(Tetun) A new approach to communication for development will help low-literate farmers adopt improved agronomic practices in Timor-Leste.

Farmers who adopt new maize varieties developed by the Seeds of Life (SoL) program and Ministry of Agriculture (MAF) can expect significant yield increases if they use traditional cultivation methods. If they also apply appropriate agronomic practices (such as planting in lines, weeding, drying and storing seed in airtight containers etc.), even higher yield increases are achievable. But how do you teach these practices to farmers?

Maize field day in Baucau Feb 09

Farmers at a maize field day: a traditional form of communication for development. © Unknown


The low level of literacy among Timorese adults, particularly in remote parts of the country, and their often limited exposure to television and radio, presents a significant challenge when it comes to delivering new information. ??To overcome this barrier, the SoL–MAF team is trialling an animation presenting guidelines for growing maize.

The animation was prepared by final year students in the Bachelor of Animation degree program at Charles Sturt University (CSU), Wagga Wagga. A large component of the professional development in this course involves students undertaking pro bono work for not-for-profit organisations.

Animation has advantages over static images (such as on leaflets and banners) because viewers can be better directed to key information and are less likely to misinterpret what they see. The technique also has advantages over conventional video presentations, as animations can be made off-shore using established production facilities, and avoid the cost of hiring actors and crews.

early stage development

In development: testing the opening scene and characters


Working under the direction of Chris McGillion, a senior lecturer in journalism at CSU who is also undertaking a PhD examining SoL’s communication techniques through the Australian National University, the students were briefed on the physical and cultural characteristics of subsistence farming in Timor-Leste and provided with 12 key agronomic messages to present. These messages were condensed from a 34-page Maize Guidelines document prepared by SoL–MAF for use among extension officers.

final animation

In development: testing the opening scene and characters


In developing the animation, several editorial decisions were considered crucial. First, the ‘characters’ had to be presented in a way that was respectful of Timorese and mindful of the role women play in Timorese farming. Second, the animation had to be engaging: directly relevant to farmers’ experience, fast-paced, and containing elements of humour. Third, attention had to be focused on the action (which contained the messages) rather than on dialogue (talking about the action), with the overall effect of a ‘story’ that was simple to follow and understand.

anatomical measures

Using anatomical measures for easy to understand guides


The animation is roughly divided into four one-minute sequences. In the first, a young male farmer is shown wondering why his maize crop is not as productive as that of a female neighbour. The woman then demonstrates appropriate spacing between rows and plants, and seeding and weeding techniques. She does this by turning data (e.g. 70 cm) into easily remembered anatomical measures (from shoulder to finger tip).

In the second sequence, the two farmers work cooperatively to cultivate the crop, after which (in the third sequence) the male farmer is shown drying and storing the harvest appropriately. The last sequence presents each of the 12 key messages in Tetun (the local language) so that literate viewers (extension officers, children of farmers) have a convenient summary of the information presented.

Watch the video below


SoL–MAF will screen the animation at district film nights run by the local organisation Cinema Lorosa’e. They will also share it with farming families with video-capable mobiles, and use it as an extension tool. If the animation proves successful in raising awareness of good agricultural practices for maize, similar animations for peanuts, sweetpotato, rice and cassava may also be created.

By Chris McGillion (Charles Sturt University) and Kate Bevitt (Seeds of Life).

The article was posted in ACIAR blog and reproduce with the premission from the authors and ACIAR.