Numbers count: counting on maths to help feed the world and give a better return on future aid Print E-mail

Introduction to AgriTechTalk International CIC's field numeracy modules  

Did you know that improving basic numeracy skills can help prevent people from going hungry? And can also help make development aid be more cost effective? 

Farming communities are facing growing pressures to produce more food within increasingly uncertain economic and climatic environments. This means the functional numeracy of farmers, Government agricultural extension staff and assessors has never been so important.  Unfortunately, in post conflict areas, the understandable educational gaps that result from war produce adults with little or no numeracy skills, who are ill-equipped to deal with these current challenges.  As a result, the majority of such disadvantaged adults base day-to-day decisions involving numbers on experience and intuition, rather than learning.

As our Director, Dr Ian Robinson explains, “Our pilot project is primarily aimed at war ravaged post-conflict areas of the developing world, where an unseen casualty of war is the basic functional numeracy that farmers, agricultural advisors, and other people involved in food production desperately need.  Poor numeracy in these rural communities doesn’t just mean that farmers can’t do their books! Numeracy is an essential tool enabling farmers and their advisors to evaluate land-use effectively, and produce food efficiently for their own people”.

But according to Ian, the benefits of the project go further,  “The impact of improved numeracy on food supply goes beyond helping farmers adapt to environmental and economic changes.  What we see is that without functional numeracy, their advisors’ abilities to provide appropriate recommendations to improve production – that really suit the farmers’ circumstances and capabilities  – are seriously jeopardised.  As such, poor numeracy can cause a possible improvement to be discarded because of failure, due to incorrect application, or at best, simply ignored.  This means that incorporating numeracy training into aid projects, such as food, hygiene, or health, can help to ensure that the potential impact of development aid goes much further and deeper.  To use an old business phrase, this gives you ‘more bangs for your buck’, with a greater potential for a lasting legacy.”

AgriTechTalk International’s new approach is built around a series of virtual farm visits by a fictional cartoon-strip agricultural adviser (field extension worker) called “Uno How”.  The cartoon character’s exchanges with farmers provide click entry-points to practical numeracy lessons on the internet, covering all the farm and market level calculations you might expect. The sites are easily accessible to line-agency and NGO staff living in small rural towns that already have access to the internet.

There is another potential project benefit that addresses an issue too often ignored - unfortunately, more often than not, most of the people involved at field level and even in quite senior administrative positions in local government in these war-torn countries have had no, little or very poor schooling. Therefore, the calculations relating to field area, volumes, proportions, percentages, rates of application of seed or fertilisers or sprays, or feeding ration preparations for livestock; or, just simple business calculations to determine profit or loss, are quite beyond the arithmetic of most of the people involved.  The easy access to the project materials is deliberate, as this may assist senior officials and professionals, who understandably find it difficult to admit to gaps in their numeracy, even perhaps to themselves, to learn in private without the embarrassment of admitting to their own shortcomings.

But this is only the first part of the story. Those taking up the programme are encouraged to join Uno How Clubs in their towns, where guidance in the use of the website and support-to-improve numeracy will be given by locally-based coordinators.  Selected Uno How Club graduates will then take their new-found skills and confidence in arithmetic out into the villages, to coops, marketing groups, village-level savings and loan associations, farmer-field schools, and to the front line community animal health workers/ extension workers.  This second phase of teaching is done with printed manuals through face-to- face instruction delivered at the regular meetings held by such groups.

  To develop this pilot programme, AgriTechTalk International CIC received a prestigious grant award from international development funder USAID, from their TOPS programme which aims to promote excellence in food security programming.  The grant enabled AgriTechTalk to further improve its innovative cartoon-based teaching program for developing much needed functional numeracy for field workers and leader farmers, and to test and refine it in the field.

Link to Uno How's Farm Visits here



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