In East Africa, agriculture provides a livelihood to 70% of the population’s smallholder farmers, and constitutes more than a quarter of the region’s GDP.
Conservation agriculture is a farming approach that uses minimal soil disturbance, crop rotations, and cover crops to improve soil health and increase production. The approach holds potential to be a key contributor to sustainable agriculture in East Africa by improving the water retention capacity of soil and reducing erosion in a cost-effective way.
Although initiatives to promote conservation agriculture practices started in the late 1990s, it is still not widely practiced in East Africa. Low adoption of these practices have been associated with lack of proper knowledge, an insufficient enabling policy environment, limited capacity of stakeholders, and low investments in conservation agriculture.
Scale-Up Conservation Agriculture in East Africa is a five-year Global Affairs Canada-funded initiative of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) that aimed to improve household food security and sustainable livelihood of 18,000 smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. As part of this initiative, Farm Radio International implemented the “Radio for Conservation Agriculture (R4CA)” project from October 2016 to December 2019, to improve food security of smallholders in Ethiopia and Tanzania by promoting conservation agriculture through the use of interactive radio.
Over three years, five radio stations produced and broadcast 370 hours of original radio programming related to conservation agriculture, reaching an audience of more than 1.5 million rural people who depend on farming for their livelihoods, yet struggle to produce enough food for their families.
The project focused on the co-development of participatory radio programming with local stakeholders, researchers, farmers, and media professionals. A series of resources and news stories on conservation agriculture were specifically designed for on-air broadcast and were translated into Swahili and Amharic.
A detailed survey assessed the impact of the radio programs on knowledge, attitudes and practices of farmers. The results were encouraging, showing the significant contribution radio made on farmers in these two countries:
- In both Ethiopia and Tanzania, radio was identified as one of the top sources of trusted information on farming.
- It was estimated that nearly 1.2 million farmers in three regions of Ethiopia and 350,000 in Dodoma region of Tanzania listened to the radio program.
- More than three-quarters (77.3%) of the respondents in Ethiopia and 39.2% in Tanzania listened to at least half of the episodes.
- 69.3% of respondents in Ethiopia and 77% in Tanzania used one of the new practices. The use of conservation agriculture was significantly higher for listeners than non-listeners in both countries. For example, the use of the practice of minimum tillage was 65.7% for listeners and 35% for non-listeners in Ethiopia.
This project was specially designed using the following gender-sensitive approaches:
- Women's community listening groups
- Women's participation in topic choices through formative research
- Program repeats at a time convenient for women farmers
We also produced a backgrounder resource with information on specific gendered-aspects of GA including women’s restricted access to or control of land, choice of crops and access to market process. The backgrounder also addressed women’s labour in conservation agriculture and how to involve women in the adoption of these practices.
This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from Canadian Foodgrains Banks (CFGB).
- Duration: 3 years, 2016-2019
- Budget: $883,250 CAD
- Radio stations: 5
- Languages: Swahili, Amharic
What we learned
- The need for a comprehensive and dynamic approach to conservation agriculture programming: In both countries, it was found out that effective adoption and scaling up needs an integration of practices and messaging with other sustainable livelihood approaches and farming systems like village and saving loans schemes, marketing, post harvest management and nutrition. In view of this lesson, the third year of programming tackled conservation agriculture messaging in such a comprehensive manner.
- Increased collaboration among stakeholders towards harmonized messaging: There is need for increased collaboration among stakeholders to ensure that conservation agriculture messaging is consistent especially among different government departments and civil society organizations. One key experience was the close collaboration that CFGB country offices and partners worked hand in hand with government departments in both countries to ensure standardization of content.
- Increased demand for conservation agriculture messaging among small-scale farmers needs a sustainable radio programming strategy: Farm Radio needs to continue to strengthen our sustainable strategies in working with radio stations so that there is continued programming for farmers beyond project.
- Real-time feedback and interaction is key to enhance listenership and impact of programs: Questions and comments gathered via the Uliza system showcased the importance of conservation agriculture for farmers. Farmers were motivated by hearing their questions answered on air in a timely fashion, and by being able to share their experiences on the air.