Listening Post: Including farmers’ voices in development

This audio clip is one example of the many responses The Hangar received from farmers to a question in a Listening Post program evaluating a bean project aired in June. The question was: “What is your biggest constraint when it comes to growing beans?” As seen, FRI’s specially-designed program captures farmers’ votes and displays it for broadcasters and NGO partners.

Hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa, working to support farmers and rural communities to increase their food security and incomes But they often miss out on how farmers and rural communities can contribute to this work.

These NGOs are interested in feedback from the farmers they serve, but generally wait until a project is finished to collect data. This leaves little opportunity for farmers’ voices to be included in the process.

Farm Radio International’s radio and ICT innovation lab, The Hangar, is trying to change that dynamic, taking advantage of our innovative beep2vote system.

The Hangar’s new radio design initiative, called the Listening Post, connects decision-makers at NGOs with real-time information from the field, allowing them to evaluate and make ongoing changes to a project before it has concluded.

This is done through an interactive program running for six-weeks, called Paza Sauti (Raise your voice). The half hour radio show poses questions to farmers, who answer through beep2vote. This polling system allows listeners to leave a missed call ‘beep’ (free of charge) at a particular number indicating their response to the yes-or-no question.

After leaving a beep, an interactive voice response system calls the farmer, giving them the opportunity to leave a message answering a more detailed follow up question or leave a voice message (as heard in the above audio clip) — all at no cost to the farmers.

The Paza Sauti program also includes important information, such as weather forecasts, the latest market prices and guest experts to discuss the results of the previous week’s questions.

While all of Farm Radio’s programs incorporate two-way communication with farmers, the Listening Post design is the first to focus on collecting feedback for Farm Radio’s partners and other NGOs. The project grew out of The Hangar’s successful Paza Sauti pol – a nation-wide farmer poll, to which 9,000 Tanzanian farmers responded in 2014.

So far, the Listening Post has been used in three projects, the most recent of which finished in August. The program was used as an evaluation tool for the PICS (Purdue Improved Crop Storage) bag project, created by Purdue University with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the PICS project is to make special three-layered storage bags available to farmers at a low cost to help reduce the loss of cowpea grain to insect infestation.

Thousands of farmers responded to the weekly on-air questions, and their answers were collected into The Hangar’s specially-designed online software.

The first week’s question asked listeners how they store their harvest. A voice message from a listener named Jumanne Hassani, a farmer in the Morogoro region, sheds some light on one of the biggest challenges farmers face.

He says, “I store my harvest in a sack for about five to six months. Usually I find some part of my stored crop gets attacked by insects and some part is not attacked, but generally a lot of the crop is eaten by insects in the sacks. When I want to sell my harvest, I usually sell for a lower price because the quality is lost.”

This kind of information gives broadcasters a sense of the knowledge-level of listeners and helps the station better address their challenges and concerns throughout the program. It also helps project managers at PICS, who can use these responses to understand how farmers in a given area are using their bags and how they might improve their operations.

By sharing Farm Radio’s innovative radio and ICT technology with policy-makers and project managers working in Tanzania, the Listening Post is ensuring farmers have a voice in their own development.

Kayla Wemp
About the author  
Kayla Wemp is is a recent graduate of Carleton University’s Bachelor of Journalism program. She is spending her summer interning with Farm Radio International in Tanzania, working on telling stories from their mental health program and various agricultural projects.

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