International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications
58 St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1ST, UK
Tel: +44 1865 249909 Fax: +44 1865 251060
[email protected]

No. 11 November 1998

In this issue:

Newsletter Editors: Ard Jongsma Neil Pakenham-Walsh (INASP-Health section)
Guest Editor for this issue: Diana Rosenberg

Contributors to this issue: IsabelCarter, Alfredo Mires Ortiz, Joyce A. Otsyina, Frank Tulus, Laurent Umans, David Werner.

Editorial address:
P.O. Box 2564
London W5 1ZD UK

Tel: + 44 (0) 181 997 3274
Fax: + 44 (0) 181 810 9795
[email protected]

Communicating Science and Technology Information to Rural People

During the development decades, the rural populace in developing countries has gained little or lost out through the process of change. Yet improved information capacities could strengthen local knowledge bases and lead to self-empowerment and community-based decision making.

This issue of INASP Newsletter highlights some of the issues involved in communicating scientific and technical information (STI) to rural communities in developing countries:

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INASP is a co-operative network of partners aiming to improve world-wide access to science information. It has three immediate objectives: - to map, support and strengthen existing programmes involved in the distribution, local publication, exchange and donation of books, journals, and related materials (e.g. maps and charts, audio-visual materials, software and CD-ROM); - to encourage and support new initiatives that will increase local publication and general access to quality scientific literature; - to identify methods that will permit the ongoing and sustainable exchange and distribution of scientific publications.

INASP is a programme of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Chairman: K-I. Hillerud
Director: Carol Priestley


P.O. Box 2564
London W5 1ZD UK

Tel: + 44 (0) 181 997 3274
Fax: + 44 (0) 181 810 9795
[email protected]

Oxford office:
27 Park End Street
Oxford OX1 1HU UK

The rural libraries of Cajamarca: Books and Breaking the Bonds

The landscape

Hills, cold high barren plateaus 4,000 metres above sea level. The smell of grass and clouds, the skittish wind speaking, and solitude, accumulated famines, a freezing climate and bare feet. Deep ravines, fat cornfields and thin cows; tenacious and narrow valleys. Marcial Hum=E1n walks with his saddlebag on his shoulder: this time he is not carrying potatoes... he is carrying books. Pardon me? Yes, books. In such a forlorn place? A tree is erupting.

Atahualpa and the book

It is the afternoon of November 16th, 1532. Ambition and knives are lurking. In the Plaza de Armas of Cajamarca, the Inca, dressed in crystals, is asking the white bearded men what gives them the right to kill his children. Somebody translates his question and the response: 'Be humble, they say, give up your Gods and your life, surrender'. Then they give him a book. It doesn't matter which one. Atahualpa smells it. Atahualpa hurls it. Hurls the book? No, he hurls the arrogance, hurls what the book says, hurls the world represented by the book.

A context

In such poverty, the region is poor among the poor. It is called Cajamarca. Located in the northern sierra of Peru, it is considered one of the most abandoned places in the country. They call it 'pauperous poverty' and it is much more than a name for the hungry. Lack of bread afflicts more than 80% of the population. Official statistics say that 65.5% of the children are undernourished and that 52 out of every thousand die before they reach the first year of life. In some provinces 80% do not even have a daily meal. Statistics also say that in some places almost 20% of the people can't read or write, especially women, and, in all, 10% of youngsters between 15 and 17 are illiterate. Technicians say that it is a 'state of very low educational development'.


Times of change and revolution. Times of urgency and emergency. Pope Paul VI is speaking at the opening of the second Latin-American Episcopal Conference celebrated in Medellin in 1968: 'We can't support structures and systems that favour and hide serious oppressive inequalities between the social classes and the citizens of a country'. In 1970, Paulo Freire said: 'Nobody educates nobody, nor does anybody educate himself or herself: men and women throughout the world are educated in communities'. During a world congress in 1971, the Minister of Education said: 'Peru is living one of the most important and decisive moments in its history ... we have committed ourselves to the task of providing a liberating education and to the mission of creating a new society'. Land reform, nationalisation of companies, social unrest, the need to know the laws and background of so many issues.

A process

Juan Medcalf, a British priest naturalised in Peru, supports the Cajamarca peasants in their eagerness to obtain the information and data to gain knowledge. Booklets, magazine and newspaper abstracts and a variety of novels start to pass from hand to hand and desire overpowers desire: under each hat, the arrogance that used to be incubated by the written word is defeated. A palana for opening grooves and digging graves. The book, that used to be just a depository for the alien aggressor, is becoming another well from which to drink. That was how bulls were tamed, wheat was grown, the harp was recreated, and the horse was broken in. The pages with which the peoples were crushed are nursed by the same people to strengthen themselves.

The Rural Library Net

It could have been given another name but that is how it is called. There are no buildings with stationary books nor disorderly classifications; there are no stern gentlemen with eyeglasses to keep distance and there are no signs to impose silence or a strict timetable. The rural librarian is chosen by the community assembly. Most relevant in this choice is the esteem and affection the community feels towards the chosen. The library is his house and his family members are the librarians. There are no shelves or salaries, his work is voluntary. He handles a set of books that are traded with the neighbouring rural library after being read. Books come and go. Enriched survival.

