A COVID-19 recovery story: From coast to côte (d’Ivoire)

farmers in cote d'ivoire show off their radios and their produce

In 2021, Farm Radio International set out to tackle pandemic recovery by using interactive radio approaches to foster — and improve — 20 value chains in seven countries.

It was, suffice it to say, a monumental effort.

 With more than $4.3 million CAD dollars of budget, it was also the largest single project that Farm Radio has ever done — and we did it all at a distance.

But what was is really about?

Subtitles available in French and English by clicking CC and choosing your language in the settings. 

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions for farmers in Africa were as diverse as the countries they lived in. Some endured lockdowns, devastating their access to markets. Some were left wondering what was happening. Was COVID-19 preventable? Could they leave their houses to tend to their crops?

As Vincent Phiri, a farmer in Malawi puts it: “With COVID-19, it has not been easy to meet extension workers physically. That is why we are relying on radio.”

What was consistent was that the pandemic had made an impact that was being felt everywhere and normal development efforts — those done face-to-face, reaching people on a community or individual basis — weren’t going to be effective.

Farm Radio International, thanks to funding from and in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), set out to use our tried and true methods — interactive radio — to make a difference.

The RECOVER project included crops that ranged from baobab trees in Mozambique, to cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire, from mango in Mali, to faba bean in Ethiopia, we looked at 20 different crops and their associated value chains to create radio programs that met the needs of farmers in each country, region and community.

We worked with 39 stations to train them and to develop participatory radio campaigns that walked farmers through every step in the farming cycle, from growing food to marketing and processing it. We supported an additional 134 radio stations with the tools to develop similar programs on their own, training them via e-courses, guides, and resources.

And we reached 17.8 million potential listeners doing so.

Impacting one farmer, impacting one million farmers.

Rose Konan and her husband Firmin, have been farming cassava and banana on their land for the past 25 years — and cocoa for the past 15. They live in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.

They were working at their farm when they first met staff from their local radio station, Voix de Lacs. That conversation first got them listening to the radio programs.

Subtitles available in French and English by clicking CC and choosing your language in the settings. 

“On the radio, we were told how to take care of our cassava fields. How to mulch, clean the grasses and put them around the trunk, otherwise, if the root comes out, the animals will eat it,” says Firmin.

That change in practice is not unique, across the seven countries many farmers reported changing their practices or planning on changing their practices because of the radio programs. In some countries, like Zambia, Togo and Mali, more than 87 per cent of farmers surveyed indicated the adoption of at least one good agricultural practice.

And the difference was made not just for men.

“The radio told us that women can have their cocoa field, too,” said Rose.

Radio programs across the seven countries addressed challenges specific to women, and ways that farmers, no matter their gender, could strive for gender equality.

Overall, more than 80 per cent of respondents — mostly women — reported increased knowledge about how to take steps to improve gender equality — things like joint decision making between family members when selecting and selling crops, and equitable farming responsibilities.

Ask a question, get an answer

If you’ve been following Farm Radio International for any length of time, you’ll know that interactivity is one of our favourite words.

In the context of RECOVER that means many things for us — primarily, that a radio show is not just a radio show. It is a place that farmers can call into to have their questions answered. It is a community discussion tool — groups who listen together talk about what from the programs they liked and disliked after it is over. It means that broadcasters can make sure the shows they put so much effort into producing are meaningful and relevant to their listeners — all through a phone poll.

For Benito Ndatsumba, in Gondola, Mozambique, it meant that his questions about his pigeon pea farm would get immediate answers from experts on the crops.

Subtitles available in French and English by clicking CC and choosing your language in the settings. 

“It helped a lot because from my phone I just call, and I can get an answer. I learned a lot of things, such as how to plant pigeon pea.”

Benito is one of nearly a million who interacted with the radio programs across the seven countries — one of 84,000 in Mozambique.

Radio gets results — no matter the challenge

It bears repeating that 2021 was no normal year. Not only did this project happen in the context of a global pandemic, but our colleagues in Ethiopia worked through a burgeoning civil war, managing to make an impact despite the background of conflict.

92 per cent of the Ethiopians we surveyed said they had learned more about health and COVID-19 safety thanks to the project. The same percentage of Malians we surveyed told us that they knew better how to market their produce and calculate their profit margins thanks to the project. 88 per cent of Ethiopian farmers told us they had taken at least one new action towards gender equality.

And we saw similar impressive results elsewhere — which of course vary by the country, community and radio station that was involved. 93 per cent of respondents in Zambia told us their knowledge of good agricultural practices had improved — things like using good seeds, or proper weeding. 83 per cent of Togolese respondents told us they had tried a new way to market their produce.

In five countries (Mozambique, Mali, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, and Malawi) more than 90 per cent of those surveyed had listened to the programs.

The figures shown here stem from data collected through two types of surveys — virtual Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), and in-person household surveys conducted in areas where GIZ was already working on their Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector programs. Some of the calls were to people whose numbers we collected for the programs. While that means we can’t necessarily extrapolate these numbers to the broader population, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the programs.

“Radio is good because even if you have no knowledge, you can learn by yourself.” says Francelina Jose. “My last words are: Let us go ahead with farming, and listen to all the advice we get. There is a benefit ahead.”

It’s a testament to the fact that radio goes far. It’s a tool that serves to reach the underserved when there are few other options. And in the end, it works.

About the Project

The RECOVER (RELANCE in French) project is a 15-month, €2.9 million ($4.3 million CAD) project in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Togo and Zambia designed to encourage and improve agriculture and economic recovery, safely, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic — especially as countries and economies begin to re-open. It is funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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