Welcome to ‘Farmers’ Voice Radio’ (FVR) on World Radio Day 2023!
Thanks to the innovation of the Lorna Young Foundation, a small charity based in the north of England, Farmers’ Voice Radio is now making massive strides in transforming the lives of millions of farmers and rural communities across Africa and Latin America.
The Need for Radio
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, smallholder coffee farmers were under increasing pressures from a combination of climate change, unsustainable land management practices and global market volatility. Isolation, war and conflict, poor infrastructure, low levels of literacy and gender inequality have meant that many people in these rural communities lack access to the skills, tools and information they need to overcome these challenges and make their farming a success.
Radio continues to be the most trusted, affordable and accessible communications medium across many parts of the world – and nowhere more so than in the rural areas of impoverished nations and those suffering from war and conflict – where radio reaches thousands simultaneously with the same message. Because there is no reliance on the written word, radio is particularly important for farmers who often have low levels of literacy and who cannot access mobile technology or afford to pay for data. And more often than not, women are excluded from finding out more about making the land that they themselves cultivate in order feed their children and to earn a livelihood.
One of the most troubling aspects of our work here at the Lorna Young Foundation, since we were established in 2003, has been seeing the impact that climate change and war and conflict has had on farmers: whether farming coffee, tea, rice, shea nuts or cacao, farmers have told us of enormous changes and threats to their crops over the last couple of decades – so we have reacted to this by creating a Farmers’ Voice Radio – an approach that can embrace ways of dealing with many threats to crop yields, including deforestation, flooding, drought, disease, pestilence and the devastation brought by war and conflicts.
What Farmers Voice Radio Does
FVR works in partnership with farmers themselves – whatever sort of crop they cultivate. The farmers tell us their information and training needs and we support their community radio stations to design a programme around this, in local language. The programmes are then broadcast – reaching sometimes to up to 1 million farmers scattered across rural areas.
Farmers who have access to a phone and to texting are invited to text in their questions to be answered by agricultural experts in future programmes and other information needs – such as preventing COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, advice for women, news in relation to war and conflicts etc. can also be added onto the programme content.
The very first set of our radio broadcasts took place in Kenya and the stakeholders involved decided to call the programme ‘Farmers Gold’. A broad audience of 4.5 million was achieved, resulting in 705 more farmers joining a local co-operative (50% of them women) and 70,000 new disease-resistance coffee trees being planted during the first few weeks of broadcasting, leading to much higher and more successful yields.
To date, Farmers’ Voice Radio has been implemented in dozens of agricultural communities across 9 African countries and in Latin America. We have received partnership support from many wonderful commercial partners, such as the Body Shop International, Dark Woods Coffee and the Rainforest Alliance, all of whom rely on securing high quality products from producers – and who are truly committed to paying the farmers a fair price for their produce.
Our FVR Academy
We have now developed a ‘Farmers’ Voice Radio Academy’ – putting the power of participatory radio into the hands of thousands more smallholder farmers’ by providing training and coaching to the organisations and individuals working with them. This involves a free online learning network that includes group training sessions for farmers and their local partners – with individual coaching from us, a resource hub with downloadable guides and tools, a community of practice for peer support and an opportunity for participants to apply for a small start-up grant.
Between March and June 2022, 16 individuals representing 13 organisations from seven countries (Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana and India) participated in our inaugural Farmers’ Voice Radio Academy. All participants were staff or volunteers of radio stations, NGOs, community-based organisations or farmer associations, and many of course, were also farmers themselves, with a deep personal understanding of the challenges facing the rural communities they work with.
Future of Farmers’ Voice Radio Academy
The Farmers’ Voice Radio Academy approach has not only been transforming the lives of the farmers themselves, but has deeply impressed the companies who process and sell these commodities. Dark Woods Coffee supported the Lorna Young Foundation to trial our first ever FVR project outside of Africa, when we worked with vulnerable coffee growing communities in the north of Panama.
Over the next year, the Lorna Young Foundation aims to continue to support the lives of vulnerable smallholder farmers. Through the Farmers’ Voice Radio Academy, the charity plans to train 20 more radio stations and farmer organisations, reaching another three million smallholders with its radio programmes and we’re currently preparing to work in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance with farmers in rural South Africa.
Help us to Help Struggling Farming Families
The Lorna Young Foundation, however, is a small charity and very much relies on the generosity of a few grant makers and donors. We need financial support if we are going to be able to continue to offer this opportunity for free.
Donations can be made via the QR code below, or via https://www.farmersvoiceradio.org/support-us
“As a journalist … [I feel] the need to have the programme run at our radio station to foster change in the way our community does its farming activities. Better practices will in turn lead to better yields and market access...”
Fatma Mzee, Operations Director of Vox Radio and Farmers’ Voice Radio Academy graduate and start-up grant recipient.