Farmers in Msisi practice ‘beeping’ and recording messages for broadcasters.
A group of 20 farmers have gathered in Msisi, a village near Singida in central Tanzania. Cellphone in hand, they leave missed calls to the same phone number. Seconds later, the room is filled with the sound of ringtones. The farmers answer, listen to an automated message, record a quick soundbite of their own and hang up.
These farmers are trying out one of Farm Radio International’s innovative ‘beep’ services. After leaving a ‘beep,’ or missed call, on a designated phone number, an interactive voice response (IVR) system calls the farmer. These farmers are then able to record voice messages, access a variety of information and even vote on weekly polls — all at no cost. Broadcasters generally maintain these systems, updating weather information, agricultural tips or the weekly poll question.
In one project, broadcasters are using ‘beep’ technology to capture the opinions, stories and experiences of women farmers. Her Voice on Air, our project in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi, is ensuring women are part of the conversation about agriculture and development taking place in their communities. Partner broadcasters have received training to ensure a gender component on their shows, and are using ‘beep’ technology to ensure women’s voices are included in their broadcasts.
Women from community listening groups have received training on how to use a cellphone, how to leave a missed call ‘beep’ and how to participate in their local radio program. Because of overwhelming interest from women’s groups, only a select number of groups can participate in each week’s show.
The others anxiously await their opportunity.
From Oromiya, Ethiopia, one woman farmer shared:
“I am Aster from Awash Hune. You raised a question on the program asking if using chemicals is preferable to using hands to remove pest from your crops. We prefer chemicals because it is easier and also profitable. We won’t lose our crops when we use chemicals.”
In Arusha, Radio Maria asked its listeners about preparing food for the family. One female farmer shared:
“My name is Aisha Omar from Mnung’una Village Umoja group. When I prepare sorghum porridge, my husband helps me to buy sugar and groundnuts (peanuts). But when it comes to preparation of sorghum for making flour, I always do that by myself, then take it to the milling plant. After, that it is cooking time.”
Too often, radio is used as a one-way communication tool from broadcaster to listener. Radio combined with other information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as cellphones, can connect farmers in rural areas to radio stations, giving small-scale farmers the opportunity to be heard on the air, ask questions and provide valuable feedback.
Happiness Mlewa, a broadcaster with Radio Maria in Tanzania, says ‘beeping’ services help the station understand what farmers need to hear. On a previous program about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, a female farmer recorded a message saying she wanted to try planting the potatoes, but didn’t know where they could grow.
“From that, I understood that they didn’t know the kind of soil that was suitable and I explained it on the program,” said Happiness. “And after some time, some of those farmers gave us feedback again, saying, ‘We have started planting.’ And the same one even said that she had harvested. She said it worked because we helped her. Now we’ve really adopted [‘beeping’].”