Podcasting empowering Gwanda communities

“Podcasting has changed our lives here in Gwanda, giving us access to knowledge whenever we need it”, says Mrs. Havanamasisi Magaya, a 60 year old resident of Gwanda’s Manama Ward 17, in Matabeleland South Province.

She recalls how at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown, extension services were severely curtailed leaving farmers without access to the vital knowledge they need for production. “For many years, we faced a number of challenges in accessing extension services from government departments. When we do get these services, the officers are inexperienced”, she added.

The situation faced by farmers in Ward 17 is similar to that of other rural locations in Zimbabwe, where smallholder farmers are not accessing optimum levels of mainstream extension services provided by government extension departments. The challenges experienced by traditional extension services include, exodus of skilled extension staff and inadequate resources.

Mrs. Magaya is one of the farmers in Gwanda district, in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland South Province, who are now accessing knowledge and information through Podcasting (MP3 players). Despite Gwanda district being a remote and semi-arid area that has no grid electricity, a poor radio signal and no reliable mobile phone network, podcasting has enabled communities to access a wealth of knowledge resources.

Podcasting has been implemented with participation from a multitude of local stakeholders.

With the participation of communities, extension experts and development agents capture information about crop and livestock production and health and hygiene issues. Content is recorded by the extension agents or by using the voice of community members. This collaborative approach ensures that knowledge from government extension agents and other development organisations is developed, recorded and converted into digital formats and loaded onto mp3 devices.

A network of 60 Community Animators based in the target wards and villages is used to disseminate the knowledge content. In addition to sharing the information at community meetings, Community Animators are also approached by individual farmers for information on specific topics.

Vumani Ngulube is the Pricincipal Environmental Health Technician under the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in Gwanda district. He speaks about the challenges the ministry has been facing in its outreach programmes as a result of inadequate financial and human resources.

''These devices have proved to be useful in allowing the ministry to disseminate health related knowledge and information to communities in Gwanda. Given that we are incapacitated budget wise and also inadequate staff to cover this vast district, we are now able to record the knowledge which is then loaded on the devices for wider dissemination”, said Ngulube.

To date, at least 48 knowledge products have been recorded and are being disseminated in the district.

Despite never having used computers, the rural communities in the district have embraced the new technology. ''Podcasting is very useful," says Mgcini Ndlovu, a 54 year old farmer, in Ward 17. "It gives a set of instructions to people; the content doesn't change so I can listen several times. I also get the lessons quickly unlike when I go to formal sessions which take longer. The lessons I've learnt from the podcast are how to diagnose a sick animal and how to treat it.''


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