Research Article: The explanatory power of silent comics: An assessment in the context of knowledge transfer and agricultural extension to rural communities in southwestern Madagascar

Date Published: June 6, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Kathrin Stenchly, Tobias Feldt, David Weiss, Jessica N. Andriamparany, Andreas Buerkert, Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque.


The distribution of silent comic illustrations can facilitate the communication and transfer of scientific recommendations about sustainable land management (SLM) to local communities in countries where many people are illiterate. However, since there are cross-cultural differences in “visual languages”, visualization styles need to be carefully selected as well as locals’ comprehension of the illustrated recommendation evaluated systematically. Three agricultural recommendations were chosen for comic-style illustrations, distributed to six communities in the Mahafaly region of southwestern Madagascar and evaluated using a three-step, interdependent approach. The silent comics illustrated (i) composting of manure and its application to improve soil fertility; (ii) cautious utilization of succulent silver thicket as supplementary forage; and (iii) sustainable harvesting practices of wild yam. Results revealed that general understandability strongly depended on the community that was surveyed and on the environmental subject that was illustrated. We found a strong relationship between the general understandability of comics and the divergence that exist in communities’ socio-economic structure. Education level was an important factor that explained a better understanding of respondents for the comic illustrating compost production, but not for comics that illustrated sustainable usage of silver thicket and wild yam harvest. Willingness to follow the recommended practice was impaired when respondents valued no change to the improved technique compared to the common one. Effects of respondents’ socio-economic characteristics on the implementation of the recommended practice could not be clarified within this study due to the small subset of data. Based on the evaluation of recurring comments made by respondents and interviewers, we conclude that comics can be a useful communication tool to increase locals’ awareness and comprehension for SLM practices. This, however, requires that drawing details used to facilitate farmers’ ability to adopt a point-of-view inside the comic story are used thoughtfully as they might interfere with the central message.

Partial Text

A key component in meeting the challenge of eliminating poverty and ensuring sustainable and equitable food security in Africa is human resource development through knowledge building and information sharing [1]. This means putting peoples’ knowledge and information, as well as the variability among stakeholders in terms of need, perception, awareness and demand at the center of agricultural and rural development efforts [2, 3]. It is critical that farmers know about sustainable land management (SLM) and intensification practices which are needed to promote multi-functional landscapes, ensuring biodiversity and related ecological functions that underpin crop production and other ecosystem services [4].

The creation of silent comics that intend to communicate recommendations on sustainable land management practices is a challenge but also an opportunity for development projects. This study could demonstrate that visual communication tools should be thoroughly tested in the region of application by using a multi-level, successive approach that considers the perspective of all actors (drawing artists, local population, conducting interviewers and multidisciplinary scientific experts) before being put to use for educational purposes in cross-cultural contexts. It may transfer knowledge where oral communication fails because of linguistic barriers or simply because complex narratives and messages are easier to explain visually than orally. Silent comics can be also a useful communication tool when it comes to initiate a vital dialogue between science and society and to raise environmental awareness.




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