Farmers in Africa want to do the best they can for their families. We know that. But they need practical information they can trust before they make changes. Like farmers everywhere they see change as a risky business. But we also know that when radio is interactive, involving farmers themselves, change is much more likely to happen.
One of the easiest ways to find out what farmers know or think is to conduct what we call a “beep-to-vote” poll. The program presenter gives out two phone numbers, one for option A and the other for option B. Listeners call the number corresponding to their chosen option. The trick is the calls are not answered and just show up as missed calls. Counting the number of missed calls on each of the two phones is how the votes are tallied. Best of all, missed calls are free. It is a clever technique and has been used for years by resourceful African broadcasters.
Farm Radio International has, working with several different software developers, added a twist… the ability to tally the voting as it happens and to send automated thank you texts to each listener-voter. In addition the software makes sure each listener only votes once. All a radio station needs is access to the internet to set up the poll (in Nkhotakota it was a nearby internet cafe) and a tablet computer for each phone line.
In this, the first test ever use of the system by an African radio station, more than 120 callers registered their preferences via the beep to vote technique in the 20 minutes the lines were open. That is not bad considering each of the two phone numbers was eight digits long and had never been used by the station before.