Watch: Communication is key in creating equitable food systems

“There is no equitable food system without the voices of farmers.” 

It was on that note that the Farm Radio International-led Independent Food Systems Dialogue started, and it was that point that was driven home throughout the event on June 2. 

The webinar, entitled Who’s missing at dinner: Bringing farmers into the conversation on food systems through inclusive communication platforms, was set up as an independent dialogue under the UN Food Systems Summit. It sought to spark conversation around the role of farmers in the food system, and how communication efforts, systems and platforms can serve those farmers to ensure food systems are inclusive, equitable.

Watch Who’s missing at dinner above.

Hélène Papper: Investing in rural people is investing in communications

Hélène Papper, the director of global communications and advocacy at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was the first speaker of the event, and discussed the importance of creating people-based solutions within food systems. 

The communication thought-leader spoke from a long history of using communication tools and dialogue as ways to build understanding across political divisions. She also spoke to the tendency of organizations to include communication as an afterthought in their interventions. 

“Global organizations don’t need to look at communications as the last thing, rather it is a strategic opening for possibilities,” she said. 

When it comes to food systems, small-holder farmers are often excluded in the decision-making process—despite being the origin of much of our food. At the same time, they are themselves experts. 

“The knowledge that rural populations have—they have a tremendous capacity of resilience and knowledge that needs to be shared, that can be shared with other communities that can come up with sustainable and regenerative solutions,” she said.

Farmers are key to the futures of food systems. “They are the keepers of biodiversity, they hold the knowledge base of how to best cultivate and harvest non-traditional crops, they are the masters of conservation of their land,” as Hélène put it. 

And yet, “the irony is that despite everything they do for the planet, small farmers are for the most part invisible,” she said.

It’s an important point, and one the rest of the panelists went on to tackle in their sections.

Lily Akorfa Keledorme: Bridging the information disconnect for farmers “by listening to them”

Lily Akorfa Keledorme joined us from Ghana, where she works as the head of farmer and partner engagement at Farmerline, a Ghanaian-based company that uses technological solutions to improve farming, and by extension the lives of farmers. 

“In our work we realized there is so much relevant information, useful information that should benefit farmers, but there is a big disconnect. Farmers do not have access to this information,” she said. 

One of the ways we can fill this gap, suggested Lily, is by building solutions that fit the needs of farmers in the first place, in short “by listening to them.” 

“Farmers are the experts of their challenges, so let’s involve them,” she said. Communication, of course, is one of the ways to do that. 

Patricia Gichinga: We try to build a solution, and the solution is education

Our third panelist was Patricia Gichinga, head of productions at The Mediae Company. The Mediae Company produces the TV program Shamba Shape Up, a popular reality-style farming show that reaches an audience of 8 million people across Kenya. 

Patricia talked about the importance of communications being both entertaining and relevant for farmers. 

“Our model is ‘edutainment,’ what we seek to do is entertain as well as educate people, in this process and that way we are able to build big audiences,” she said. 

She also spoke to the many different interactive touch points the company uses to support viewers of the TV show— whether online, through call centres, Whatsapp groups or other platforms. 

“We try to build a solution, and the solution is education.” 

Sylvie Harrison: Trust is key for inclusive communications

Sylvie Harrison, the manager of radio craft at Farm Radio International, wrapped up the discussion on inclusive communication platforms. Farm Radio International uses interactive radio, in combination with other ICT tools, to get information into the hands of farmers.

While explaining how Farm Radio works to include farmers using communications from the beginning to the end of our programs, she also spoke about the need for real dialogue in food systems. 

“It is beyond disseminating information, but having a dialogue that makes communication inclusive.” 

Sylvie challenged the notion of simply bringing farmers to the dinner table, asking participants to examine who has power to choose who to invite to the table in the first place.

“Let’s flip the script,” she said. “Let us be invited to the farmers’ table.” 

Inclusive communications as part of the food system

The session was a jumping off point for Farm Radio International’s “On Air Dialogues,” a large-scale consultation with farmers in three African countries held over the radio and through polls to garner their opinions ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit. The On Air Dialogues are being held thanks to a partnership with IFAD, World Vision and the Canadian Food Security Policy Group.

The dialogues centre on eliciting the opinions, ideas and thoughts of farmers in a large-scale discussion about what intimately involves them—our food systems. 

While the webinar polled the audience on questions like how organizations involve farmers in their projects (72 per cent conduct baseline research with farmers, compared to 44 per cent that involve them in project design) or the biggest barrier to communicating with rural farmers (limited resources), the on air dialogues will poll farmers more directly about their beliefs and needs when it comes to food systems—an essential step in creating equitable, sustainable food systems

As Traoré Adha Malado Diakité, a Malian farmer we featured during the webinar, put it:

“We must exchange before any action in order to decide our actions. This is how we will be satisfied with the collaboration.” 

To learn more about the solutions Farm Radio International, Farmerline and The Mediae Company presented, please watch our webinar. If you have any questions, or want to get in touch, please email [email protected]

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