Notes from the field: Reflections on International Development Week

Just a little over eight months ago, I got on an airplane for the first time holding my very first passport, headed off on the adventure of my life. I was moving to northern Ghana, Tamale to be precise, to work on the CHANGE (Climate Change Adaptation in Northern Ghana Enhanced) project with an organization that I had been avidly following for several years, Farm Radio International. This project was going to combine my background in education and my professional radio experience and fulfill a life-long dream at the same time.

The objective of the CHANGE project is for Farm Radio International, in collaboration with Canadian Feed the Children, to work closely with four radio stations in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana to develop high-quality radio programs that provide farmers with information and knowledge related to climate change and climate-smart agricultural technologies.

Radio programming for farmers is not a new phenomenon in Africa, but traditionally programs consist of a radio host and a farming expert sitting in the studio and telling farmers what they should change to make their farms more productive.

Our objective is to include both women and men farmers in the conversation so that it is not just one-way, top-down communication. My role is to introduce the radio teams to new formats, including the use of ICTs, to make their programs more dynamic and, of course, more inclusive. Through workshops and practical exercises I work with the broadcasters to help them feel more comfortable with these techniques and encourage them to see them as an integral part of their planning as well as a respectful way to interact with farmers. The idea is to present all the information from the experts’ perspective as well as farmers’ success stories so that farmers can make informed choices about what is best for their farm and their family.

The radio teams work hard at gathering good interviews by going directly to the farms. They integrate vox pops into their programs along with short dramas that help capture the interest of their listeners. (In the broadcasting world, a vox pop means an interview with members of the general public. It comes from the Latin phrase, vox populi, which means the voice of the people.)

The programs are informative, inclusive, balanced and entertaining. With the quick spread of mobile phones all over the continent, we also include phone-in portions to the programs so that farmers can call in to ask questions and share adaptive techniques that they use to reduce risks related to climate change. This is also a great way for the broadcasters to get feedback on their programs.

My observation has been that this type of educational programming not only increases knowledge about climate change and how to adapt to it, but also makes the the farmer feel validated and builds the confidence of the radio broadcasters, who bring the training that I have provided into all areas of their work at the stations. The broadcasters feel a sense of ownership and a pride in a job well done and a program that makes their community healthier, more resilient and more productive.

All in all, this experience has built the capacity of the radio broadcasters who I have worked with, it has enabled farmers to share and be more informed on adaptive techniques to the very real and very concrete effects of climate change and it has, without a doubt, opened my eyes to a world that I knew existed but never thought that I would see and hear and smell and feel so profoundly.

To learn more about the project featured in this audio postcard, which is made possible through the generous support of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and Canadian Feed the Children,  please see the project page

About the author
Sylvie Harrison is a volunteer radio broadcast specialist for the CHANGE project in Ghana. She is working with four radio stations in the Northern Region to develop high-quality radio programs that provide farmers with information and knowledge related to climate change and climate-smart agricultural technologies. Follow her adventures in Ghana through her blog, It’s Ghana be awesome.

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