in a bid to reach even more farmers.
Rather than take the traditional “demo plot” approach – where open air schools are set up to show farmers better growing and harvesting techniques – we decided to test mobile technology.
Between November 2013 and April 2014, tablet computers were given to 10 champion farmers to take around as ‘portable demo plots’. Other farmers then viewed training modules relevant to key milestones in the sesame growing season, as one of the champion farmers, Cecilia Nada, explains.
“First we register the farmer, then collect information like experience and family background. After that we direct them to a page about land preparation. We then take them through the other modules. First, planting process: how it’s done and what time to do it and how to space between rows and plants. After that we look at post-planting care and how to look out for and control disease.”
“As it gets towards harvest and the sesame turns yellow, we show the farmer how to cut the sesame then stack it to avoid pests. We then instruct in proper storage before going on to teach how to market it.”
Around 500 farmers were reached with the mobile training modules, with initial results very promising. Of the 49 farmers we interviewed afterwards, most were overwhelmingly positive, saying being able to access the course in their own time and in their homes were bonuses, as well as being able to view the modules many times.
The contact farmers too found the new technology to be preferable to a demo plot approach.
“The good thing is the flexibility,” says Cecilia. “I can train in the morning right up to the evening. I like to train the faster learning farmers in the afternoon and the others in the morning. It means I can fit looking after my two children, a four-year-old boy and 10-month-old girl, around my work.”
At the end of the project, our initial indications show that by using mobile technology we can deliver similar learning outcomes to farmers at around a third of the cost of traditional approaches.
Yet we still have more to learn about using mobile technology to reach smallholder farmers at scale and have secured funding from Comic Relief for a new phase of our work in the sesame sector.
Find out more in Farm Africa’s report Mobile Technology and Improved Sesame Cultivation.