Reaching out

Reaching out IN A country like India, where illiteracy is rampant and each region has a dialect of ' its own, it is essential to develop visual aids to help impart information. This is especially true of rural India. A project funded by the , Ford Foundation, New Delhi, sought to study the affectivity of both current-and traditional ways of disseminating agriculture -based information through visual media in rural Rajasthan (The Ford Foundation Bulletin, Autumn. 1995).

Governmental and non-governmental organisations have been communicating with the rural population for introducing better farming techniques. A variety of media, ranging from posters and leaflets to illustrated booklets is being used. I But a lot of information is in text form, which is highly unsuitable for interacting with illiterate populations. There are other innovative approaches such as the use of village puppets, local drama groups and kisan melds (farmer fairs) which follow the ,seeing is believing'-theory. Videos and films are, also used, but these again are made by urban literates and may not be effective. The communication techniques that have been used so far were unidirectional as the farmers were not involved in the process of material collection and ways of dissemination.

The objective of the project undertaken by Anthony Latham, a media production consultant from the UK and Laxmi Murthy, a graphics designer from Udaipur, was to evaluate these communication methods in the agriculturally deprived areas of Udaipur, Bikaner and jodhpur in Rajasthan. The project hoped to come up with a way to determine the appropriate media for certain groups of farmers, keeping their needs in mind. Latham and Murthy also wanted to discover artistic. styles and talents existing at the village level which could be used for creating the educational material.

A technique known as participatory rural appraisal' was used for the survey whereby the villagers were encouraged to draw 'familiar everyday objects in their own way. The resultant pictures showed a marked similarity to each other and there was high recognition of each other's drawings. But to a literate outsider, the pictures looked somewhat obscure. After the villagers had completed their drawings, a government artist was recruited to draw the subjects in his own style. Then he drew the pictures using the characteristic features of the village pictures. This set of three pictures was made to test picture recognition ability of the farmers and to find out which picture was - best liked by them. In another exercise, the villagers were shown a sequence of six images depicting a story. What seemed a logical order to the literate urbanite Was incomprehensible to the villagers. 0nly two of the 60 farmers who were shown the pictures, could follow the sequence correctly. While for others, the most easily identifiable picture caught their attention first and then they let their eyes wander till they fell on the next easily understood picture.

From the survey, Latham and. Murthy came to very interesting conclusions. The villagers preferred the mixed perspective Pictures to their own drawings. The former appeared to have clarity of message, image and sequence - the three most important tools of advertising.

The object size was found to have a great influence on the villagers: larger objects made more sense than the smaller ones. Also, a filled in object holds more meaning than a simple line drawing to the farmers. Symbols such as ticks, crosses and arrows have no meaning to them. In fact, they complicate the pictures in the minds of the illiterates.

Latham and Murthy conclude . that videos offer the best medium for information dissemination, but they add that the people who produce them should undergo training. The relevance of content, context and vocabulary, both oral and visual is essential. They feel that video screenings should be followed by the print media to help reinforce the message through images and serve as reminders.

A sub-survey revealed that women in the most marginalised communities had very limited or no access to any form of media and were unable to respond to it. Thus, it has been suggested that attention needs to be focussed media support for rural women. Working in close association with the target group is important and one should take into consideration, age, literacy levels, gender, wealth, rank and land holdings. A blanket approach is least cost-effective and will bear minimal results. It is important for media persons to know that rural communities have a sense of their own needs and a way in which they perceive them. Communication is a two-way process with no standard solutions for all rural communities. It is thus important to involve the target group in the process of producing both messages and visuals, and media can prove to be the key factor in reaching out to them.

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