30 years

On practical matters

From the moment it was established in 1984, CTA has been thinking about ways of getting practical information to the people who need it most: small-scale farmers, farmers’ organisations, extension workers, and teachers and trainers in rural areas. Over the past 30 years, it has been closely involved in the production and promotion of more than 100 practical publications.

Subscribers-AgrodoksThe majority of titles – 50 by 2013 – fall under the heading of Agrodok, a series produced in partnership with Agromisa, a non-profit knowledge centre that supports small-scale farmers and organisations. Based in Wageningen, Agromisa has close links to Wageningen University and local and international research centres. Agrodok handbooks provide practical and accessible information on a wide range of subjects including water harvesting, agroforestry, seed production storage, animal husbandry and marketing.

An impact study conducted in 2011 by Esmé Stuart revealed a high level of satisfaction among CTA subscribers and other users of the Agrodok series. The study, based on a questionnaire, provides over 250 examples of how Agrodok publications have benefited farmers and others. One respondent had trained 300 farmers on rabbit rearing, using information gained from an Agrodok handbook. Another had used knowledge from an Agrodok handbook to write a manual and flyers on the composting of cattle manure, for use by extension workers and farmers. Another replied that Agrodok handbooks had "helped me improve my understanding, as well as my training abilities, on a lot of topics, like snail rearing, mushroom farming and many other topics." Many respondents said they handed on the Agrodok guides once they had used them to friends, neighbours and colleagues.

"Most of the handbooks have been published in English, French and Portuguese, but they also attracted interest in other parts the world," says Jenessi Matturi in CTA's publication department. For example, a book on goat-keeping has been translated into Japanese; a book on fruit growing into Chinese; and books on bee-keeping and mushroom cultivation into Swahili. In 2013, an organisation from Eritrea asked CTA and Agromisa for permission to translate eight of the booklets into the local language.

CTA's Practical Guides – 18 titles had been published by 2013 – are specifically designed for use in the field. These eight-page, fold-out leaflets provide information for small-scale farmers on topics such as enriching compost for high yields, establishing tree nurseries, controlling stem-borer in maize, intensive rice cultivation and making banana chips and flour.

One of the most popular guides in recent years focused on How to control the mango fruit fly, and was first published in 2007. The year before, CTA had supported a workshop in Conakry, Guinea, on the battle to control the fruit-fly in West Africa. According to CTA's José Fonseca, the workshop and other activities helped to alert mango producers and sellers of the danger posed by the fruit fly, a native of East Asia which had made its way to West Africa via East Africa.

After the workshop, José got in touch with COLEACP, an organisation which brings together professionals concerned with establishing a sustainable horticultural trade for ACP producers and exporters. "The mango fruit fly posed a serious threat to trade, so I went to COLEACP and said: 'We have a problem, and you have the expertise.'" COLEACP commissioned a scientist to write a Practical Guide on the subject. This proved so popular that it was recently reprinted.

In 2011, CTA and the Cameroon-based organisation Ingénieurs sans frontières (Engineers without Borders) launched a new series of guides under the title PRO-AGRO. Aimed at extension workers, market gardeners and small-scale producers, six had been published in English and French by mid-2013, and another eight were in the pipeline. Among the most popular are those on rearing grasscutters – or cane rats – for meat; improving the production of plantains; and making a hand pump. Although most of the subscribers and readers are in West Africa, some of the booklets have proved popular elsewhere, with the hand pump booklet being ordered by CTA subscribers in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The-Tropical-AgriculturalistCTA's Cameroonian partners are responsible for choosing the topics and commissioning the writers. CTA then has the drafts peer-reviewed, and takes responsibility for editing and design. A PDF of the final product is sent to Cameroon so the printing can be done locally. The PDF versions, published on the CTA website, are proving very popular. As a result of the partnership, Ingénieurs sans frontières has significantly improved its publishing skills.

"I think the PRO-AGRO guides are popular for two reasons," says Jenessi. "First, they provide step-by-step instructions that anyone can follow. And second, some of the titles deal with very practical matters that can help people improve their incomes." An example of the latter is the guide on soap-making, something which anybody in rural Africa can do if they have access to vegetable oil.

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