Picture: Chairperson, Nialaforaa Forest-Edge Community. Photo credit: Twin
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
Project Overview and Results:
The goal of this project was to increase the production of ‘forest-friendly’ cocoa by farmers in remote communities around the edge of the protected Gola Rainforest National Park in eastern Sierra Leone, a global biodiversity hotspot and home to many threatened species such as the pygmy hippo. Members of these communities are highly marginalised with limited economic opportunities, and the production and marketing of quality, forest-friendly cocoa is recognised as an important contributor both to environmental conservation (diverting farmers from damaging income-generating activities, such as logging, hunting and mining) and to household incomes.
To achieve this, 52 episodes of a participatory radio programme, ‘Forest Friendship’, were recorded with two groups comprising 24 members of the Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers’ Union (NGOCFU) and broadcast weekly on Starline FM in the local Mende language. The programmes reached a regular listenership of around 5,400 cocoa farmers across the four target Chiefdoms of Gaura, Malema, Tunkia and Koya and beyond, with a final survey identifying that 75% of NGOCFU members and 52% of non-members listened every week. Programme topics were selected by farmers based on their own needs and interests and spanned four overarching themes: forest-friendly cocoa practices; farmer cooperation; market access; and women’s participation.
Solar/wind-up Lifeplayer MP3 radios—powerful recordable group listener radios designed in Africa by social enterprise Lifeline Energy—were distributed to 31 Radio Champions selected from the NGOCFO membership in order to improve the radio programmes’ engagement with farmers in remote communities. These Champions held weekly communal listening sessions with up to 60 farmers, gathering their comments and questions on the programme content and transmitting it back to the media team to be responded to by local experts in special monthly Q&A programmes.
As a result, thousands of farmers gained new knowledge and skills in forest-friendly cocoa farming – by the end of the project, 97% of regular listeners were using at least five forest-friendly cocoa practices on their farms. Feedback from multiple sources demonstrated that there was also less encroachment on the rainforest and sales of quality, forest-friendly cocoa increased. This had a positive impact on farming families’ incomes and livelihood security. In addition, the project challenged prevailing attitudes and practices around women’s participation, providing a platform for women’s voices to be heard and encouraging female listeners to claim their rights. As a result, women are now being seen as skilled cocoa farmers with important experience to share and have the confidence to participate more actively in decision making at the household and community level.
Case study – Jeneba Mansaray, NGOCFU and Radio Programme Reference Group member
Jeneba lives in Lalehun community, Gaura Chiefdom, on the edge of the Gola Rainforest National Park in eastern Sierra Leone. She has been farming cocoa for two years on her plot of three acres and is a member of the Gaura Cocoa Farmers Association.
Jeneba did not go to school and is a single mother. Sometimes she struggles to pay her children’s school costs, buy food for them to eat or clothe them properly. She saw that cocoa farming had brought financial stability to other people in her community, but she did not have the knowledge or skills to produce and market cocoa that would bring a higher price.
Through the project, Jeneba was selected to represent her community as a Farmers’ Voice Radio Programme Reference Group member. The group met monthly, facilitated by local NGO Gola Rainforest Conservation, to discuss issues related to cocoa farming – in particular how to do this in a way that increased its quality and conserved the protected rainforest and its biodiversity. These discussions were recorded by local radio station, Starline FM, and broadcast in weekly episodes of a programme called ‘Forest Friendship’ to a regular audience of over 5,000 farmers.
As a result, Jeneba has gained new skills in farming forest-friendly cocoa and although her trees have not yet started to bear fruits, she is confident of earning a living to support her family. “My cocoa is very healthy because I ensure that it is always clean and rid of chippons, and I do not allow filth especially plastic in my farm. Initially I do not have other crops in the cocoa farm but during this radio program I have planted pineapples, banana and plantain.”
Just as importantly, Jeneba has also gained confidence from having her voice heard and has a new status in her community: “[Having my voice heard on the radio] makes me feel big, proud and honoured. I am considered a stakeholder in my small community after talking on the radio. I can now stand in women meetings and talk to fellow women without being shy, something I never did before. The radio program has not only thought me how to practice forest-friendly cocoa production; it has also instilled confidence in me to stand out and speak.”