Freedom and the book

Scholars suggested that in literacy 'if there is no pain, there is no gain'. The question is why we teach what we teach? 'If the alms are too prodigal, even the saint becomes suspicious'. History is made by those who can, the rest must subdue. 'Educate yourselves so that you do not become ignorant like your parents'. When forced to read biographies of those he hates, the student sees the book as a concealed enemy. 'Besides, I have never seen those who make me read, reading'. The book becomes something like a laxative that makes one get rid of what is stored in the memory. How can we discover that a book is also a tool, how can we conceive reading as an act of freedom that can make one's own memory sprout?

Reading and culture

When a girl in the Andes learns how to spin her first ball of wool, she goes and sits on the bank of the river, says a prayer and offers her work by hurling it into the stream. The river then will reward her with speed and skill and will make her a skilful and capable spinner. Since everything lives, everything multiplies life. That is why many children and youngsters in the communities where rural libraries are installed go to the river's bank to offer their first reading. This way they will be able to read like the flow of the river and nothing and no one will be able to stop them.

Rights and necessity

It is not enough to demonstrate the necessity and to go on to wishing: it is necessary to demand the right. To show the requirement and participate in the quarrel. Not the recovery granted but the assumed decision. Perhaps that is why the rural libraries have managed to survive since 1971, amidst all the deficiencies and burdens. It was never a programme established or a model that can be repeated. The team has set the bases of its experience and has established the guidelines of its process. Not only has it never had salaried workers but it has defended the urgency to fertilise indigenous knowledge and the right to read to keep on growing.

Illiterates of what literacy?

Is literacy a way to gain uniformity? One member of a Quechuan commune says 'I am illiterate in the Spanish tongue'. Literacy should mean the learning of another type of language without suppressing one's own. And if children can learn to talk, the same should happen with reading. And what if those who were teaching literacy were asked to learn Chinese while living in Paris and being Arab? Once the last meal has been eaten, everyone curls up by the stove and, illuminated by the light of a fire, a child reads. His parents, grandparents, an aunt and his brothers barely know that the 'O' is round. The boy clumsily reads while the rest listen and look at the line that his finger follows. 'I did not know how to read, but I learned by watching my son read'. He who knows teaches him who does not. Reading is a community activity of the same sort as sowing and collecting the crops, and of threshing and watering.

There is no foliage without roots

The community as a starting point and as an end. In 1981 the rural librarians wrote the stories of their communities. Books were made out of them and were published to return to their place of origin. 'It is not enough to learn how to read. We must produce our own books'. In 1986 the Proyecto Enciclopedia Campesina (the Peasant Encyclopedia Project) was founded; it produces a series called Nosotros los Cajamarquinos (We the Cajamarquinos). It is made up of 20 volumes in which are singled out the lives of who they were and still are, in their own words. Identity and dignity add up to the process of destroying the tinsel that always covered the book as an instrument of power. 'Now we not only read, we make'. And life goes on.

Alfredo Mires Ortiz Co-founder and currently adviser of the Rural Library Net of Cajamarca. Apartado 359 Cajamarca, Peru Fax: + 51 44 821077 E-mail: tpm

Translated from Spanish by Gloria Maria Rodriguez, Biblioteca Comfenalco, Medellin, Colombia.

For another view of the libraries of Cajamarca and their relevance to rura= l libraries in Africa, consult: Evans, G. Literacy and Rural Libraries: Canadian Researchers in Africa Draw Ideas from Peru.Logos, 9 (2), 1998: 80-85.


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Meeting the Information Needs of Third World Farmers

Few organisations make sufficient efforts to meet the needs of grassroots farmers for printed information. Yet, research shows that availability of such information has a positive impact on the development of farmers' groups, even in cases where the majority of members of these groups is illiterate. Isabel Carter writes why, and what needs to be done.

The production of printed information targeted at Third World farmers, is a much neglected area and comparatively undeveloped in comparison with available information on primary health care. Assumptions made are that rural farmers are generally illiterate and that print is an ineffective medium of communication with this target audience. What little printed information that is produced on agriculture is usually aimed at resource-rich, commercial farmers.

Research in Uganda and Ghana during 1996 and 1997 sought to establish the viewpoints and priorities of both grassroots farmers and organisations aiming to support such farmers. Findings confirmed a considerable shortage of printed agricultural information that might prove of relevance to grassroots farmers. Even where such materials were available, distribution networks were inadequate.

Few larger organisations with reasonable access to funding and resources give priority to meeting the needs of grassroots farmers for printed information. Instead, they direct their efforts towards networking with similar organisations through newsletters. Those groups who do see this area as a matter of concern, tend to be smaller, poorly funded, national organisations often severely restricted by a lack of all kinds of resources from producing more printed information. Key information sources for all organisations producing printed agricultural information were books and newsletters.

Research was carried out with 75 self-formed farmer groups in Uganda and Ghana to examine their situation with regard to information access, their preferences, literacy rates and method of operation. A variety of locations, group size and gender balance were incorporated. Findings revealed that many such groups were well established, often highly motivated and with clear objectives. Their lack of access to useful agricultural information, both printed and through a variety of other means, was usually a considerable source of frustration for members.

