by Rosalyn Rappaport.
When I say I have written a handbook of Crop Protection for Africa, eyes glaze over. When I add that it includes a lot of cartoon strips, my listener usually wakes up.
The comic strips in my book have a particular reason for being there. Other agricultural advice books make the process they are explaining the central point. In illustrations the farmer is seen as a pair of hands doing something with a tool or hoe. In photographs the farmer is seen carrying out instructions as an example. The advisor is seen as the hero bringing new ideas.
This becomes a problem when advice presented is not believed. ‘Who is this man?’ the farmer may ask. ‘Does he know the land? Is he a farmer himself?’ At the back of the farmer’s mind is the doubt about whether any outsider, however expert and well meaning, really knows the local situation.
In Mauritania, after my cartoonist Mohammed and I had produced our first story page showing farmer Ali and his wife Miriam, the drivers on our project gave their response. We were, they said, very sensible at last to be asking the right people about the job we had come to do. ‘These people’, said Alesane, banging a forefinger on Mohammed’s drawing, ‘really know about the work.’ The cartoon strips are central to the book because they place the farmer at the centre of the advice and information process.
But the farmer does not act alone. Family, neighbours and experiences far and near influence farmers. So the strip is based on the household, a working unit where the father is sometimes hero, sometimes fool. The cartoons show what is happening to technical advice when it gets out into the village. Should it be used as given or adapted - and who does the adapting? Are happy accidents useful? Do good ideas come from regional offices of agriculture or farms? Who should be lecturing and who listening?
Comic strips lend themselves to all kinds of story-telling. The characters are like us. They worry about money and life. Yet birds and insects talk to them and to each other. Without any effort, comic strips can include all kinds of scientific facts in amusing ways.
Comic strips have other uses. They can help extension agents start visits on an entertaining note. They help fix a fact or technique in people’s memory. Maybe a story will encourage other stories. If a farmer is not literate, the children of the house might be at school. There is often someone around who can read.
Do you have people in your community who may be able to draw cartoons? Think of ways in which your work could make use of cartoons. The cartoons in Rosalyn’s book (reviewed on Resources page) come with permission to photocopy them for teaching purposes.
Rosalyn Rappaport has worked as an extension agent for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and as a horticuralist in Zambia and Mauritania. A second comic strip book is planned on Crop Storage and Processing.