This article was originally published by the Impatient Optimist blog.
For Basanti Majhi, a farmer in Keonjhar District of Odisha, India, lack of information about nutritional and agricultural advances used to be a part of life. Like many in rural India, she has had little formal education and faces difficulties accessing new information. When Basanti learned about the community video initiative we were introducing in her community, she eagerly took part and gained new skills and information. At Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), USAID’s global nutrition project, we are working to bring this innovative social and behavior change method to other countries, so more women like Basanti can benefit.
Our approach of using community video to teach about nutrition grew from an existing partnership between two nonprofit groups working in Odisha: Digital Green, and the Voluntary Association for Rural Reconstruction & Appropriate Technology (VARRAT).These groups were already working with communities in Odisha to create low-cost, locally produced videos about improving agricultural processes.
This successful agriculture-focused partnership in Odisha served as an ideal entry point to introduce our idea of using community video to catalyze social and behavior change for nutrition-related behaviors. Teaming up with Digital Green and VARRAT, we introduced our videos in 30 villages in 2013. Since then, we have introduced this community video for nutrition approach in Niger’s Sahel region and are adapting it for use in Senegal and Guinea.
“SPRING has embraced community video as a game changer,” Peggy Koniz-Booher, a senior technical advisor for nutrition and social and behavior change communication (SBCC) for SPRING, said. “We saw a natural linkage between agriculture and nutrition and we thought this would be an amazing partnership.”
We developed the Community Video for Nutrition Guide so that other organizations can follow our model. One vital feature of the approach is that the video story-lines are developed by community members.
“There is an important distinction between technical experts developing a fictional and polished story, and supporting a production process that maintains the demonstrative, authentic feel of the videos coming out of the community,” Kristina Granger, SBCC manager for SPRING, said.
Videos are shared and discussed through a network of farmer women’s self-help groups (SHGs), covering good nutrition and healthy hygiene topics such as handwashing, breastfeeding, and complementary feeding for young children. Community members, like Basanti, are the stars in these videos.
Basanti first viewed a video about the benefits of handwashing with soap. It had a powerful effect on her. “I realized that if we don’t wash our hands, then we are more prone to disease and infections. We saw the videos and then I adopted the practices,” she said.
Authenticity and facilitated discussion are crucial to the video model’s success. After community members watch their neighbors demonstrating healthy habits in the videos, they are more likely to adopt the new practices themselves. There is no need for translation or lecturing. Now, Basanti is a nutrition star. She acted in a video about working mothers who breastfeed.
“I enjoyed acting and it gave me an opportunity to learn,” Basanti said, as a wide smile broke across her face. “I have seen the video myself and it is also disseminated in nearby villages.”
Producing these videos is cost effective. Interested community members receive the technical training required to shoot and edit videos using low-cost video cameras. Inexpensive, portable pico projectors are used to show the videos. Digital Green’s research has shown this model, when used for agriculture, is roughly 10 times more cost effective than traditional agriculture extension services.
In Niger’s Sahel region, our videos focus on similar themes, but the storylines are adapted to respect cultural norms and regional needs. All 10 of the initial videos we produced have been disseminated and are available on our website. The videos in this first proof of concept were designed to reach 1,500 community members in Niger, 70 percent of whom are adolescent girls, pregnant women and/ or mothers with children under two years of age. Men’s groups are also included. This work is currently being scaled up through partners to reach families in almost 150 villages in Niger and Burkina Faso.
Our research during the proof of concept in Niger shows that healthy nutrition behaviors were being adopted at very high rates — the percentage of households regularly using their handwashing station increased from about 65 percent to over 89 percent, and the percentage of women who began using a separate plate for feeding young children, as part of responsive feeding practices, increased from 69 percent to 89 percent! Community members agree that the videos are useful tools for sharing nutrition information.
“These videos are improving the community. Now people know about child nutrition and things like food diversity. If these videos can have more information about children, if more awareness can be raised, if the videos are shown in all the villages, then all will learn and benefit,” Basanti said.