Over a third of groups had no access at all to printed information on agriculture. Just 6% had what was described as good access in terms of the research (with over two thirds of members owning at least one item of information). Though literacy levels were often low, the desire for printed information remained high, revealing that one or two individuals within a group were adequate for the whole group to access such information. When groups with no literate members at all were asked if printed information was seen as important, they stressed their desire to obtain materials. "The school teacher or our children can read them to us." The well-organised nature of most groups and the priority given to sharing and discussing new ideas within meetings enhanced their ability to share printed information within a group setting.

Further indication of the isolation of many groups from outside informatio= n was that a third of groups had virtually no access to extension agents, seeing them either just once a year or never.

With the aid of participatory research techniques present sources of agricultural information for farmers and their preferences in receiving information were examined.

In both Uganda and Ghana, farmers rated their own experience and observations as their primary source of new ideas. Other sources of importance were friends, trainers (usually referring to a group member), elders, NGOs and the church. Sources of lesser importance included radio, books and extension agents. Members stressed their desire to have more access to these sources. Radio broadcasts in local languages tended to be transmitted at difficult times and extension agents were often rarely seen. However in Ghana extension agents were seen as much more available and useful. This is in part due to the huge funding inputs from the World Bank into the extension services there.

Members were then asked to rank their information sources according to the trust they placed in them. Extension agents and NGO workers were preferred sources of information. However nearly a third of groups included printed information in their top five most trusted sources despite the fact so few had access to them.

A highly significant relationship exists between a group's access to printed information and the likelihood of the group providing informal training both within and outside their group. 63% of groups with medium or improved access to books carried out regular training within their group, compared with 9% of groups without access.

Time spent with the farmer groups proved fascinating and as the research developed, it became clear that various stages could be observed in the development of these autonomous self-formed groups. Initial stages covered the group mobilisation and growth of confidence in their entity as a group. Later stages were dependent largely on the quality of facilitatory leadership and the groups' access to outside information. Such access enabled group members to reflect critically on innovations and gain confidence in their own knowledge.

Awareness of knowledge differs from ownership of that knowledge and it is this that distinguishes the later stages of group development. Such ownership can generally only develop from increased and more selective access to sources of new information and from the confidence to experiment, adapt and evaluate the results; confidence which is definitely enhanced by group membership. Only when individuals and groups had real confidence in their own knowledge would they seek to extend this knowledge outside the group.

Conclusions and policy implications

* Rural grassroots farmers are indeed able to access printed information despite the barriers of language and low literacy levels. When access is good, relevant printed information provides one of several key factors which may result in the empowerment of farmer groups.

* Printed information can provide useful back-up material where development workers are available. Where these are not available, (in the majority of situations) distributing relevant information can cover a wide geographical area and remain useful over many years.

* Regional committees drawing together agricultural specialists, extension agents, literacy trainers, artists and farmers could be established to work together on producing materials in different local languages.

Isabel Carter is editor of the newsletter Footsteps, produced by Tearfund, targeting grassroots development workers worldwide, with a circulation of 32,000. The research was funded by the Ministry of Education, DFID and Tearfund and comprised part of doctoral research.

c/o Footsteps P. O. Box 200 Bridgenorth Shropshire WV16 4WQ UK
[email protected]

Community-based Healthcare

Learning from one another as friends and as equals

Basic didactics are universal. The most effective forms of communication and learning are those with which people are most familiar, and which they most enjoy, writes David Werner, author of the acclaimed Where there is no Doctor.

Part of the world's people live in the Age of Electronic Communication. But for the poorer half of humanity, information sharing and exploration of new ideas are still mostly done through direct, person-to-person speech, gestures, actions and touch. Billions of people still do not have a television or telephone - much less a computer. And most never will. The "web-sites" and "nets" they know are the domain of spiders and fisher folk. Their horizons are closer and their needs more immediate, even as the global economy compromises their local resources, deprives them of their proud autonomy, and hounds them into deeper poverty. In these communities, even more than elsewhere, the front-line healthcare workers can be helped to upgrade their knowledge, and this can make a substantial difference in people's well-being.

For more than 30 years I have worked with villagers in western Mexico in the field of health, disability, and human rights. During this time the local community-based health and rehabilitation workers have learned a lot about sharing information and exploring possibilities for collective action. The collective learning and experience has led to the creation of several self-help handbooks, now used worldwide. These include Where There Is No Doctor, Helping Health Workers Learn, Disabled Village Children, and most recently, Nothing About Us Without Us.

Some of the lessons learned by the village teams - especially useful in communities where many cannot or do not read much - are as follows:

Traditional forms of communication.

The most effective forms of communication and learning are those with which the local people are most familiar, and which they most enjoy. Often traditional forms of sharing ideas include story telling, role plays and village theatre, puppetry, songs and music, demonstrations and hands-on "learning by doing"

Few words, lots of pictures.

Where people read a little, but not much, it is important to use instructional material that: uses language that is brief, simple, and uses local terms and expressions; includes lots of pictures, especially simple line drawings; emphasises key information with boxes, bold print, larger letters, and so on.

