Communicating science for impact: radio for reaching farmers with research results
All too often, agricultural research results are published in journals and discussed at conferences, but fail to influence policy or reach farmers or consumers. Farmers need access to information that is relevant to them in a form that is easy to understand and act upon. This requires a carefully planned communication strategy that involves more than just distributing pre-packaged messages. In addition to being technically accurate, honest, appropriate to the season, wide-reaching and cost-effective, communications must be interactive and responsive to farmers’ needs and questions.
Radio programs have been developed as an audience-focused means of sharing and discussing key information on innovations. In this project, Farm Radio International (FRI) aimed to promote large-scale adoption of agricultural innovations and research results from two projects – integrating insects into poultry and fish feed (INSFEED), and producing quick-cooking beans for processing – through the use of interactive radio programs.
Broadening the reach
The project used a range of methods to promote the uptake of new innovations. Through dedicated phone lines or listeners’ groups, women farmers were able to contact the station to say what type of content they needed to hear, allowing programs to be directed toward specific learning goals.
An interactive platform known as Uliza facilitated communication with basic mobile phones, enabling the six participating radio stations and their listeners to interact via SMS and voice messages. Forty community listener groups (CLGs) were formed with 679 members, 62% of whom were women. Solar-powered recordable radios, used in listener groups, helped to ensure women could listen to and engage in programs. All participants were trained to record their voices and send the messages to radio stations using their mobile phones. They were also trained to use radio sets and participate in weekly polls.
Uliza’s ICT tools for mobiles provided near real-time feedback from listeners about their current and shifting knowledge and attitudes as radio programs aired. The project mapped the reach of partner radio stations and identified which target groups of listeners were being reached. It also conducted research to evaluate changes in listeners’ attitudes, knowledge and practice of innovations.
Overall, 50,732 listeners participated in radio interactions from December 2015 to June 2017. The radio stations reached an estimated 9 million listeners throughout the project period. New partnerships were created by linking researchers and radio broadcasters to communities while the research was ongoing. This ensured the relevance, comprehension and use of the research.
After the results from the INSFEED project were communicated, a higher percentage of listeners (38%) than non-listeners (24%) regularly fed insects to their poultry or fish. Of those who fed insects to their poultry or fish, a higher percentage of listeners than non-listeners started doing so during the period when the radio programs were being broadcast.
After family, radio was the second strongest influence on respondents’ decisions to start feeding insects to their livestock and fish, with 26% of listeners choosing it as the major influence. Further, when asked “Would you eat chicken or fish that has been fed on insect-based feeds?” 929 out of 1,154 respondents said yes.
After the results of the quick-cooking beans project were communicated, 20% of surveyed bean farmers in the target regions increased production and use of beans and precooked bean varieties for sale to processors. A feature of the radio programs on how to prepare the harvested beans for sale to processors (e.g. sorting for quality), and how to operate and market goods as a group, enhanced market access through links with processors.
Gender equity and empowerment of women
Farmers’ voices have been a big part of the radio programs, and this has increased women’s confidence in participating. Two hundred and forty women CLG members have been trained in FRI’s Her Voice on Air strategy that engages women’s groups as developers of radio content, encouraging greater participation and making programs more relevant to the needs of women. Reports show that 98% of women and youth respondents valued the programs.
During monitoring visits in November 2016 and March 2017, 313 members (180 women and 133 men) of the targeted fish and poultry farmer groups stated that through the radio programs, men had learned that insect-rearing activities can be carried out by all family members. There were also changes in perceptions of how roles and responsibilities related to agriculture are shared.
Capacity and policy influence
Training was provided for each radio station in editing software, interview strategy, gender awareness and use of FRI’s own software such as Uliza and FRI-Log (a monitoring tool). The six participating stations now have access to knowledge networks, improved radio design systems, and extra equipment and resources, enabling them to continue producing relevant, timely and quality farm radio programs.
In terms of policy influence, standards for the use of insects within animal feeds have been developed and launched in both Kenya and Uganda. In addition, through engaging with national standards bodies (the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Uganda National Bureau of Standards), reference standards were generated to inform policy as well as the development of precooked bean products.
Cultivate Africa’s Future is jointly funded by IDRC, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and the Australian International Food Security Research Centre.