Delivering Effective Educational Information To Improve Water Quality
Cooperative Agricultural Research Program,
Tennessee State University
There is growing concern about public health and other environmental effects arising from non-point source pollution to which agricultural activities contribute through use and transport of pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste run-off that affect ground, surface and drinking water supplies.
Farm operators differ in terms of enterprises they manage, fertilizer and pesticide use practices as well as other characteristics. Given such differences, their contribution to water quality problem would not be the same. Despite this, experience shows that they have in general been treated as a uniform group rather than as diverse entities in designing information delivery programs. Such an approach would not be effective and should be replaced by a focused one that differentiates between operators based on their relative contribution to the problem.
The major objectives of using a focused approach in delivering educational information on water quality are: (1) to ensure that farm operators with the greatest contribution to the problem are reached first, (2) such operators acquire the necessary knowledge which they can put to use in managing their operations and help reduce the problem of water quality, and (3) to allocate limited resources on priority tasks.
Use of the above approach would require availability of systematic research results on a number of key issues pertaining to water quality in specific localities to determine the relative contribution of various operators to the problem and capability to design what is to be delivered.
A recent joint study by Tennessee State University and university of Tennessee shows that small farm operators covered by the study do not use fertilizers and pesticides optimally. This indicates that small farm operators contribute to problems of water quality and should be provided appropriate educational information.
Developing educational program requires both careful determination of what the key components of such a program should be and availability of resources needed to implement the program along with an appraisal of expected benefits. Water quality costs and benefits involve not only economics, but also environmental and social issues also. Mutually beneficial partnership arrangements could be explored and utilized among farmers, government agencies and private sector groups to deal with the commonly raised question of who bears the costs and who reaps the benefits.
The above approach to educational information design and delivery has among other things the following implications:
- Educational information program should be based on careful assessment of local conditions, attitudes and perceptions of recipients and factors pertaining to them
- It is important that the education provided be proactive
- Active participation of the recipients of the information should be secured both for assessing specific conditions in a locality and during implementation of an educational program
- Specific information delivery method(s) and forms of presentations preferred by the users should be used rather than a general one that may not be effective
- There is need to build in a system of monitoring and evaluation in the educational program from the very beginning to get feedback and make changes as appropriate
In conclusion, the key issue in dealing with diverse farm operators involving delivery of educational information is not do they get information, but rather whether the information they get is relevant and effective in addressing the specific problem(s) they are facing.
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