Expanding the SAWBO WhatsApp network in Rwanda and Burundi

by James Kamuye Kataru

The story of Rwanda can never be complete without mentioning its twin brother, Burundi. In the 16th century, both Rwanda and Burundi were part of the same kingdom in the East African Great Lakes region. They split after gaining independence in 1962 to form two nations. As members of the East Africa Community Economic Block that share a common history, culture, language, and heritage, their approach to solving challenges such as ensuring food security is similar and therefore could be replicated in either nation.

While relying on agriculture to earn foreign income, both Rwanda and Burundi export coffee, tea, and cotton to western countries and cassava, potatoes, maize, dry beans, rice, poultry, and other animal products to the east African market. However, better farming practices, improvement of soil health, irrigation technology, information on less expensive post-harvest loss reduction practices, and improved structures for value addition,  could earn producers extra income.

As a development partner, Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO)is providing a digital platform that’s loaded with solutions to most of the challenges faced by producers in the two countries, as well as Africa as a whole. Through seminars and workshops organized by the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and Des Associations Paysannes pour l’Auto Development (CAPAD) of Burundi which took place in Kigali and Bujumbura respectively, participants were trained on how to access several videos in the SAWBO animation video library that would greatly improve their extension service provision, improve agriculture, and enhance food security.

Participants in the workshop organized by RAB and SAWBO in Kigali Rwanda. Photo Credit: RAB

The Director General of the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), which organized the Kigali workshops expressed enthusiasm that finally the missing link in digitized solutions for extension services had been found through SAWBO animations. He urged the country’s scientists and researchers to work in collaboration with SAWBO and produce additional digital content  to address local challenges and provide solutions, and ensure  the content is taken to the farmers who need it most.

In Bujumbura, the Collectif Des Associations Paysannes pour l’Auto Development (CAPAD), which was formed in 2003 to ensure a food secure nation, brought together an array of partners from the agriculture sector for a productive session. The organization, which works with representatives across Burundi districts, has intensified agricultural development through innovation at the household level. CAPAD has prioritized potatoes, rice, maize, cassava, peanut, and assorted vegetables, which can all be improved using the available SAWBO animation videos.

Using WhatsApp groups to disseminate digital content.

After two weeks of deliberations with different partners, two additional WhatsApp groups that brought together participants from the two countries were created. They were added to the SAWBO Africa WhatsApp network, which brings together groups from 11 African countries. These include; Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Zambia, Liberia, Lesotho, Niger, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Burundi. These WhatsApp groups are used by members to:

  1. discuss and select animation videos that are relevant to their users’ needs.
  2. share tips on how to disseminate content in different geographical locations.
  3. discuss experiences and give feedback from their communities.
  4. organize the translation of animations into local languages and dialects.
  5. discuss matters on agriculture, development, and social issues.
  6. discuss challenges in the process of content dissemination and how to solve them.
  7. organize webinar sessions for further training on how to expand existing groups, form new ones, and grow their networks.
  8. market their farm products for sale or purchase.
  9. share information about ongoing agricultural activities in the country.
  10. socialize and build relationships.

Using WhatsApp groups to build networks has been very successful in Kenya, where the vibrant network has a presence in all 45 counties of the nation. These groups are very effective in discussing and sharing videos since most players in the agriculture industry have internet ready phones and are in several WhatsApp social groups where they discuss  work, health, politics, religion, and life in general. Our members share SAWBO content on some of these social groups and recruit members to our networks.

Similar to other networks, Rwanda and Burundi each have one main national WhatsApp group. The group has leaders and partners from different sectors and districts of the two nations. It’s in these national groups that the leaders discuss content and share it with the  district-based groups they are currently forming. A national team can form many regional or district-based groups. This helps reach more beneficiaries and expand the networks. This is one-way farmers in our networks across Africa are using digital content and social media to improve their farming practices and crop management for better quality produce.

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