Scientific Animations Without Borders launches a Feed the Future-supported global education program addressing COVID-19 secondary impacts

$1.6 million awarded to three MSU researchers to develop USAID COVID-19 global education and outreach materials.

Image from a screenshot of the SAWBO animation, Jerrycan Bean Storage. Shows man pouring beans from jerrycan.
SAWBO animation "Jerrycan Bean Storage"

In a time of crisis, how do we protect our health and safety, safely store our food, plant our fields, care for livestock, or conduct the daily business of life?  The Coronavirus has touched every corner of the globe forever changing the way we live. An immediate need exists for global information dissemination on mitigating COVID-19’s impacts.

Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, recently awarded a grant to Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) to launch the Feed the Future SAWBO Responsive-Adaptive-Participatory Information Dissemination Scaling Program (SAWBO RAPID), an educational intervention program to disseminate crucial information related to COVID-19’s secondary economic impacts, including disruption to trade, supply chains and markets.

The project is led by Dr. Barry Pittendrigh, Dr. Julia Bello-Bravo, and Dr. John Medendorp, three Michigan State University researchers with significant international development experience.

SAWBO RAPID will ensure that important COVID-19 information will be delivered across borders, cultures and literacy levels by quickly developing educational animations in local languages and using virtual dissemination platforms to reach remote and marginalized communities. 

A recent study conducted by Bello-Bravo showed that Mozambique farmers who viewed an animation on using jerrycans for safe, long- term grain storage resulted in a 97 percent retention rate and an 89 percent adoption rate of the storage solution. “Techniques such as proper grain storage become paramount during times of crises,” notes Pittendrigh. “When threats strike our most basic daily needs become threatened. Storing grain for food or planting properly directly impacts how easily a community can weather the storm.”

“Our videos can be adapted to a diversity of cultural scenarios, allowing women, men and a wide range of age groups to view them and learn proper techniques,” Bello-Bravo said. “In this study we observed women taking a very active role in learning and sharing the information they gained from the animations. Besides the high retention rate of 97 percent, 92 percent of survey participants reported telling an average of 8 other farmers about the technique and 55 percent personally demonstrated the technique to an average of 6 others. SAWBO RAPID activities will build upon the success of this system.”  

SAWBO RAPID will also build on Bello-Bravo’s decade long co-founding and development of SAWBO’s research-to-impact program.  Bello-Bravo’s research program, with over 33 publications addressing research questions necessary to support SAWBO strategies, is an example of a cutting-edge approach where land grant institutions can take research outcomes to create meaningful impacts in a COVID-19 world without travel.  SAWBO videos can be currently be found on TV stations in both West and East Africa, with over 43 million people known to be have been touched by the videos to date. 

Efforts like SAWBO RAPID are especially important during the current pandemic. “SAWBO RAPID is about crisis intervention. The program operates 100 percent in virtual space and has had almost a decade of experience creating educational content to respond to crisis situations,” explains Pittendrigh. “Content is created and distributed through online networks – all achieved while actors across this educational pathway maintain social distancing.”

The content also is intended to democratize information. “These digital delivery systems have the capacity to break down barriers by making information accessible to all. My research shows they have the potential to be a great equalizer, due to their ability to bypass gender, generational, and other established hierarchies that suppress, marginalize, ostracize, and create information asymmetries,” says Bello-Bravo.

Pittendrigh sums it up, “we believe that the long-term impact of this project will be more resilient socio-agricultural systems due to more effective, efficient, and strategic platforms, dissemination networks, and integrated information communication management systems. This is about creating networks, partnerships; building goodwill. Each and every person has the right to access knowledge so that they can make informed, safe decisions. SAWBO RAPID will bring us one step closer to this goal.”

Meet the Program Leads

 Dr. Julia Bello-Bravo will lead on content creation and research efforts and serve as the program technical director. As a SAWBO co-creator and assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at MSU, Bello-Bravo has a decade of international research focused on the impact of animations.

 Dr. Pittendrigh is SAWBO’s co-creator and an MSU Foundation professor in the Department of Entomology. He will lead the SAWBO RAPID project as its director. “SAWBO RAPID will work with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which leads Feed the Future, and collaborators to understand key topics where educational interventions in local languages will help people be resilient to shocks,” says Pittendrigh. “It’s a collaborative public-private sector process through all stages of the project.” 

 Dr. John Medendorp will serve as the project’s partnerships lead. Medendorp, Deputy Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Legume Systems Research led by MSU, has extensive experience managing publicly funded international development programs. His research focuses on agricultural education and training system development in Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) with a special interest in developing integrated learning systems on local, national, regional, and global levels.

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