• Hannah Clark

FVR in Panama!

The recently-ended radio programme series, ‘Educando Con Semillas, saberes y sabores’ (‘Educating with Seeds, Flavours and Know-how') was a double first for Farmers’ Voice Radio: the first FVR project in Latin America; and the first fully open-sourced FVR project.


Implemented in the North of Panama, a region famous for its speciality coffees, the project was set up to improve the COVID-19 response of vulnerable indigenous communities. As an open-source project, LYF provided arms-length support over the four-month pilot; however the initiative was fully owned and implemented by Panamanian NGO Culturama, with funding provided by the British Embassy in Panama and Dark Woods Coffee.


These 30-minute radio programmes targeted an audience of almost half a million people in the Province of Chiriqui, with a particular focus on supporting 150,000 people from the Ngobe-Buglé indigenous community. Airing every Monday and Thursday, the programmes were designed to address the social and economic challenges faced by rural smallholders and local indigenous people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Ngobe-Bugle communities (of which 90% live in situations of extreme poverty and 98% of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition) were particularly affected during lockdown, as people struggled to make ends meet, pushing many poor rural households into even greater food insecurity. Over 40% of the indigenous population migrate with their families for work, distancing them from their traditional social safety nets and sources of information and support.


The programmes were therefore designed to plug the information gap on COVID-19 related health risks and to provide some guidance on how to generate alternative livelihoods. Given the almost total dependence of rural communities on agriculture, the programmes also aimed to support smallholder farmers to manage their land sustainably, diversify their crops, increase their yields and consider alternative markets for their products.


The weekly programmes were recorded by Culturama, which has extensive experience of running rural community education projects. Farmer listener groups were set up in the districts of Boquete, Bugaba, Renacimiento and Tierras Altas and included members of the Indigenous Ngobe Women’s Association and Grupo Petrus, a small producer organisation working with rural communities to develop sustainable livelihoods. A particular focus for the programmes was the empowerment of women, who made up 23 out of 30 members generating content in all farmer listener groups.


From October 2020 to February 2021, the groups met to create content for the programmes, inviting a wide range of experts to answer their questions. This included the local Ministries of Commerce and Agriculture, who advised on income generating activities and the creation of micro enterprises. Together they developed an agenda that focused on key questions such as personal health, land management, income diversification, food security and artesanal micro-entreprises.


Every week, listeners were also reminded of COVID-19 ‘keeping safe’ measures. Health professionals were invited to speak and advise families on mental health and family wellbeing. Psychologists and Youth Workers provided advice and guidance to single parent families and answered questions on how to tackle drug abuse amongst young people in the communities.


During those 4 months, over 1,700 people tuned into the programmes on the radio internet platform. Over 220 people downloaded the podcasts, 245 people watched the Youtube interviews and 406 people visited the Facebook page. A total of 126 queries were raised, of which 63% came from women, wishing to learn more about micro enterprises, mental health issues and sustainable land management.


Culturama reported that the impact of the programmes in the local communities was extremely positive: “Several microenterprises are now underway. For example, the Dominical Group San Petros were able to successfully sell their Hibiscus flowers as herbal products to the local university. In San Francisco, a group of women registered their food production business with the local authorities, so they can now sell at the local markets. Another group of women created a craft micro enterprise.”


The programmes have been an inspiration to many people during the lockdown and have provided some invaluable information on income generating activities. Below are some of the listeners’ feedback:


From Marlene: “I’ve learnt how to make my own organic compost, from food and organic waste materials. I’ve been able to add this as an input into my own food garden. This avoids chemical use and has reduced the cost of production, as I’ve not had to add fertiliser. I’m very grateful that you have helped me become more self-sufficient.”


From Amarilis: “The programmes have been fantastic in terms of developing our agricultural activities. On the last programme there was some really useful information on how to preserve foods. I was most interested learning about methods for preserving beans so that you only have to warm them up and serve them ready to eat. The programmes are very practical and I would love to put into practice the advice.”


From Gloria: “Thank you so much for your programmes. These are really useful for us as smallholders. especially the women. I feel that you are giving us lots of support and I really appreciate the advice you are giving us. My husband died, and everyone expected that as women we would just sell the farm. During the pandemic my youngest daughter has been listening to you and managing the farm, which she is doing incredibly well.


If you are interested in implementing your own Farmers’ Voice Radio programme, visit our resources page for some tips on getting started and get in touch to receive some tailored advice.


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