Communications Strategy for the National Strategic Action Plan for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Namibia

01 June 2015

Namibia is a naturally variable country climatically. Its traditional crop varieties are of high value when it comes to climate change adaptation. Flood deficits and droughts are common, and are envisaged to be exacerbated by climate change. The agriculture, on which 70% of the population depend on for their livelihoods, is vulnerable to climate change. Namibia, through its Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the United Nations Development Programme Country Office put forward a proposal for the Benefit-Sharing Fund to develop a Strategic Action Plan for the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, as an adaptive response to climate change. This Strategic Action Plan (SAP) aims to assist in identifying and addressing the gaps and priorities for PGRFA in Namibia. The SAP's objective is to promote the conservation and use of plant genetic diversity crucial to food security through targeted capacity building, investment, policy development and strengthening and supporting government and other institutions dealing with the impact of climate change in Namibia, and the conservation of PGRFA respectively.

Communication is a vital component of strategy development and implementation processes. We developed a communication strategy that would form part of the overall SAP, and was broken downs as follows:

  1. A quick review of barriers and opportunities to information uptake in PGRFA. What are the best ways to achieve behaviour changes when it comes to information uptake? This section was a review of different practices in capacity building and communications, with a focus on two target groups: rural farmers, and policy makers.
  2. Piloting activities for the strategy. A few activities were piloted as part of the overall SAP development process, and as a way to gain momentum and awareness on the importance of conserving PGRFA in Namibia. These activities focused on three target groups (1) Rural Farmers, (2) Youth, and (3) Policy- and High-level Decision-makers.
  3. The strategy. The communications strategy was informed by the two above and was a list of activities that need to be dove-tailed with the SAP implementation to enhance awareness and incite the necessary behaviour change towards conserving plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

The piloting took place during 2015. Based on the review of best practice on information uptake of farmers (as No 1 above), farmers outreach was conducted in three regions in May 2015. This was a follow up to the surveying of on-farm plant genetic resource conservation practices in these three regions a few months earlier. The same resarch team was sent out to conduct farmers outreach sessions in Outapi (Omusati region), Mashare (Kavango East region), and Kalimbeza (Zambezi region). The main objectives of these outreach sessions were to (a) present the results from the on-farm PGR survey of August 2014, (b) create awareness of the importance of PGRFA through innovative information-sharing exercises, and (3) soliciti information on the best methods for community-level information uptake on plant genetic resources.

The detailed facilitation and modules were developed by Dr Justine Braby, and a training-of-trainers was conducted for the research team to conduct the outreach sessions.

Session 1 of the outreach focused on why it is important to conserve the seed of traditional crop varieties. Two activities were conducted for this session. The first looked at how increasing the variety of crops can increase nutritional contribution to diets. During this activity, participants were broken up into groups of three people. Each group got a "farm" (a blank flipchart paper) on which they could "plant their crops" (cards with different crop names and their nutritional values). Participants also got an outline of a human body along with its nutritional requirements. The activity illustrated that the diversity of crops grown allowed for a higher nutritional gain. The second activity illustrated that conserving genetic diversity can enhance resilience to climate change. For this activity, each group was given three scenarios (drought, good rains with pests, and flooding), and each was given a different "seed bank" (a collection of cards reflecting different crop varieties adapted to different conditions). Each group's "seed bank" was different to the other. The activity aimed to illustrate the groups with a smaller "seed bank", i.e. the groups who had not conserved their seeds, had the least resilience. During this activity, the farmers found that they had lost their traditional crop varieties and had become more dependent on the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry for seed provision.

Session 2 focused on improving onfarm conservation methods. This took place in two activities. The first activity had farmers elaborating on their existing conservation methods, building on the survey conducted in August 2014. Conservation methods focused on seed storage, seed supply, cropping practices and other important measures. The farmers also elaborated on the challenges that they face with their conservation measures.

The second activity of this session focused on the support that is needed to conserve plant genetic resources. The activity is a follow up to the first activity, to capture ideas on the support that is needed by farmers. The support that was needed included research on improved storage systems, training on pest and weed control, information seminars between farmers and extension officers (peer-sharing), subsidies on fertilisers, conservation of traditional varieties, appropriate radio programmes for farmers, regular communication to farmers, among others.

Session 3 was a practical step to build on information uptake research and focused on information and training on new technologies on conserving PGRFA. The activity looked at information uptake by farmers, and how they prefer to receive and absorb information.

For the youth demographic, a technical panel discussion was developed and hosted at the Youth Environmental Summit 2015. The year's summit was on the topic "Biodiversity for Sustainable Development". To raise awareness on the importance of plant genetic resource conservation, and as part of the development of the communications strategy, a panel discussion took place with young professionals studying or working within the PGRFA domain, as one of the key activities taking place at the conference. The panel was titled Agricultural Biodiversity and Sustainable Development: What's the link?

For policy-makers a policy event concept and agenda was prepared with recommendations as to how to facilitate it. It was recommended that it be part of the launch of the SAP, and to acquire high level buy-in and interest in the SAP, a high level event should be hosted. The event will be on the topic In the face of climate change: How can Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) contribute to Food Security and Poverty Alleviation in Namibia?

The event was envisaged to take place in two sessions. Session 1 is an introduction to our plant genetic resources heritage and what progress Namibia is making towards conserving this diversity for enhanced food security. The session will focus on introducing some of our plant genetic resources and the development of the SAP. The session will take place in brief presentations.

Session 2 will introduce how by conserving PGRFA, we can contribute to food security in the face of climate change. The session will be in the form of an interactive discussion focusing on plant genetic resources and how these can contribute to food security, especially when we are facing climate change (looking at drought preparedness and other climate resilience factors). How exactly does conserving plant genetic resources and maintaining high levels of diversity contribute to food security in a changing climate, especially when farmers are now faced with improved crop varieties which yield greater returns than the traditional landraces?

Participants, made up of high-level invitees, will be given an information brief. This one-pager was developed through the communcations work done for the client.

The overall communications strategy then outlined future activities to be dove-tailed with the SAP, for a set of key target groups.

Clients: Gobabeb Research and Training Centre through UNDP, 03/15-08/15