Literacy Bridge’s Talking Book Project
with Access to
Agriculture Case Study: Upper West Region, Ghana Information
Today, millions of families depend on farming for survival. Subsistence farmers hope to grow enough crops to feed their families
and rarely have enough to sell for income. In the Upper West Region of Ghana, Literacy Bridge’s Talking Books enable these
families to access on-demand information from local agriculture experts. Within one season, farmers have produced substantially
greater yield using practices they learned through the Talking Book.
Increasing Subsistence-Level Crop Production with the Talking Book
INTRODUCTION And without income, it is difficult to pay for expenses such
In January 2009, Literacy Bridge began its initial pilot as children’s school fees, basic school supplies and
program in the rural Upper West Region of Ghana. uniforms.
Agriculture experts from Ghana’s Ministry of Food and
Agriculture recorded a series of targeted lessons, including
techniques for dramatically improving crop production Using Literacy Bridge’s Talking Books,
using locally available materials. The lessons were Ghanaian agriculture officials record
recorded with one of Literacy Bridge’s Talking Books and lessons on how to properly sow and fertilize
copied from one device to another throughout the remote seedlings and care for livestock. This
village of Ving Ving. Similar to many rural communities
information is available on-demand to
across Africa and Southern Asia, 97% of residents are
farmers and is passed freely from device to
illiterate subsistence farmers.
device, and from village to village. Talking
The Talking Books had an immediate impact within the Books are delivering affordable access to
community. Anthony Dery, a 40-year old farmer supporting knowledge in regions without electricity.
a wife and four children, was one of the first people to use
a Talking Book. After listening to several agriculture
lessons, he reconsidered the farming practices he had THE CHALLENGE
learned from his grandparents. In rural Ghana, as in many regions throughout Africa, Asia
and Latin America, many families depend on subsistence
farming as a primary source of food. Electricity is
completely unavailable, and children often spend more
time tending crops than attending school. As a result,
approximately 40 percent of Ghana’s adult population is
At the same time, subsistence agriculture accounts for
over 35% of the gross domestic product and employs the
majority of Ghana’s work force, mainly small landholders.1
To help local farmers, Ghanaian government officials
provide training on how to maximize crop yields through
Farmer, Upper West Region, Ghana proper seed spacing, planting and fertilization techniques.
Rural communities, however, are often separated by
In most of the past years, Anthony barely grew enough nearly impassable dirt roads; visits by agriculture officials
food to feed his family. In a typical growing season, his to any given village are infrequent, typically one or two
family harvested two bags of corn, two bags of millet, eight times per year. During these short visits, residents ask
bags of peanuts and one bag of beans. Yet, like millions of many questions and are flooded with valuable information.
subsistence farmers around the world, Anthony was Yet, because illiteracy is so prevalent, few farmers can
unable to grow enough food to sell, which is necessary in write down information for future reference.
order to generate even limited income.
http://literacybridge.org email: email@example.com PO Box 1256 Seattle, WA 98111-1256
Literacy Bridge’s Talking Book Project with Access to
THE SOLUTION THE RESULTS
Literacy Bridge’s Talking Books are low-cost audio The Talking Book project provides subsistence farmers
computers, designed to quickly disseminate information with new strategies for maximizing their crop production
device-to-device over great distances and across rugged within one growing season, including:
terrain. Information is easily and freely copied via built-in o Planting seeds in rows of raised soil. This method of
USB cables, and can be played back later through a sowing seeds produces greater crop yields than
headset for individual learning or through a built-in speaker planting individual seeds in single mounds, as many
for group discussion. farmers have done in the past.
o Implementing a crisscross tilling pattern. Rows of
“One of the great things about the Talking raised soil effectively create gutters for run-off, which
Book is the amount of corn its lessons can ultimately wash away entire crops during rainy
enabled me to harvest this year. I normally season downpours. A crisscross tilling pattern ensures
even watering and minimizes run-off.
produce about ¼ of a bag of corn from a
o Identifying specific signs in diseased livestock so sick
single plot of land. The same piece of land
animals can be separated out from the herd. Most
this year has produced more than a full
subsistence farmers in Africa keep some domestic
bag… over four times my normal yield.” animals such as poultry, goats, and at times, cattle.
-Anthony Dery o Keeping livestock in a pen at night to collect their
Farmer, Upper West Region, Ghana manure for fertilization and improved crop production.
Talking Books are designed to be produced for under In the spring of 2009, Anthony Dery and other farmers in
US$10. They allow users to record and play 40 hours of Ving Ving used a portion of land to implement new
audio messages through a fully customizable audio menu. techniques in accordance with Talking Book lessons.
All instructions are audio based, so there are no Results to date have been dramatic, and Anthony has
accompanying printed materials. Talking Books are harvested over four times as much corn from a single plot
portable, durable, and powered by locally available of land as compared to nearby land he farmed at the same
batteries, so they are ideal for areas without electricity. time using traditional practices.
The following images show the dramatic contrast between
traditional farming vs. crops cultivated using practices
described on Talking Books:
Literacy Bridge’s Talking Books
By placing detailed, on-demand information into the hands
of farmers, and by taking advantage of their movements
between communities, Talking Books minimize the time Farming with Talking Book Lessons
and effort, spent by overtaxed agriculture extension agents Literacy Bridge continues to seek out partners with
to affect behavior change in their local farmers. powerful, locally applicable, knowledge to share with
people throughout rural regions of the world.
Center for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa: http://www.ceepa.co.za/Climate_Change/country-gh.html