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  • Hannah Clark

Radio in the Rainforest

It is an interesting and challenging time to launch a new Farmers’ Voice Radio project. The global coronavirus pandemic has meant significant change for the way we and our partners work, with international and local travel restrictions, physical distancing measures and hygiene requirements all requiring us to rethink how LYF’s participatory radio methodology is delivered. But as is clear from our radio saves lives blog, radio programmes that deliver trusted, relevant and appropriate knowledge and information into remote communities are needed now more than ever.

This is true for cocoa farmers living in forest-edge communities (FECs) around the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone, a global biodiversity hotspot and home to many threatened species such as the pygmy hippo. These farmers have been here before: in 2014, the Ebola outbreak caused significant disruption to the local cocoa market due to the closure of trading routes and sickness-related labour shortages. Much-needed training programmes, which had only recently re-started following the end of the ten-year civil war, were also discontinued. In short, these communities were cut off.

LYF’s local partner Gola Rainforest Conservation (GRC) has worked with FECs for almost 30 years, through both the civil war and the Ebola epidemic. Since 2015 it has been supporting cocoa farmers to come together as Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers Union (NGOCFU) – meaning ‘we who live in the forest’. The new Farmers’ Voice Radio project was designed to help expand the reach of NGOCFU and improve the engagement of isolated farmers who struggle to communicate with farmer leaders and access face-to-face training interventions such as farmer field schools. When the coronavirus outbreak led to the cancellation of the planned project start-up workshop in March, GRC staff were determined that the pandemic should not mean that these remote communities were abandoned once again.

As you will know if you are a regular to these pages, LYF has been working on a new ‘open-sourcing’ strategy for some time, packaging its Farmers’ Voice Radio model into a series of resources available for any organisation working with smallholder farmers to download, use and adapt for free. The Sierra Leone situation presented an ideal opportunity to pilot this approach. Rather than a Farmers’ Voice Radio Trainer travelling to West Africa, the workshop methodology and knowledge was transmitted remotely to the local project team via a series of documents, virtual training sessions and distance coaching. This enabled the workshop to take place only slightly later than planned, and the listener group recordings and radio broadcasts are expected to start from June with a focus on four target outcomes agreed by workshop participants: 1) increasing adoption of forest-friendly cocoa production practices; 2) strengthening farmer cooperation; 3) improving market access; and 4) enhancing women’s participation. Key messages relating to COVID-19 will also be included in the programmes to ensure farmers have up-to-date and relevant information about the pandemic and how to keep themselves safe.

The workshop also provided an opportunity to deliver training on how to use solar/wind-up Lifeplayer MP3 radios—powerful recordable group listener radios designed in Africa by social enterprise Lifeline Energy. These will be distributed to NGOCFU Master Farmers in 32 FECs in order to ensure all community members can listen to the radio programmes and to maximise the radio programmes’ engagement with listeners.

Aside from the remote LYF support, a number of other adjustments to the Farmers’ Voice Radio methodology will need to be made to ensure that the health of both project staff and farmers is safeguarded and government advisories around travel, physical distancing and hygiene are observed. This means limiting number of people at meetings, budgeting for hygiene equipment and face masks, and ensuring radio presenters do not get too close to farmers during recordings. But the programmes will go ahead, which for Gola cocoa farmers means at least one significant source of livelihood support can be maintained throughout these challenging times.

The Gola Rainforest Farmers’ Voice Radio project is funded through a grant from UK Aid Direct's Small Charities Challenge Fund. For more information see our project page.

For more information about the Gola Rainforest National Park see here.

Guardians of the Rainforest is a film from Trading Visions and Fairtrade Schools, which tells the inspirational story of the cocoa farmers of the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone.

Update December 2020: read the latest from our Sierra Leone project in this article by the Yorkshire Post.



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