Senegalese farmer turns to radio during COVID shutdown

On Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. Fatoumata Camara, 43, listens to her favourite radio program on Radio Bamtaare Dowri FM. It’s a program on agriculture supported by Farm Radio International. 

Fatoumata used to listen with a group of her peers in Thiankang where she lives in southern Senegal. Much has changed since March, however, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country.

At the time, the government took immediate action. The country has since been lauded for its effective action against the disease. Foreign Policy magazine ranked the response second best among a study of how 36 wealthy, middle income and developing countries have handled the pandemic.

But it also meant strict restrictions. Government immediately imposed a curfew on the country, and travel was restricted between regions. 

For Fatoumata, that meant trouble. The closure of markets corresponded with the end of the dry season. It’s a time period when stores are often low, meaning subsistence farmers are more reliant on store-bought food. 

“We were living on leftover mush,” says Fatoumata, who is married with four children. “My small business was paralized. We have really suffered.” 

It also left Fatoumata in a more vulnerable position for the upcoming growing season, as she needed to travel to buy seeds and fertilizer. 

When the pandemic started, Farm Radio International was working with three radio stations, including Radio Bamtaare Dowri FM, in the Kolda Region of Senegal to broadcast programs on climate-smart agriculture. When the disease arrived in Senegal — and indeed as it arrived elsewhere in Africa — we knew we had to take action. 

Our radio craft team got to work, redesigning our program plan for the Digital Advisory Services for Climate Smart Agriculture, or DAS4CSA, project funded by Enabel, the Belgian Development Agency through their WeHubit programme. Alongside emissions on agriculture and climate information, which would help farmers continue to get good yields, now more critical than ever, from their fields, we redesigned the programs to dedicate ten minutes at the start of the show to discuss the latest COVID-19 information. 

From messaging on hand washing and physical distancing, to reports on the daily COVID situation, the programs kept rural and remote communities up to date on the latest information they needed to know. 

“Thanks to radio, I was well informed of the daily situation and the evolution of the pandemic. Additionally, it gave us measures to adopt in order to prevent this sickness,” says Fatoumata. 

“Without radio, I would be really paralyzed, very worried, and possibly exposed to the disease.”

Health officers don’t often come to Thiankang, she adds, making radio even more essential.

As the pandemic extends, Farm Radio continues to work with our partners to broadcast information about COVID-19, but also to make sure farmers like Thiankang have information about how to secure good harvests to secure their future—pandemic or not. 

The Digital Advisory Services for Climate Smart Agriculture, or DAS4CSA, project is funded by Belgium through the Wehubit programme implemented by Enabel. It aims to provide interactive, gender-responsive digital extension services to 225,000 men and women farmers in the Kolda Region of Senegal on climate-smart farming practices.

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