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Communicating conservation agriculture

On 08 August 2010, a group of representatives from Mexico’s public and private agricultural sectors interested in conservation agriculture (CA) gathered for a workshop, given by Petr Kosina, CIMMYT knowledge, information and training manager, on efficient outreach communication. Throughout the day, participants learned about different learning styles and presentation methods, and how they can be used to communicate to farmers CA techniques and benefits. CA is an exciting tool with the potential to enhance not only crop yields, but also the quality of agricultural soils. However, like any other tool, the benefits of CA will only be attained if it is correctly adapted and utilized by farmers and technicians, and clear communication—both of proper application and of the potential benefits—is crucial.

Many farmers are sceptical about non-traditional farming practices, so in addition to analyzing cultural differences in learning styles, the workshop taught participants how to overcome scepticism by using various presentation methods that both relay information about CA technologies while also gaining the trust of farmers. Methods discussed included: demonstrations, visits (farm walks), facilitated discussions, presentations, and the use of informative media such as posters, flyers, and manuals. At the end of the seminar, participants worked in pairs to prepare and give a two-minute presentation in front of the entire group.

In the afternoon, the participants were divided into groups and rotated through four stations, each designed for experimentation with a different communication technology, and led by a CIMMYT expert in the respective area: video, audio, posters, and pamphlets. CIMMYT consultant Mary Attaway (pictured left in yellow) gave instruction about the basic use of inexpensive handheld video cameras and their potential role in spreading CA through various channels such as YouTube. Under the watchful eye of CIMMYT audiovisual expert Ricardo de la Rosa (pictured left at computer), the participants conducted mock interviews with one another to practice using an audio recorder. They then edited their recordings using a software program that is available online, free-of-charge. Antonio Luna Ávila and Marcelo Ortiz Sánchez, both CIMMYT graphic designers, led brief informative courses on how to create efficient, engaging posters and pamphlets. At the end of the day, the whole group discussed which outcomes resulted in good communicative materials and how others could be improved.

This workshop was part of CIMMYT’s second year-long CA technician certification course. The first course finished in early August 2010 and graduated its first round of CA certified technicians. Because of the overwhelming response to the course, a second wave of 34 new participants has just begun. Bram Govaerts, head of the conservation agriculture team in Mexico, is leading this course with the help of many CIMMYT staff. “I’d like to give a special thanks to the whole Mexico CA team and also to Petr Kosina who presented this crucial material in such an engaging and participatory manner,” said Govaerts.