How mobile video is helping Africa’s rural farmers

Rural farmers in Africa can now learn new farming techniques through simple animations that can be viewed on mobile phones.

Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWB) is an initiative by a group of scientists, animators and extension tutors at the University of Illinois to create short videos that can be sent and downloaded to mobile phones. Each video features a character demonstrating how to do certain agriculture-related tasks. One video, for example, shows viewers in Africa how to process the fruits of the neem tree to make a liquid insecticide that can be sprayed on cowpea crops. The neem is a drought-tolerant tree found in many parts of Sub-Sahara Africa.

“The concept behind this is to take these scientifically validated approaches and put them in a format that is easily understood by low-literate learners through voice-overs in their own language,” says Barry Pittendrigh, a University of Illinois entomology professor and member of the team that is developing the animations.

Animation lowers the costs associated with making a video on a particular topic, and allows the videos themselves to have near-universal appeal. The videos are narrated, and the narration can be recorded in any language with any dialect or accent.

SAWB takes advantage of the widespread availability of mobile phones in Africa and the rest of the developing world.

“Another goal in this project is to capture indigenous knowledge and to transmit indigenous knowledge from one place to another place, even within the same country,” says Julia Bello-Brava, a field extension specialist.

In Africa, SAWB collaborates closely with on-site field educators in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

The animations, however, don’t exclusively focus on agriculture. With cholera on the rise in Haiti, one of the most recent animations teach how to make water safe for drinking and cooking. “This video helps a person that cannot read to fully understand how to treat the water. The information is digested in a way that in two minutes we can transmit a complex idea to people [living] in isolated areas,” says Franciso Seufferheld, co-leader of SAWB.