To be effective, communication needs to build on the pre-existing knowledge, traditions, and strengths of the local people. For example, suppose you are teaching village health workers about how to listen for liquid in the lungs (due to pneumonia, or congestive heart failure, etc.). To do this they can thump on (percuss) the chest at different levels and listen for a hollow or dull, full sound. If the villagers are used to tapping on a drum of gasoline or oil to find out how full it is, you can make the comparison. Or you can dress a half-full drum like a person and have the learners thump it as if it were a person's chest. This way learning not only builds on people's existing experience, it is more active and more fun.

Rather than just telling people things, you can help them make their own observations and draw their own conclusions. This problem-solving approach we call "discovery-based learning".

For example, rather than just telling a group of schoolchildren that breastfeeding protects babies from diarrhoea and other illnesses, the children can conduct their own study (participatory epidemiology). In one village the schoolchildren asked INASP-Health INASP-Health INASP-Health their mothers how many times their baby brothers and sisters had diarrhoea in the last year. On returning to school they recorded on the blackboard the number of times each baby had had diarrhoea and which babies were breastfed babies.

Because the children and their mothers learned the importance of breastfeeding through their own study, rather than just being told, they took the lesson to heart. The mothers improvised a street theatre play to demonstrate the importance of breastfeeding, and the children made and displayed posters.

Most important, perhaps, in communicating with people with limited formal education is to realise they have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and survival skills. The outsider may have more knowledge of certain things, but lack some of the essential knowledge of the local people. The best solutions to problems are found when instructors and students, outsiders and local people, relate to and learn from one another as friends and as equals.

Information Famine Hits Kenya's Healthcare

By Ogeke Araka

Kenyans have been told that their country's health providers could be employing obsolete treatment procedures due to lack of current medical journals. AMREF's director general, Dr Erik Nordberg, said doctors and other medical personnel relied on old notes acquired from their basic training, as they had no money to procure current literature. Speaking at an international conference organised by the East Africa Medical Journal, he said health workers could not provide quality services if they were inadequately informed.

He presented the findings of a study of clinical officers, nursing officers and public health officers in Makueni district, who were using information gained from basic training over ten years ago and lacked current information on drugs and technology. Dr Nordberg said the situation was aggravated by lack of libraries in hospitals and health centres. Ways had to be found to make books and journals available at affordable prices.

EAMJ Editor, Professor Bill Lore, lamented that plagiarism was mushrooming, and that many doctors were reluctant to write for journals. Dr Khama Rogo, chairman of the Kenya medical association said many doctors were also reluctant to read! He urged that doctors in remote parts of the country be provided with pagers and mobile phones and be connected to the Internet.

Professor Peter Odhiambo, former Dean at the University of Nairobi Faculty of Medicine, agreed the University medical library was poorly stocked due to the high cost of books. Students, he said, could not afford to buy books or subscribe to journals. Paul Chuke, WHO country representative, told the conference that medical developments in healthcare 'render most of the information we acquired in medical schools elementary'.

Ogeke Araka is a freelance journalist in Kenya. A short version of his report has appeared in Africa Health , FSG MediMedia Ltd, Vine House, Fair Green, Reach, Cambridge CB5 0JD, UK.

The Importance of Indigenous Knowledge

The Importance of Indigenous Knowledge Healthcare systems amongst the Guarani Indians in the Bolivian lowlands
By Laurent Umans

Professional healthcare has long focused its attention almost exclusively on managing a sick body. This sick body is perceived as a biophysical and chemical system which is disturbed. In trying to cure such bodies, professional healthcare has established a second-order system: the health system with doctors, hospitals, universities, ministries of health, and many many more actors. Over the past decades it has become evident that such a system can also get 'sick'. One of the important keys to the well functioning of this second-order system is sought in the management of knowledge processes, which include the production of knowledge, the socialisation of knowledge and the battles over knowledge and truth. With this picture becoming clear in 'complex' industrialised societies, the same was 'discovered' in Third World settings. The initially presumed absence of healthcare (there were no actors like doctors or institutions like hospitals so there was no healthcare, a very ethnocentric view) gave way to perspectives that validated the complexity and dynamics of 'traditional' healthcare practices. Their systemic nature was also underlined; the actors not being doctors but shamans, 'witches', healers and others. Indigenous knowledge plays a vital role in these indigenous health systems and also in articulating the professional system with the indigenous system.

The Guarani

The Guarani Indians live in the isolated and arid southern part of the Bolivian tropics. Until recently they could not rely on external assistance for their healthcare. Over a long period of time they developed their own system. One of the principles of this system is the way they perceive illness. For them it is caused by a bad spirit that is 'sent' by someone who wants to hurt someone else. The spirit is embodied in a black insect which enters the body of the person targeted. The person falls ill and gets lots of misfortune. The bad spirit can cause one disease or a series of different diseases. The way to heal the patient is through a ceremony by the paye or shaman. With his supernatural power, the paye can extract the 'insect'. The paye makes his diagnosis through smoking a cigarette of coca leaves, blowing the smoke over the body of the patient and 'reading' the pattern. The curing is done through a 'secret' which the paye recites and which enables him to extract the insect from the body of the patient. After this ceremony the patient is turned over to the oporo pisoa (a traditional masseur). He performs a massage so that the body can recover from the severe treatment. Often the patient is also given local medicine, composed of parts of medicinal plants, animal fats and sometimes alcohol.

