Sharing knowledge can save lives:

An interview with Phillip Amoah and Tonya Schuetz  from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project- ‘The Knowledge Sharing approach to safe food

A lack of knowledge in Ghana can get you thrown in jail or even killed. Such are the stakes when dealing with the food that people eat.

In Ghana a lot of vegetables are produced using wastewater,” explains Philip Amoah, leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project.

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

“These vegetables are likely to be consumed raw. Lettuce, cabbage, raw onions. And this can have a lot of health implications.

IWMI has been undertaking a number of projects that are trying to conduct research to come up with simple risk-reduction options that can be used on farms, at markets and at food preparation points to make food safer. The teams test various interventions from farm to fork to enhance food safety and the potential to institutionalize such interventions so they become common practice.

The projects are then compiling techniques that can teach food growers, sellers and producers easy ways of improving food safety. Once these techniques have been devised the challenge is to ensure that as many people as possible hear about them and put them into practice.

This is where knowledge sharing (KS) comes in. A grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research Project helped them to be able to explore and try out ways to take these results, make them easily understandable and useful and get them out to the stakeholders who need them.

We get the results from these projects, modify them in a way to make messages that the end–users will understand and then we come up with simple communication methods to get these messages out to those who are growing, selling and catering these vegetables which may be at risk,” says Philip.

Knowledge sharing has been used in this project in two main ways.

Knowledge sharing approaches were used to help the project, and its researchers, to interact and collaborate better with various stakeholders within the research process, to help to understand better the situation and needs, as well as to get feedback on project results and support in developing appropriate messages and communication mechanisms.

IWMI Wastewater farmer discussion

World Cafe conducted by IWMI Wastewater project

We started off with a series of World Cafes during the research project. The World Café is a methodology where you put people in a room together-in a café style setting, to try to make them as comfortable as possible to discuss with others, and get them to tackle certain key questions.” The World Café approach was used to facilitate an open discussion with key stakeholders on the messages develop by the project and the appropriateness, viability, constraints and effectiveness of these in achieving adoption of suggested innovations.

With a greater focus on knowledge sharing, the Project also looked for more effective ways of getting the key messages out to the target groups.

Radio was believed to be a perfect medium for communicating the findings to as wide as possible an audience and in various local languages spoken in Ghana.

We did radio programmes in local languages because radio is accessible in Ghana even for the farmers. Almost everyone has a small radio,” says Tonya Schuetz who has been also working on the project.

6-CD Case_Farmer-training-small

COver of DVD produced to share good practices with farmers

The projects also produced a series of DVDs on safe food practices and presented these to farmers and householders, extension agents, as well as caterers too.

The caterers are interesting because we didn’t have them in mind at all when we set up the project,” says Tonya. “When we thought of end-users, we thought on a household level. But then we conducted  a study that showed that it is more often caterers in the street who prepare the vegetables that are consumed raw.

As she explains, progress has been swift. “With this KSinR Pilot project I really felt like a lot went very well,” says Tonya

Before beginning a concerted campaign of knowledge sharing in research, Philip says he sometimes had difficulty communicating even simple messages like the need for farmers to water crops at the root so as not to splash soil on to the leaves, causing a potential health hazard.

One time I was chased out of a vegetable growing site in Accra when I went to take water samples because at that time the farmers were not involved in the project,” he says.

They said that people had come before and taken water samples, after which some of the farmers had been arrested and people wouldn’t buy their vegetables. But now that we’ve got them involved, we better understand their situation and find better ways to communicate the results of the research to them to help them make changes and improvements. I’m free to go there at any time, to take samples and to do what ever research I want to do. And that has really helped a lot. So knowledge sharing is something I really want in my future research. I’ve even joined the farmers association now, attend meeting and pay dues and they now recognize me as one of them.

Tonya says it was not only farmers, but researchers, too, who changed their attitudes.

We started off working with researchers who were open to it but did not really believe in it,” she says. “They felt that knowledge sharing was something they had already been doing for a long time. But when they saw how we used various knowledge sharing methodologies even at a very early stage in our project and the results we got, they realised that it was slightly different to what they’d been doing before. It’s a lot more about continuous interaction with stakeholders, rather than just going there once, talking to your partners and then just going and doing your research.”

Knowledge sharing has changed the way they work.”

Hopefully knowledge sharing will help us to save lives.

For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI Wastewater KSinR Pilot Project page

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