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Technology dissemination through school drama

20/05/18

Photo: Bezaiet Dessalegn

By Bezaiet Dessalegn, Mira Haddad, and Stefan Strohmeier

“In the older days, and I mean in the times of our grandfathers, the whole community used to move together. This was the Bedouin tradition. Families used to even cross borders and go into other countries in search of greener pastures.”

The script is written as a story which began in the olden times where the Badia flourished. Back then, the rangelands met the demands of both people and animals who depended on it. The story as told by the grandfather, initially portray the Badia in its most productive stage, and continue to explain the causes for its gradual deterioration and the state it is now. The challenges faced and their implication on the livelihoods of the communities, were explored through questions and answers exchanged by the actors who represented different members of the community - the mother, grandmother, the youth and children. The discussion then moves on to the question – what can we do to reverse it and restore the Badia? And this is where information on the various technology packages were shared through the drama, and further explained through question and answer sessions with the community members.  

Innovative outreach

The process of technology adoption begins first with the transfer of information. The transfer often takes different forms depending on the type of discoveries, improved practices or innovations to be transferred; the targeted recipients or beneficiaries of the technology; prevailing cultural boundaries; etc. 
In the case of agriculture-based technologies, information was traditionally transferred through extension agents supported by the public sector who served as the first point of contact with the farmers. Through time, this has evolved to a more pluralistic extension system which recognizes the variations in the challenges, opportunities, and general contexts within which different farming systems operate. A pluralistic extension system also avoids exclusivity, and fosters the involvement and engagement of different actors and institutions in the provision of extension services. The Badia Restoration Project, funded by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), found an innovative way to transfer information on technology packages tested and proven in the Badia. 

The Badia

The Badia of Jordan is best characterized as rangeland, that represents a vast area of the country and covers also parts of neighboring Syria. About 75% of Jordan’s rainfall falls within the Badia, though it is quite scarce (average annual amount is less than 200 millimeters) and highly erratic. 
It is also home to 61% of the country’s livestock. However, the land is severely degraded due to continuous grazing, cutting, plowing, and extreme water shortages that are exasperated by high losses due to intensity of the rainfall, evaporation, runoff, as well as increased demand on water due to population growth. 
ICARDA has done extensive research on integrated rangeland management in the Muhareb Watershed, which serves as a benchmark site for the Badia. Over the years, numerous efforts have been made to transfer proven technologies to the community as well as to relevant national institutions. For instance, the Vallerani water harvesting technique was adopted by the Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture and Environment as a national strategy to restore the Badia. 

Despite numerous efforts to engage local communities through field days and field demonstrations, little had been achieved. This encouraged the pursuit of alternative strategies to transfer information on the technologies to the community.    

Why a school drama?

The use of short dramas to raise awareness on important topics is not a new concept. Its use as a tool to disseminate information on agricultural technologies in conservative communities, however, is not as common. While there is no one-way to disseminate new knowledge, understanding the local community is key to exploring innovative ways to reach out and to effectively transfer information.
Over the years, ICARDA has built good working relations with the local community including the Al-Majeddyeh Elementary School which serves the communities in the research area. The community is a close-knit family that care about each other and relentlessly support their children. Regular encounters with the pupil and the school administration raised the students’ eagerness to learn about their environment and how to protect it. This was used as an entry point, to not only educate the young generation, but also to work with them as extension agents to transfer information to their parents.  

Lessons learned

Exploring methods and channels for technology information sharing can benefit from types of activities that are not usually connected to the understanding of scientific work. The experience with the school drama in Jordan, certainly encourages one to ‘think outside the box’ and explore alternative and more creative ways of working with information dissemination. As well as sharing information with communities, the lessons learned also bring back new insights to inform future programming and outreach. 

  • Children learn through repetition. Rehearsing for the drama certainly gave the children ample opportunity to go over the material and learn about the main challenges, and proven solutions to stop, or at best reverse further degradation of the Badia;  
  • The drama also created opportunities for the teachers to learn about recommended technological packages, and thus equip them to transfer the knowledge to other students and colleagues alike;
  • The drama created a unique opportunity to gather the community and communicate the gravity of the problem and the solutions at hand, should they choose to restore their home;
  • By combining a school event with technology dissemination efforts, we were able to create opportunities for a broader representation and engagement of the community. More specifically, the drama allowed women to attend and learn about the possibilities for rangeland restoration as they were not able to attend field demonstrations due to cultural barriers;
  • The drama presented the solutions in a holistic approach with opportunities for all members of the community to contribute to restoration including water harvesting and the concepts of upstream and downstream water management strategies; selecting appropriate seeds, planting, and caring for shrubs; de-stocking and the need to maintain only healthy and productive livestock; grazing management, etc. 

The authors are working with ICARDA in Jordan:
Bezaiet Dessalegn, Livelihoods and Gender Specialist; Mira Haddad, Research Assistant, Spatial Analyses and Database Management; Stefan Strohmeier, Associate Scientist, Soil and Water Conservation 

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