On Air Dialogues: What rural people in sub-Saharan Africa have to say about climate change

A farmer in a red shirt stands in a field speaking into a mobile phone

Climate change is already here and affecting rural Africans, but they are taking measures to adapt. That’s what more than 14,300 Burkinabes and Ethiopians told us in our latest series of On Air Dialogues.

In October 2022, Farm Radio International organized three On Air Dialogues in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso to gather the views, perspectives and experiences of rural people as they contend with climate change. We asked participants about how climate change is impacting them, what changes they’ve made on their farms and what governments can do to support the most vulnerable as they adapt to climate change.

What we heard from rural Africans about climate change

Communities in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia told us over and over again that climate change was harming their communities, whether in the form of flooding or increased temperatures. What struck us was this: the majority of respondents told us that farming and raising livestock is more difficult today than it was in the past. It’s clear that climate change is affecting rural farmers — but they haven’t given up. They are taking steps to adapt to a changing climate, including planting native plants and trees.

As farmers adapt their farming practices, they need information and advice about weather conditions and the best crops to grow and livestock to raise. They also want their governments to assist them in climate change adaptation. Highest on their priority list? The improvement of water supply through irrigation and support for protecting nature and planting native trees.

Rural farmers in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia believe that the most effective approach to increase biodiversity is to promote and support more nature-friendly farming and livestock practices and to enable farmers to earn income by protecting and restoring biodiversity. More than 60 per cent of respondents have already noticed biodiversity loss in their region. This statistic is particularly significant as leaders gather at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) to develop goals and an action plan for nature for the next decade.

Participants in the On Air Dialogues were in agreement on key issues. Here are some highlights:

  • Almost 90 per cent of respondents identified changes due to climate change in their region.
  • More than 90 per cent of respondents told us they are taking steps to adapt to the effects of climate change in their communities and on their livelihoods. 
  • 96 per cent of participants in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia agreed that it was important to take action to protect biodiversity.

Explore the results of the On Air Dialogues, and listen to farmers’ voices, on an interactive multimedia platform at dialogues.farmradio.org

How On Air Dialogues work

On Air Dialogues are a new type of radio programming, which bring rural voices into important conversations about topics like climate change and food security. We first held On Air Dialogues in 2021 leading up to the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit. We will also be hosting dialogues in six countries through our On-Air for Gender-Inclusive Nature-based Solutions (NbS) project.

For the 2022 edition of the On Air Dialogues, we worked with seven radio stations in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia to create 21 original episodes of radio programming, complete with mobile phone-based polling. On air, broadcasters invited local experts, farmers and guests to speak their mind and share their knowledge. Off air, we engaged listeners to join in the discussion with their own thoughts. 

The On Air Dialogues rely on Farm Radio’s Uliza suite of digital services, which combines radio with mobile phones to enable listeners to communicate and exchange information immediately with their radio station quickly, easily and free of charge.

Listeners can use any mobile phone to leave a missed call (or “beep”) on a number advertised on the radio program. Uliza then returns the call, presenting the caller with several multiple-choice questions and an open-ended question.

In total, we received more than 120,000 poll question responses and 9,300 thoughtful voice messages from rural people in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. We analyzed the responses to shed light on key themes by country, age and gender. Women made up roughly one-third of all respondents in both countries, and 52 per cent were youth.

Why listen to rural voices about climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa?

Rural Africans bear the brunt of climate change. From reliance on rain-fed irrigation and dwindling resources to recurring disasters, rural people in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to climate change, though they are among those least contributing to it. And yet, they are rarely, if ever, consulted in the development of solutions to climate change.

Whether protecting natural resources and biodiversity, diversifying livelihoods or adapting new farming practices, small-scale farmers are already part of the solution to climate change. They are experts in their fields and are ideally situated to identify the needs of their communities.

When farmers’ voices and perspectives are amplified, we can base decisions, policies and programs on what people really need and want. Learning from farmers’ vast knowledge and experience can bring the world one step closer to resolving the impacts of climate change, and make sure solutions are equitable, sustainable and productive for all.

About the On Air Dialogues

This research was led by Farm Radio International in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and seven partner radio stations ahead of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27. The research was made possible by financial support from IFAD and Global Affairs Canada.

IFAD shared initial results from the On Air Dialogues in a session at COP27 called Beyond listening in: Bringing Rural Voices to COP27. Farm Radio also discussed the results in a webinar about our On-Air for Gender-Inclusive Nature-based Solutions (NbS) project.

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