The Guarani acknowledge that some diseases are not caused by bad spirits. They recognise diseases that can be cured by the use of medicinal plants only. During our investigation we met with an old woman who cures in this way. She turned out to have contact with the gods of nature. These gods transmit to the old woman information, which appears within her dreams. For example, she had already been informed about our visit and was instructed to tell us everything we wanted to know. In her dreams she receives messages related to ways to heal people. Over the last six years, when the dreams started to come, she has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on medicinal plants and animal products, both for prevention and curing. But, besides this knowledge, she also claims to possess a secret (like the paye) with which she can heal.

Differences between indigenous and modern healthcare systems

These two cases show that the way of producing knowledge (making a diagnosis) is obviously very different from professional healthcare which relies on biophysical observations and chemical analysis.

Other differences relate to the way knowledge is socialised or healthcare actors are 'trained'. In the case of the paye this is more like a cultural initiation that takes up to 20 years. It requires apprentices who are very patient, silent and sensitive. They accompany an older paye over all these years. The acquisition of knowledge can, however, also occur rapidly, for instance when a person is struck by lightning. But even in this case it takes years before the paye has become really powerful. The final stage of apprenticeship is a ceremony in which an old paye transfers his power to a new one. This power is also embodied in an insect, which is extracted from the body of the old paye and transferred to the body of the young paye.

In the case of the old woman her initiation began when she saw a huge snake, representing a god of the earth. The initiation was through dreams and punishment. Often, when the woman did not interpret the dreams well, she was severely punished by the gods.

These healthcare actors are also subject to severe social pressures. Firstly the moral pressure to heal. Secondly, the ever-present suspicion that they abuse their powers to do evil. Because of their close relationships with the gods, they are perceived not only as powerful but also as dangerous.

Integration of indigenous and modern healthcare systems

This traditional system, in which many more actors participate, is now articulated with the modern health system. A Red Cross project donated a hospital and several village health posts to the Guarani people and local personnel were trained (however, not up to the level of doctor). A certain division of tasks evolved. The Guaranis working in the 'modern' health sector also recognise the role of bad spirits. They classify different causes for different diseases and recognise the fact that they cannot heal certain diseases. It is therefore common that they refer patients with certain diseases to a paye. And, the other way around, the paye will not try to cure tuberculosis but sends the patient to the hospital. People told us about a fourth paye in another community who uses antibiotics as well as his supernatural powers. The incorporation of pure alcohol in preparing 'traditional' medicine is another example of so-called hybridisation of both systems. Or the meaning attributed to the white pills of the doctor which, for the Guarani, represent 'power'. Thus, we encountered sporadic situations of co-ordination and integration of the two systems. And it shows that the term 'traditional', referring to the past, is not appropriate because these healthcare practices are constantly being renewed.

About INASP-Health

INASP-Health is a co-operative network created by health information providers, for health information providers (HIPs). Its goal is to facilitate co-operation accross the health information community towards universal access to reliable information for healthcare workers in developing and transitional countries.

The network currently involves more than 500 participants, North and South, representing non-governmental organisations, international agencies, library services, publishers (print and electronic), and others. Visit our web-site at http:// for further information about our range of services and activities.

We welcome all those who are willing to share their experience and expertise with others to improve access to reliable information. Participation is free of charge and without obligation. Please write to:

Dr Neil Pakenham-Walsh Programme Manager INASP-Health INASP 27 Park End Street Oxford OX1 1HU UK

We are grateful to the following organisations for their support:

British Medical Association, Danida (Denmark), Department for International Development (UK), ICSU-Press and the Reuter Foundation.

Indigenous healthcare under threat

The dark side of the articulation of both systems is the decreasing value attached to the indigenous system. This is under various threats. First of all the three main payes are old and have not yet started socialising their knowledge and power to younger people. These three payes will probably all die well within the 20 years needed for the initiation of others, so considerable knowledge will be lost. The younger people show little interest in sacrificing so much of their time and being punished so severely (a fear expressed by the old woman's daughters).

Another threat to the indigenous system is economic in nature. The system has always relied on the voluntary labour contributions of the community to the paye. The community worked the fields of the paye. These reciprocal labour relations were characteristic of the organisation of many tasks. They are now being substituted by cash money payment for labour. However the work of the paye is not paid for, although people have stopped working for free in his fields. At the same time, the paye continues to have the (moral and spiritual) obligation to cure. This change in the economic basis of the system is severely threatening its sustainability. One of the participants in the research stated that not only are many Guarani sick but also their system.

Laurent Umans
Associate Professional Officer, Forest, Trees and People Programme, FAO, Bolivia E-mail:
[email protected]

For additional information, consult: Umans, L. (1997) The Rapid Appraisal of a Knowledge System: the Health System of Guarani Indians in Bolivia. Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor, 5 (3): 11-14.

