Webinar recording: The Importance of the Farmer's Voice in Smallholder Supply Chains
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
On 10th June 2021, Farmers' Voice Radio hosted a webinar about the importance of the farmer’s voice in smallholder supply chains.
In this webinar, our panel of sustainability experts from The Body Shop Community Fair Trade, InsightShare, Source Climate Change Coffee, MEACCE and Farmers' Voice Radio discussed the importance of listening to and empowering supplier communities for sustainable supply chains, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Farmers in these supply chains also shared their experiences in recorded interviews. Use the link below to watch the recording and hear how participatory media is enabling improved engagement between farmers, buyers and consumers and delivering real impact for all involved.
This was our first webinar, and we were thrilled at the level of interest it generated with nearly 200 registrations! The event was expertly hosted by Cristina Talens, long-term friend of Farmers’ Voice Radio as well as Director of Source Sustainable and an expert in labour, human rights and environmental stewardship. Hannah Davis at Farmers’ Voice Radio introduced how our participatory radio approach works and the impact it has achieved through projects in Kenya, Ghana and DRC. We then heard from two farmers in Sierra Leone, Jeneba and Amara, who talked about their experience of having their voices and expertise heard on local radio programmes about forest-friendly cocoa production.
Virginia Sampaio from the Community Fair Trade team at The Body Shop then spoke about how and why the company prioritises listening to the voices of their supply chain partners, and how this can drive social change and influence the behaviour of other businesses. We heard how Farmers’ Voice Radio has been used to empower shea nut collectors and butter producers in northern Ghana, as well as to strengthen The Body Shop’s shea supply chain.
Luke Wepukhulu from Mount Elgon Agroforestry Communities Cooperative Enterprise followed on to explain how his business seeks to raise and listen to farmers’ voices through its cooperative structure. Luke talked about how the Farmers’ Voice Radio project in partnership with Rainforest Alliance has been particularly effective at connecting coffee producers with information they need to make their production more sustainable and improve quality. Two MEACCE farmer members, Esther and Agnes, also talked about the initiative from their own perspective.
Finally, Grace Hutchison from InsightShare presented on how participatory video has built trust between supply chain actors. Grace explained how their innovative Indigenous Fellowship Programme was established at the height of the COVID pandemic to train isolated communities in using video as a platform to have their voices heard.
There was excellent participation from the attendees through questions and comments. We have selected some of the key ones below and provided brief answers. If there are any questions we haven’t answered, or you have follow-up questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch on email@example.com!
Q: I’m curious to hear if you have been mixing texting apps/digital technology in the Farmers’ Voice Radio projects?
A: Yes, our projects encourage listeners to get in touch with the production team through phone calls, SMS or voice messaging. In Ghana we have been trialling Uliza, a listener interactivity system developed by Farm Radio international, that enables listeners to call a toll-free number and leave their feedback in local language. We are continually exploring ways to combine the radio programmes with appropriate and relevant digital technology and would like to pilot distribution of audio files via mobile platforms. However, we find smart phone access and usage continue to be a challenge in many remote farming communities, particularly for women and people living with disabilities.
Q: How different is this initiative from existing local radio programmes focusing on agriculture?
A: The uniqueness of the Farmers’ Voice Radio approach comes from its focus on participation. Local farmers are at the heart of programmes, in terms of both content design and delivery. They inform the choice of language, radio station, broadcast time and discussion topics, as well as generating most of the content through monthly Listener Group meetings that take place in the community setting (not the studio!). To learn more about the values and approach of Farmers’ Voice Radio, please sign up to the access the free Resources.
Q: How do you measure geographical outreach, beneficiary numbers and impact?
A: Reach is measured in a number of ways: 1) Using radio stations' own research on listenership figures. 2) Through baseline and endline surveys in target communities; asking people whether they listen regularly and then extrapolating the results using data on the number of people within the radio station signal. 3) By analysing details of listener interaction (see answer to the first question above), which indicates where listeners are based and gives an indication of the geographical reach of the radio programmes.
In terms of impact, we use the baseline and endline surveys to measure changes in farmers’ knowledge, attitudes and practices relating to the programme themes. We use focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews with listeners to bring out more qualitative information. Listener feedback also gives us great insight into what is resonating with listeners (or not!) and how they are adopting the advice.
Q: These days there is more interest in access to markets and linkages along the value chain. How best can this fit into the radio program projects?
