As face-to-face interactions stall across much of the world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has presented extra challenges for those working to support underserved communities in rural Africa. In Ethiopia, the situation is no different.
For Farm Radio International and MEDA, however, it has merely meant an adjustment in their ongoing work to support rice and vegetable producers.
In times of crisis, radio and other low tech, easily accessible technologies, have proven to be key in reaching remote and rural people with essential information. Radio is also critical during recovery, ensuring these same communities have the knowledge to produce food for themselves and their families.
MEDA’s EMERTA (Ethiopians Motivating Enterprises to Rise in Trade and Agri-business) project in Ethiopia is working with Farm Radio International (FRI) and a local Ethiopian radio station, the Amhara Mass Media Agency, to reach 200,000 individual farmers with farm-based knowledge. Now in its third year, the project aims to produce a total of 108 hours of original interactive radio programming, supporting both women and men with the goal of improving backyard vegetable production, rice production and the capacity of farmers to work together to improve their marketing, while also tackling topics like gender and the environment.
The partnership allows each organization to concentrate on their specialty. While MEDA provides financial support, subject-matter experts, networks to the Ministry of Agriculture, and a rural, farming client base in the Amhara region, Farm Radio provides expertise in delivering radio programing that can reach hundreds of thousands of farmers. While COVID-19 has certainly meant that plans have changed — trainings can’t be conducted in person, farmers organizations can’t meet to discuss the programs together, and experts and broadcasters themselves must take extra precautions to continue their work — the project’s goals haven’t changed, except to ensure farming communities themselves stay safe as well.
Farm Radio and MEDA are ramping up their efforts to support broadcasters to meet the changing current needs of the farmer groups we seek to serve.
Life for farmers and rural communities continues, despite the threat of COVID-19. Working with the Amhara Mass Media Agency, Farm Radio is strengthening their training-at-a-distance learning systems, ensuring they can continue the partnership with MEDA to support broadcasters at the Agency remotely to create high quality programs on rice and vegetable production and marketing, while also facilitating conversations on gender and the environment, for their listeners. The design for the newest season of the program — a follow up to last year’s rice programming — is being done remotely, with the goal of starting the next series of radio broadcasts in June 2020.
This new season’s broadcasts incorporate consistent and verified health messages from the Ministry of Health and respective regional health bureaus. A call-in system is provided for listeners. Together with the information on the rice value chain, provided in part through MEDA and linkages to MEDA’s partners, the programs will continue to support farmers as they endeavor to farm during the pandemic and focus on recovery from COVID-19.
Most importantly, the Farm Radio-MEDA partnership is ensuring that farmers themselves, both women and men, continue to have their voices heard through the programming. Farmers say over and over again that it’s the voices of other farmers, who pose questions, talk about their success, and explain how their lives have changed, that more than anything else, encourages them to take up new practices and try new things. Thus, radio programs have segments during which farmers can call to share experiences and knowledge based on the topic at hand.
Further, as broadcasters can’t travel to the field to meet with farmers for face-to-face , Farm Radio is capitalizing on its Uliza Suite — a suite of services that combine radio, mobile phones and interactive voice response (IVR) systems to enable listeners to extensively communicate and exchange information with their radio station quickly, easily and free of charge. Through a hotline voice response system, farmers can call in to leave comments, questions and concerns, and access information from the radio program included in the system, all through voice. Phone-in and phone-out segments of radio programs, whether to technical experts, or farmers themselves, will keep the programs engaging and interactive, without the need to have guests in studio.
Such is the magic of radio. When times are tough — as they are for many across the world — radio still provides a way of addressing concerns, providing much needed entertainment, and sharing knowledge on how we can adapt, stay safe, and improve our communities.
As the world pivots, adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, MEDA and Farm Radio are pivoting and are optimistic about the work in radio they are doing. Thanks to the partnership, not only can they continue the work they set off to do together, but also they have added to it, nimbly incorporating extra elements to ensure rural farmers can both meet their farming goals and adapt to new conditions created by the pandemic.