On Air Dialogues: Listening to — and learning from — rural people

Hear from broadcasters and farmers who participated in On Air Dialogues related to climate change in this video prepared for COP27.

In rural Africa, small-scale farmers are the lifeblood of their communities. They feed their country and community and contribute to local and international economies. Farmers have their finger on the pulse of local agricultural practices and weather patterns.

However, rural Africans are rarely consulted when governments and other organizations develop solutions to improve food systems, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and address other global challenges. It can be difficult to meaningfully consult rural residents, particularly at a low cost, in a short timeframe and at scale. Remote and vulnerable populations face additional barriers to getting their voices heard, including low literacy levels and limited internet access.

Yet farmers and rural people have much to say. By using information and communication technologies like radio and mobile phones, we can amplify the voices of thousands of rural people — including those of marginalized groups like women and youth — to base decisions, policies and programs on what people really need and want.

Hear from Matiwos Feleke, a journalist and producer at Ethiopia’s Fana Broadcasting Corporation, about his station’s experience running On Air Dialogues on climate change, including about listener participation in the programs.

What are On Air Dialogues and how do they work?

On Air Dialogues are Farm Radio International’s answer to the aforementioned challenges.

They’re an innovative type of interactive radio programming, which bring rural voices into national and global conversations about critical issues like food security, nutrition, health and climate change. Using radio and mobile phone-based polling, we gather thousands of small-scale farmers’ and other rural peoples’ perspectives on issues that affect them.

On air, during 45- to 60-minute episodes, broadcasters talk to farmers, subject matter specialists, policy-makers, listeners and other guests — all in the language of local listeners. Off air, we engage listeners to join in the discussion with their own thoughts by calling an announced phone number. The number takes them to a Farm Radio-developed interactive voice response system called Uliza (a Swahili word meaning “to ask”), where they are invited to respond to several key questions.

How On Air Dialogues work

  1. As advertised on the radio program, listeners can use any mobile phone to leave a missed call (or “beep”) on a number advertised on the radio program.
  2. Uliza, Farm Radio’s polling tool, returns the call, free of charge.
  3. Uliza presents the caller with a series of multiple-choice questions. Callers respond by pressing numbers on the keypad.
  4. Uliza presents the caller with an open-ended question. Callers record a voice message in response.
  5. Responses to multiple-choice questions are analyzed and disaggregated to shed light on key themes by country, age and gender. Voice messages are translated, documented and analyzed.
  6. The results are presented in reports and presentations and on an online dashboard.

"During policy shaping, project design and evaluation frameworks, rural people's expertise and experience are routinely overlooked. On Air Dialogues are a fantastic way to make sure that these crucial voices are prioritized and heard on a large scale,” says Farm Radio’s Head of Specialty Services, Adeyinka Onikan.

On Air Dialogues — getting results

The first On Air Dialogue that Farm Radio implemented gathered input from rural Tanzanians for Canada’s International Assistance Review in 2016. We collected and reported the responses from nearly 3,000 rural people in Tanzania and, through this, shared their priorities in terms of food and income security, gender equality, adapting to climate change and youth empowerment. These responses made up just over a quarter of all responses to the International Assistance Review, which contributed to the design of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.

In 2021, we ran a series of On Air Dialogues in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda leading up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit. We heard from nearly 3,500 respondents about how food systems should be changed to meet their needs and the needs of their communities.

Respondents saw a future in farming for their children — if the system changes.

“Farmers should be given a platform to share their views and problems so that together with the agriculture officers their issues will be resolved. Also, use that same platform to train the farmers.”

- Abraham, a farmer in Ghana

Listen to Abraham here:

Listening to rural voices about climate change

In 2022, we hosted a series of On Air Dialogues in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia ahead of the United Nations climate change conference, COP27. We heard from over 14,000 respondents who left over 122,000 responses to poll questions and over 9,000 audio comments about their experiences with climate change.

They told us that climate change is already here, but they are taking measures to adapt.

“I need small scale irrigation technologies that would help get water to crops and fight drought.”

- A woman farmer in Uganda

Listen to her voice here:

Explore the full results of the 2022 On Air Dialogues, view the final report and listen to farmers’ voices on an interactive multimedia platform at dialogues.farmradio.org.

Host your own On Air Dialogues

Are you interested in finding out rural people’s perspectives on a topic to inform future programming? Get in touch at partnerships@farmradio.org to learn more about On Air Dialogues and how they can benefit your organization.


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