A: Farmers’ Voice Radio programmes improve supply chain transparency by involving other actors, such as traders, exporters and brands, in providing interviews and answering listeners’ questions, which enables farmers to better understand the market. As Sierra Leonean cocoa farmer, Amara Jusu, said in his video message: “These companies that buy the Ngoleagorbu cocoa according to the radio programmes have machines that make the cocoa change into chocolate and even the cocoa powder that we use for tea. I actually knew little about where the cocoa goes, but the radio programs brought a clear understanding on what happens with the Ngoleagorbu cocoa after sales.”
The radio programmes can also signpost farmers to other market opportunities that they may not be aware of. In an upcoming project, we will be trialling the inclusion of weekly market price information through a partnership with a price intelligence platform.
Q: How do you encourage women farmers to participate in the radio programmes?
A: We always ensure that at least half of the listener group members are women. We also try to engage and/or train up women radio presenters to maximise female voices in the programmes and encourage the engagement of women listeners. Research is undertaken to ensure the programmes are broadcast at times that women are most able to listen – they tell us what time suits them, whether they have found the content relevant and how we can improve it. In more recent projects we have run communal listening sessions in target communities, where listeners come together to listen to the weekly programmes and discuss the content. This has enabled listeners (particularly women) who do not own a radio to listen and provide feedback on the programmes.
And just having a platform to speak out and be heard can have a significant impact on women’s wellbeing, as explained by Jeneba Mansaray, Listener Group member in Sierra Leone: “Having my voice broadcast on the radio makes me feel big, proud and honoured… I can now stand in women’s meetings and talk to fellow women without being shy, something I never did before. So, the radio program has not only taught me how to practice forest friendly cocoa production, it has also instilled confidence in me to stand out and speak.”
Q: How do you start to work with existing radio stations? Do the radio channels charge for airtime, or is it free?
Most Farmers’ Voice Radio projects are led by a farmer group, cooperative or NGO that is looking to improve their engagement with smallholder farmers. We work with these organisations to explore whether radio is the most appropriate tool to reach their target audience. This includes researching radio stations in the area and identifying the most appropriate broadcast partner based on their values, audience, reach, capacity and whether they are popular and trusted within the target community.
In most cases the radio stations charge for airtime, particularly at the start of a new project. However, the stations soon see the value in broadcasting Farmers’ Voice Radio programmes when they attract new, committed listeners and increase their audience share. In some cases, airtime costs are then reduced or forfeited to enable the programmes to continue.
Q: How can Farmers’ Voice Radio be scaled up to reach more farmers?
A: We realised early on at the Lorna Young Foundation that it was neither possible nor desirable for us to be deeply involved in all Farmers’ Voice Radio projects – our limited capacity prevented this and, once trained on the principles and approach, local implementing partners were able to use the methodology unsupported. Linda Lisser, Responsible Sourcing Manager from Ringtons, partner in our Tanzania tea project, put this very well: “One of the greatest advantages of the [Farmers’ Voice Radio] programme is the ease with which it can be adapted to a variety of contexts, scales and budgets and still have a substantial impact. Once the smallholder group, extension officers and radio presenters have received training, they take ownership of the radio programmes.”
We are therefore looking to build partnerships with other organisations working with and/or sourcing from smallholder farmers, or businesses with an interest in supporting sustainable smallholder agriculture, who can facilitate greater outreach for Farmers’ Voice Radio – either by developing projects within their own supply chains, or by sponsoring smaller farmers organisation to use the approach with their communities. Please get in touch with the team on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss a potential partnership opportunity.
Q: How do other forms of community media, like participatory video, support farmers to amplify their voices and engage stakeholders?
As a broadcast media, radio is well suited for connecting farmers to each other, facilitating simultaneous dialogue between communities, through which ideas, practices and issues can be shared. Participatory video has a different role in amplifying farmer’s voices: through a participatory video process, farmers can craft precise and in-depth narratives that speak into issues they have collectively identified. These videos - written, filmed and edited by the farmers themselves - allow those narratives to be shared within, and outside of, the community through public screenings. This creates opportunities for farmers to communicate with stakeholders ‘higher up’ the supply chain, who are usually inaccessible, through targeted screenings and video messages. Participatory video then opens the door for dialogue between stakeholders up and down the supply chain, enabling farmers to: promote their innovations and local knowledge to buyers; advocate for their rights within the supply chain; and build international relationships.
To learn more about the different approaches to participatory video and see how it works, visit InsightShare’s resources: https://insightshare.org/resources/
To gain insight into InsightShare’s previous projects with farmers, watch this compilation video collecting footage from 6 participatory video projects led by farming communities from across Sub-Saharan Africa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjL_lcmKiDg