FARMERS' VOICE RADIO FOR FOREST EDGE COMMUNITIES OF GOLA RAINFOREST
Gola Rainforest Conservation LG and Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers Union
UK Aid’s SCCF and the Souter Charitable Trust
02/2020 to 07/2021
Cocoa farming communities living around the Gola Rainforest National Park
'Goolla Ndiamo Yie' or 'Forest Friendship' on Star Line Radio 98.4FM
Since 2015, LYF’s local partner, Gola Rainforest Conservation (GRC), has been supporting farmers living in Gola forest-edge communities (FECs) to come together in three democratically organised farmers’ associations, united under the umbrella of Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers Union (NGOCFU) – meaning ‘we who live in the forest’. With support from GRC LG and a range of local and international partners including the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Twin and Twin Trading, Jula Consultancy Ltd. and Divine Chocolate, these farmer associations are working to conserve the Gola Rainforest—a global biodiversity hotspot and home to many threatened species such as the pygmy hippo—and to strengthen their cocoa production, post-harvest processing and business and marketing practices.
NGOCFU currently has 1,766 members across the three farmers associations and has the potential to significantly improve the livelihoods of these and many more cocoa farmers in the region. However, challenges relating to cocoa volumes and member engagement mean that the union is not yet able to operate unsupported. Outreach to potential new members in other chiefdoms is also limited by infrastructure challenges. Radio is the most common and trusted medium of communication in Sierra Leone: 87% of adults have access to radio and 42% tune in at least once a day (BBC Media Action 2014). Radio is therefore a highly appropriate means of expanding the reach and impact of NGOCFU and improving the engagement of isolated farmers.
This Farmers’ Voice Project aims to improve access to information and knowledge on forest-friendly cocoa production and marketing for existing and potential NGOCFU member farmers living in Gola FECs and to strengthen communication flows between association members and leaders. A listener group made up of 12 Gola cocoa farmers sits at heart of the project. The group meets monthly in the community setting with GRC LG Cocoa Field Officers, NGOCFU leaders and a media team consisting of GRC’s Communications Officer and two local radio presenters. The team facilitates and records discussions amongst listener group members focused on a range of topics including conservation farming, land tenure systems, collective working and market access. Other stakeholders such as government officials, traders and international buyers are also invited to add their perspectives and knowledge to complement those of the farmers. The final edited 15-minute programmes are broadcast twice weekly on local station, Starline Radio, in the Mende language.
In a new addition to the Farmers’ Voice Radio methodology, solar/wind-up Lifeplayer MP3 radios—powerful recordable group listener radios designed in Africa by social enterprise Lifeline Energy—have been distributed to NGOCFU Master Farmers in 32 FECs in order to improve the radio programmes’ engagement with farmers in remote communities. Master Farmers hold communal listening sessions with up to 100 farmers, gathering their comments and questions on the programme content and transmitting it back to the media team so that it can be addressed in future episodes.
The project kicked off formally in May 2020 in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and a number of adjustments both to the timeline and the methodology have been required to ensure that this vital information and knowledge can continue to be delivered to now even-more-isolated communities in a safe and responsible manner (see our blog about the project launch workshop). Learning from this process will be documented on the Farmers’ Voice Radio resource pages as the project progresses.
Update December 2020: read the latest from our Sierra Leone project in this article by the Yorkshire Post.
Picture: Chairperson, Nialaforaa Forest-Edge Community. Photo credit: Twin