On Air Dialogues: Listening to — and learning from — rural people

On Air Dialogues: Listening to — and learning from — rural people

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In rural Africa, small-scale farmers are the lifeblood of their communities. They feed their country and community and contribute to local and international economies. Farmers have their finger on the pulse of local agricultural practices and weather patterns.

However, rural Africans are rarely consulted when governments and other organizations develop solutions to improve food systems, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and address other global challenges. It can be difficult to meaningfully consult rural residents, particularly at a low cost, in a short timeframe and at scale. Remote and vulnerable populations face additional barriers to getting their voices heard, including low literacy levels and limited internet access.

Yet farmers and rural people have much to say. By using information and communication technologies like radio and mobile phones, we can amplify the voices of thousands of rural people — including those of marginalized groups like women and youth — to base decisions, policies and programs on what people really need and want.

What are On Air Dialogues and how do they work?
On Air Dialogues are Farm Radio International’s answer to the aforementioned challenges.

They’re an innovative type of interactive radio programming, which bring rural voices into national and global conversations about critical issues like food security, nutrition, health and climate change. Using radio and mobile phone-based polling, we gather thousands of small-scale farmers’ and other rural peoples’ perspectives on issues that affect them.

On air, during 45- to 60-minute episodes, broadcasters talk to farmers, subject matter specialists, policy-makers, listeners and other guests — all in the language of local listeners. Off air, we engage listeners to join in the discussion with their own thoughts by calling an announced phone number. The number takes them to a Farm Radio-developed interactive voice response system called Uliza (a Swahili word meaning “to ask”), where they are invited to respond to several key questions.

Learn more about how On Air Dialogues work: https://farmradio.org/on-air-dialogues/

On Air Dialogues — getting results
The first On Air Dialogue that Farm Radio implemented gathered input from rural Tanzanians for Canada’s International Assistance Review in 2016. We collected and reported the responses from nearly 3,000 rural people in Tanzania and, through this, shared their priorities in terms of food and income security, gender equality, adapting to climate change and youth empowerment. These responses made up just over a quarter of all responses to the International Assistance Review, which contributed to the design of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.

In 2021, we ran a series of On Air Dialogues in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda leading up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit. We heard from nearly 3,500 respondents about how food systems should be changed to meet their needs and the needs of their communities.

Respondents saw a future in farming for their children — if the system changes.

“Farmers should be given a platform to share their views and problems so that together with the agriculture officers their issues will be resolved. Also, use that same platform to train the farmers.”
– Abraham, a farmer in Ghana

Hear from more farmers: https://farmradio.org/on-air-dialogues/

Listening to rural voices about climate change
In 2022, we hosted a series of On Air Dialogues in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia ahead of the United Nations climate change conference, COP27. We heard from over 14,000 respondents who left over 122,000 responses to poll questions and over 9,000 audio comments about their experiences with climate change.

They told us that climate change is already here, but they are taking measures to adapt.

See more results: https://farmradio.org/on-air-dialogues/

Host your own On Air Dialogues
Are you interested in finding out rural people’s perspectives on a topic to inform future programming? Get in touch at [email protected] to learn more about On Air Dialogues and how they can benefit your organization.

Farm Radio International (FRI) is a Canadian non-profit organization specializing in ICT-enabled extension and communication for reaching rural and remote communities at scale in local languages in sub-Saharan Africa. FRI’s core expertise is collaborative, user-focused co-creation of quality information and advisory services, combining radio and mobile phones, other ICTs and face-to-face interaction.