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Acacia: Communities and the Information Society in Africa

Information and communication technologies can be used to extend the reach of community voices, but each country and perhaps even each community has its own specific requirements. As the world community is beginning to realise the importance of bringing the African voice into the 'Global Information Society', IDRC is demonstrating the potential of such technologies at the community level in sub-Saharan African countries, Frank Tulus writes.

Obtaining reliable and useful information for the sustainment of local knowledge continues to be one of the prevailing challenges in sub-Saharan African communities. IDRC has been committed to this challenge for over 25 years and realises that improved information capacities are necessary in order to increase local knowledge for the support of community-based decision-making and self-empowerment. In line with this commitment, the Acacia Initiative was established following the 1996 Information Society and Development Conference (ISAD) held in South Africa.

The central hypothesis of Acacia is that the new ICTs will empower communities to take effective control over their own development. For the programme to succeed, the establishment of community access must be accompanied by affordability and ease of use of the technology. Consequently, four mutually reinforcing actions are currently being implemented in order to ensure effective use of ICTs at the community level. These four actions encompass policy, infrastructures (both physical and social), tools for the ease of use of information and communication facilities, and applications of the technology as shaped by the needs of the communities.

1997-98 was identified as the launch phase of Acacia. In this first year, the core of the Acacia programme (over 70% of the programme funds) has been allocated to initiating national strategies in Mozambique, S=E9n=E9gal, Sout= h Africa and Uganda.

In order to create a wider impact, however, the programme needs to provide support to projects beyond these four countries. This particular chapter of Acacia is called 'Offshoots and Opportunities'.

Exploration of a number of issues from a regional perspective will be required for replication of Acacia's successful projects. Notably, five issues have been identified: human resources development, youth, gender, ICT research, and social and policy research. This feature of Acacia makes up the cross-cutting component.

Finally, Acacia is essentially an exercise in learning. The learning and evaluation mechanism of Acacia (ELSA) has been created as an instrument to test the core hypothesis of the programme, and to fulfil the learning needs of the donor community as well as other stakeholders. Presently, the strategy is focused on establishing mechanisms for community learning and impact assessment in the context of telecentre development.

The Mozambique Acacia National Strategy was initiated in a multi-stakeholder workshop in February 1997. A Memorandum of Understanding setting out the broad parameters of the Acacia programme in Mozambique was signed at the Global Knowledge Conference in Toronto (in June 1997). As part of the approved activities in 1997-98, the Mozambique Acacia Advisory Committee has been created and is currently chaired by the Minister of Economic and Social Affairs. The Committee will take on increasing responsibility for identifying and recommending projects in the areas identified under the Memorandum of Understanding: information policy; education, school networking and teacher training; environmental management; and community access through telecentres.

A telecentre feasibility study project was also initiated, as well as technical studies in Tete and Manica for extending access in support of community-based natural resources management. In the current year, there will be an expansion of direct community action through establishment of at least two telecentres and continued connectivity activity in the areas of education, the environment and natural resources management. A number of mechanisms involving representatives from community-based organisations, NGOs, government, the academic sectors, the private sector and the donor community will ensure the implementation, evaluation and adaptation of the Senegal National Strategy.

The priority in Senegal has been given to activities that address the human resources and youth components of Acacia. One study has been initiated to identify the training needs of different categories of actors involved in strategy development, including at the community level. Two studies targeting the youth have been commissioned: a connectivity project in secondary schools focusing on the provision of educational materials related to family life and the environment, and a project that provides a support network for community access which will eventually be organised through the national network of departmental education and sports centres.

The South Africa strategy has been shaped by research that IDRC supported in 1996 to map community information centre initiatives and identify community interest in incorporating ICTs into existing centres. Acacia is now working with the National Information Technology Forum to establish an Acacia Advisory Group. The objectives of the Advisory Group include guiding future project development and provide a conduit for Acacia results.

Some of the activities in South Africa include support for twelve telecentres located primarily in the poorest South African Provinces; a research project into ICTs in education by extending existing school networks; exploring different modes of opportunity in providing community access; and assisting the government with the development of Internet and broadcasting policy.

In year two, four programme elements are expected to take shape: exploration of new telecentre models, extension of the impact assessment methodology, school networking, and further support for relevant policy modules.

Uganda was selected as the East Africa strategy country mid-1997, a relatively new entry compared to the other countries. Following a December 1997 workshop in Kampala, an action plan in four areas was created and a Steering Committee was established to guide the programme with the secretariat provided by the Uganda National Commission on Science and Technology. The action plans cover the areas of human resources, policy, infrastructure and technology, and content development.

One of the early activities in Uganda involves the creation of a multi-purpose community telecentre pilot project, a joint initiative between IDRC, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and UNESCO. This telecentre project has been developed in close collaboration with local organisations which formed a steering committee to advance the programme.

Offshoots and Opportunities and Cross-Cutting Issues

'Offshoots and Opportunities' extend the reach of the national strategies to the subregions in which the strategy countries are located. Examples of projects in this area include: a study on the capacity of human rights organisation in Southern Africa to participate in developing Web-based training tools; improving information flows to farmers and development workers in two highland communities of Kenya; and strengthening communication activities of rural radio stations in Eastern Africa.

