On Air Dialogues: Amplifying rural voices

On Air Dialogues: Amplifying rural voices

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The 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit aimed to identify solutions that improve livelihoods and food security. Small-scale farmers and rural people should play an essential role in this process. They are the backbone of the global food system, experts in their fields, and experienced in finding creative solutions.

That’s why, over the course of three weeks in June 2021, and in partnership with six radio stations in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, Farm Radio International asked small-scale farmers, vendors, processors, marketers, and others how the food system should be changed to meet their needs and the needs of their communities. Nearly 3,500 people responded to the call, as people shared their concerns and solutions for creating a healthier, more sustainable, productive, and equitable food system.

Farm Radio International’s goal was to bring farmers’ voices into the global conversation about food systems. Many of these voices represent rural, remote, and vulnerable populations—people who might not otherwise be reached by the Summit, and whose voices would therefore go unheard.

These On Air Dialogues were conducted in collaboration and with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Vision Canada & Global Affairs Canada through the ENRICH program, and the Canadian Food Security Policy Group.

3,494 respondents; 11,854 answered questions; 2,648 audio comments

Radio can reach the most remote, rural, and vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa, including places where literacy is low and the internet is either too expensive to access or unreliable. By using the combined power of radio and mobile phones, the voices of small-scale farmers and rural people can make critical contributions to discussions and debates about food systems. To create the On Air Dialogues, Farm Radio International worked with six stations in the four countries to create 18 original episodes of radio programming, complete with mobile phone-based listener polling.

On air, broadcasters invited local experts, farmers, and guests to speak their mind and share their knowledge. Off air, we asked listeners to join in the discussion with their own thoughts. We wanted to know: Which issues impact farmers most? How do barriers and opportunities play out differently for women and men farmers? What is the future of food systems? And what needs to happen to make life better for farming families?

If we want to transform the food system to meet the needs of farmers, processors, marketers, and others, all kinds of voices must be heard—especially those who are underrepresented in agricultural decision-making, such as women. For this reason, the On Air Dialogues took steps to encourage and promote the participation of women, as well as youth, to ensure they too had a say.


Most participants saw a future in farming for their children. Only one in nine thought that today’s youth should choose another occupation. At the same time, they note that the path forward will be complicated, with over one-third saying that changes need to be made so that the next generation of farmers is successful.

“If I had more power to change things, I would work with agricultural extension officers to educate farmers on good agricultural practices and also support them with loans and equipment to aid them in their farming activities.”

Unknown, Ghana. Female, under 30.

Climate change is increasingly affecting small-scale farmers. Still, communities told us they had hope and plans for the future. When we asked, over 90% of people felt there was something they could do in their community to cope with climate change. Most people said that protecting the natural environment would help them to best cope with climate change.

It should come as no surprise that small-scale farmers and other rural people are concerned about the safety and quality of the food they grow and eat. Almost 75% of respondents said they worry about this either because of illness caused by poor hygiene, or nutritionally inadequate diets. Many also registered concerns about the effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on the safety of food. Some emphasized the benefits of agroecological approaches to farming, and of the benefits of basing food production around local farming systems rather than food imports. Many spoke of the need for better access to farming inputs.

“People should stop heavy use of chemical pesticides, especially on fruits and vegetables, and engage in organic farming for safe and healthy food.”

Ali, Uganda.

Why should we listen to small-scale farmers?

Small-scale farmers are the backbone of the global food system. From farm to table, these individuals feed their countries and communities, contribute to local and international economies, and preserve the local environment. From fishermen and pastoralists to marketers and processors, small-scale farmers and other rural people are central to the food system and dependent upon it. Each has the knowledge and experience to transform the food system in positive ways—if they have a seat at the table!

Small-scale farmers’ experiences are diverse and varied. To transform the food system to meet the needs of farmers, processors, marketers, and others, all kinds of voices must be heard—especially those underrepresented, like women and youth. By engaging people throughout the food system, policy changes can be driven by local experiences and solutions.

Small-scale farmers need to speak for themselves.  Inclusive and accessible communication platforms that enable farmers to express themselves are much needed but too often missing. When farmers’ voices and perspectives are amplified, decisions, policies, and programs can be based on what people really need and want. Learning from farmers’ vast knowledge and experience can bring the world one step closer to food systems which support healthy diets, and are equitable, sustainable, and productive for all.

Farmers and rural people have a lot to say. As nations, organizations, and individuals, we all must commit to listening and taking action together.

To read the full report of the results from the On Air Dialogues, click here.

To read the abbreviated report of the results from the On Air Dialogues, click here.