Improving extension services

One of the main aims of the HSAD initiative is to improve the way in which new techniques and technologies are delivered to farmers. Effective and widespread adoption is crucial if Iraq is to achieve national food security and meet the food and nutritional demands of its growing population. In response to these demands, the HSAD Program recently initiated a series of training sessions to equip extension agents with the knowledge and skills to produce informative instructional videos targeting Iraqi farmers.

Delivered by Access Agriculture, a UK-based international NGO which showcases agricultural training videos, the sessions were held across Iraq – from Basra in the South, where videos were developed to instruct date farmers on the correct application of integrated pest management techniques, to Erbil in the north, where conservation agriculture packages were featured.

Although participants already had some experience producing instructional videos, the trainings sought to enhance their skills, introducing new techniques that will ultimately improve the information that farmers receive. Priority areas included narrative development; planning ahead; and, crucially, amplifying the voices of farmers – given that target beneficiaries are more likely to respond to other producers. So-called ‘farmer to farmer’ videos are a vital means of gaining trust and a proven strategy that facilitates higher rates of technology adoption.

Overseen by Access Agriculture representatives, participants worked in teams to film and interview farmers, edit the images, record commentary, and include title sequences. Speaking after a training session in Basra, Trainer Josephine Rodgers commented on participant progress over the two-week course: “The trainers have really learned about the importance of involving farmers and producing these new kinds of video for Iraq. They are determined to produce more in the future.”

An important feature of the initiative is to invite a panel of farmers to review the instructional videos and offer feedback to trainees – as the key audience of the instructional videos, their responses provided invaluable insights on the relevance and usefulness of the short films, suggesting necessary changes and prompting refinements that could improve overall effectiveness.

At a December training session in Erbil, farmers offered a number of recommendations to improve the instructional videos: some remarked that the videos were not context-specific and were unclear about how the video could help with their own specific problems; others argued that the videos lacked some detail and were too general; and some suggested that the films could have a longer time-frame and thereby follow processes and progress throughout a cropping season. The farmers were also forthcoming with a number of recommendations for the extension agents: sequencing the information so the steps of implementation were clearer, and considering more detailed information on the inputs needed to tackle a specific problem.   

Speaking at the conclusion of the training in Erbil, Herish Omar, a member of the Media Directorate in Erbil’s Ministry of Agriculture, commented on what he had learned: “I had some prior experience but the course has provided more modern techniques and expertise that I can apply. It also provided new ideas regarding ways of communicating with farmers, such as video montage, filming and directing. The training introduced professional concepts that I had not experienced before and this will help us to communicate more directly with farmers.”

Reflecting on how he would incorporate what he had learned into his work at the Ministry, Omar claimed: “We need to approach farmers directly and collect information from them if we are to adequately provide solutions to their problems.”   

Another participant, Ahmad Ibrahim, Director of the Ministry’s Media Directorate, also elaborated on what he had learned: “The new thing for me has been script writing – how to match scripts to images - sequence films, and use techniques such as zooming in and out. In the future I will also plan more, preparing the questions we need to ask farmers.  

He added: “Our Directorate has not previously had a good vision of how to produce farmer to farmer videos and they did not previously know these techniques. I plan to transfer my experience gained here to my colleagues through practical work training when I return.”   

The final videos were shared with HSAD staff, senior officials at the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Extension, and USAID’s regional representative.