The 'Cross-Cut' chapter of Acacia identifies critical constraints in the region which impeded community access and the contribution it can make to equitable development. Five issues - gender, human resources development, youth, ICT research and social and policy research - comprise the five themes under cross-cutting issues. A facilitator has been assigned to each of the five themes.

Private Sector Linkages

Acacia is operating an active partnership programme to maximise the impact of the research and experimentation programme. Partnerships continue to be pursued with the private sector, both in Africa and Canada, with the public sector and with other donor institutions and foundations. For example, private sector relationships are developing through an agreement with the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). In conjunction with the Acacia's computer recycling project, ITAC is currently mobilising its Canadian members to contribute computers in good working order to schools and telecentres in South African townships.

Expected Outputs

Acacia is now moving towards the implementation and learning phase. In the upcoming year, the foundation that had been laid will be strengthened further through increased support for the national strategies, a systematic and integrated learning system, and greater range of partnerships, both at the local and international level. Models showing how ICTs can be used to extend the reach of community voices, infrastructure for low-cost network extension, and research leading reform of ICT policy are examples of specific outputs expected in the coming year.

Therefore, as the world community realises the importance of bringing the African voice into the Global Information Society, Acacia is situated to assist African communities, not as passive observers, but as knowledge participants in the age of global information access.

For more information contact: Frank Tulus Acacia Research Officer IDRC Ottawa, Canada Tel: + 1 613 236 6163 Fax: + 1 613 567 7749 E-mail: [email protected]
Or visit the comprehensive Acacia Web-site at:

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Communication for Development

Are rural women really benefiting?

Women do not benefit sufficiently from development information because of the ways in which this information is communicated to rural communities, argues Joyce A. Otsyina. Developing appropriate communication strategies in order to benefit rural women is an area in development information which requires immediate and careful attention.

Development efforts directed at rural communities in Third World countries have had very little impact on the intended beneficiaries. Those most in need are women who are believed to be the poorest in the majority of rural communities but are chiefly responsible for farming and feeding their families, and often take the role of head of household. Faced with these heavy responsibilities and with few resources, women stand to benefit most from development interventions which are targeted at the poor; yet, it is these women who are denied development opportunities in most rural societies.

Various social and technical factors are responsible for this unfortunate situation, amongst which is the issue of women's lack of access to scientific and technical information (STI) for development as compared to men - information needed by all, but more especially by women, to enable them to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for upgrading life in rural areas. STI does not reach women at all in certain cases; where it does, it is usually in the form of second-hand information from husbands, adult sons and other people within the community, in which case it is distorted or modified to suit or to benefit the men.

Inappropriate channels

Why do women not benefit from the provision of STI as men do? Culture plays a very important role in denying women access to information, but more important perhaps are the ineffective communication strategies employed by field and development workers in information provision to rural communities, strategies which tend to benefit men more than women. Communication strategies to inform women and men usually take no account of socio-economic differences between the genders. For example, in the Shinyanga Region of Tanzania, the channels of communication commonly used by most development workers are village meetings and film shows. These channels tend to be more accessible to men than women. For example, village meetings are supposed to be attended by everybody in the Sukuma society; but even though women attend these meetings, their contribution to discussion is usually very little because culturally women are not supposed to be vocal when men are around.

The use of other communication channels such as seminars, workshops, study tours and farm visits, to train farmers outside their localities in order that they in turn train others, is a common practice in development projects. For women, several problems are encountered in the use of these channels. Information provided to other women by their trained colleagues is always incapable of providing necessary skills needed for the implementation of new ideas and innovations, and distorted because only few women are trained as compared to men. Women trainees are unable to cope with the workload of training hundreds of other women. The failure of women to adopt the improved cooking stoves, even though they were aware of the economic benefits, in the Shinyanga Region of Tanzania is a clear example. Women who were trained to teach others failed in their efforts as there was no interest shown in learning from people the other women had no confidence in. Moreover, displacement of women from their localities raises suspicion on the part of men and results in the blocking of valuable information.

What needs to be done?

The issues raised and discussed above clearly show that women do not really benefit from development information because of the ways in which this information is communicated to rural communities. Different approaches to information communication to women are required. If any success is to be achieved, strategies are needed that will take into consideration the specific socio-economic conditions of rural settings, that is gender division of labour, decision making power and access to and control over resources. Development of appropriate communication strategies in order to benefit rural women is an area which requires immediate and careful attention.

Women's heavy work schedules and the natural suspicions of men restricts their freedom of movement within rural societies. The use of traditional communication systems and socio-cultural opportunities in rural communities, as a basis for developing communication strategies to benefit women, is paramount. Women generally rely far more than men on informal information networks such as neighbours, husbands, and school children. Women farmers in Senegal, for example, effectively diffused information on new crop varieties and improved practices to other women through informal traditional networks. These informal networks could be developed to the benefit of women. School children have also been found to have provided their mothers with information on land management in Shinyanga. Equipping these children with scientific and technical information could improve women's access to information.

Women's groups

Women also perform better when organised and trained in groups in their localities. It gives them the freedom of expression and the ability to identify their own problems and find solutions to them without any interference from men, reduces costs of training and at the same time reaches a lot of women with firsthand information.

