Monday, May 12, 2014

Where does your food come from?

Thanks to @calestous for sharing:

Baobab - My Favorite Tree and its Juice

I’ve always been fascinated with big trees. Growing up in Colombia’s Cauca Valley, the beauty and magnitude of the Ceivas (Ceiba Pentandra) tree was an essential part of my childhood and its fantasy. I would see these giants on our trips around the countryside and think that they must be in charge of the forest: so tall and thick, they must control where other trees grow and animals dwell. I wasn’t the only one creating mythologies out of Ceibas. These giants were also sacred to indigenous cultures such as the Mayans, who thought that Ceibas were the link connecting heaven with the underworld - Xibalba.

Across the Atlantic, the Ceibas’ older cousins are equally fascinating. Growing in hot and dry climate, the baobabs (Adansonia Digitata) are part of the quintessential African landscape of most countries in the sub-Saharan region. Like the Mayans, many African cultures consider these remarkable trees a Godsend. In addition to being a revered meeting place for the community, the Baobab has plenty to offer for those living in harsh climates. Many cultures pound its bark to create ropes and textiles. The white flowers and green foliage are also edible. The water-proof fruit shells are hard as metal, and many people use them as calabashes or containers.

But if you already have a clothing and kitchenware and are not too keen on eating flowers, Baobab Juice is for you! Each fruit has dozens of small seeds covered in a yellowish pulp. This vitamin C-rich pulp makes a refreshing, effervescent drink called ‘Baobab Lemonade’ (despite the lack of actual lemons in the juice). Here in Malawi it’s Baobab season and I enjoy the juice so much that I decided to try making it at home. 

Here is how:
  1. Travel to Africa and go to a place where it is hot and dry
  2. Wait until the end of the rainy season when Baobabs start to fruit
  3. Go to a local market and buy at least three large Baobab fruits
  4. Find a hard surface, hold the fruits with a towel and smack them against the ground (hard!)
  5. Try again, but harder!!!
  6. Once they crack, open the outer shell to expose the seeds
  7. Pull out all the pulp and put it in a big pot of warm water
  8. Stir for a couple of minutes and then leave it sitting for a couple hours
  9. Once the brown seeds are visible and the pulp is completely dissolved, drain the juice
  10. In a blender, mix the juice with some lemon juice (here are the lemons!), sugar, and ice
  11. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Promoting Agricultural Development with Video Technology

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with the impressive work of Digital Green, an international NGO which uses pico projectors to disseminate extension messages. Their work started in India and spread quickly to other countries in Africa and elsewhere. Today, they are reaching almost 90,000 farmers with more than 2,000 videos. The impact of their work has attracted the attention of donors and practitioners as we look for ways to improve the intake of extension messages. Governments are also intrigued by the possibilities of equipping extension agents with DG's approach.  In early 2014, the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture held a series of training workshops with extension staff to pilot video-facilitated extension in four regions of the country.

FHI360's Integrating Low-Cost Video into Agricultural Development Projects: A Toolkit for Practitioners, is an excellent resource for those considering the use of video platforms to strengthen behavior change messages. The toolkit allows practitioners to develop a more systematic approach to use low-cost video as one of the mediums through which they share information with farmers.

The toolkit provides the information in six modules, starting with examples on how video technology is currently being used. Besides showcasing the work of Digital Green, the guide also describes the work of InsightShare, One Media Player Per Trainer (OMPT), and Agro-Insight, a Belgium enterprise, also producing professional videos on various agriculture topics. Agro-Insight videos can be streamed at or purchased for institutional used.

Although briefly discussed, the guide elaborates on the benefit of multimedia learning, and how a combination of visual and audio inputs increases the effectiveness of your messages (see graph).

The subsequent modules walk practitioners through the process of deciding if video is the right approach, and if so, how to create, disseminate, and track video platforms.  The final module provides excellent information about the technical considerations for camcorders, projectors, and other types of software and hardware needed for these types of projects.