Attention must also be paid to the natural suspicions of men in most traditional societies towards the acquisition of knowledge and skills by womenfolk. To overcome this problem, men must be made aware of everything that is being introduced to women. Communication at the household level should be considered as a possible way of keeping men informed about activities women are engaged in, and in improving women's acquisition of the skills and information needed for development.

Changing the attitudes of extension workers

In addition to developing more appropriate communication methods, the attitudes of field and development workers, as individuals, towards women in the acquisition of information needs attention. Individual practices of these field workers have been found to reproduce and reinforce gender discrimination. The extent to which this denies women access to information needs to be investigated to help improve the situation.

A holistic approach

To sum up, there is a need to adopt a holistic approach to information communication to rural communities and specifically to women. Focusing attention only on the ineffectiveness of communication strategies employed by field and development workers is a piecemeal solution to the problem. The contributions of the culture of the people, and the individual practices of field and development workers to the information problems of women all need to be examined in their totality. This will help to improve our understanding of the issues and to develop more effective strategies for women and for rural development.

For additional information, consult: Aarnink, N. & K. Kingma. Women and Agriculture in Tanzania: The Shamba is like a Child. Leiden: Women and Autonomy Centre, Leiden University, 1992. Goetz, A-M. Local Heroes: Patterns of Field Worker Discretion in the Implementation of Gender Policy. (Unpublished paper, IDS, Sussex) Otsyina, J. Communication of Development Information to Rural Communities: Case Study of Information Communication in HASHI's Soil Conservation and Afforestation Project, Shinyanga, Tanzania. Thesis (MPhil)- University of Ghana, Legon, 1993. Otsyina, J. Human Development Report for the Eradication of Poverty in the Shinyanga Region of Tanzania: Gender Studies Sector Report. (Submitted to UNDP, Dar es Salaam, January 1998)

Joyce A. Otsyina is a Ghanaian freelance consultant in gender and information. P. O. Box 797 Shinyanga, Tanzania E-mail: [email protected]

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Evaluating Rural Resource Centres

UNESCO publishes guidelines for measuring performance and impact of community resource centres.

Community resource centres are emerging as one of the most favoured of the information delivery strategies in rural areas. Such centres not only provide sources of information but advice and guidance as well. Information formats are accessible by those who cannot read as well as the literate and newly literate. They act as centres for all agencies involved in information provision. They link external knowledge with indigenous knowledge. They repackage information and act as centres for information sharing. The community itself plays a crucial and active part in their establishment and maintenance.

There is now a need to assess how effective such centres are in providing the information that will lead to social and economic development of rural communities. UNESCO, on behalf of IFLA, has recently published guidelines for measuring performance and impact. The expectations of any rural information support system are isolated, described and discussed. Indicators have then be developed against which the expectations can be measured and suggestions are provided as to how these indicators can be applied to provide more efficient and effective information provision. Both expectations and indicators are based on the experience and practice of rural information provision, as revealed by the literature.

The indicators show: how effective centres have been in securing relevant resources; whether there have been increased opportunities for all sections of the community to access and use relevant information sources; how effective centres have been in management, planning and exhibiting accountability and whether the activities of the centres have had a positive impact on improving socio-economic conditions, extending the knowledge base of the community and increasing participation in government and extension programmes.

The publication is available free of charge from UNESCO:

Division of Information and Informatics 1 rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15 France.

Rural Information Provision in Developing Countries: Measuring Performance and Impact.
Paris: UNESCO, 1997. (CII-97/WS/11)

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Notice Board

The INASP Newsletter Notice Board is a public forum for organisations and institutions wishing to advertise their projects, activities, offers or requests.

Short contributions can be sent to the editor at INASP.

A New Strategy to Empower People in Africa

In September 1997, WHO Regional Committee for Africa approved a new strategy which recognised that information provision is one of the most cost-effective interventions for health. The goal is full coverage of the population with information, education and communication activities by the year 2010. The hope is that this greatly improved access to information will bring about changes in behaviour that will result in significant improvements in health by the year 2025.

The principal beneficiaries will be the population of rural communities and urban shanty towns. All channels of communication will be used, from modern technology to music, drama, puppet shows and story telling. WHO Regional Office for Africa has already started producing information packages on a variety of health topics for use by the media, national governments and general public in member countries. The first pack is on 'Coping with common diseases' and provides information on 11 major diseases prevalent in the African continent.

From: World Health, 6, 1997: 4-5.

Bees for Development

Bees for Development promotes sustainable beekeeping practices world-wide and serves as a unique, international resource for beekeeping development.

Its aim is to assist people living in poor and remote countries of the world by providing information to improve their beekeeping knowledge and skills, and as a result enhance their standard of living with an increase in crop yield, a better diet, and income from the sale of bee products.

Bees for Development:

Bees for Development is an independent, not-for-profit organisation founded in 1993 by Dr Nicola Bradbear and Ms Helen Jackson.

For more information contact:

Bees for Development Troy Monmouth NP5 4AB United Kingdom Tel: + 44 16007 13648 Fax: + 44 16007 16167 E-mail: [email protected] WWW:

The next INASP Newsletter will be published in May 1999. If you would like to contribute to its contents, please write to the editorial address above. Contributions must be received by 1 April 1999.
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