In the Kolda Region of southern Senegal, fields of crops like rice, maize, groundnuts and millet spread between wide swaths of forest. Farming is the main source of income here and the main source of food.
Yet for farmers like Aissatou Baldé, a mother of four, and a groundnut farmer in Saré Faramba, brush fires often threaten that same income, as well as her community. 'Our town is often a victim of brush fires', she says. Saré Faramba is not alone in this, and it’s not only fire that threatens crops in the area.
Climate change is making good harvests more rare. Farming in the area largely relies on rain. In recent years that rain has lessened and become more erratic — and it’s predicted to get worse. Deforestation, brush fires, and destructive farming practices are only compounding the issue.
Ansara Kondé, flanked by her fellow farmers Alé Baldé and Diabou Wandia, get to work on their farm near Sare Demba Diéo.
Using radio to deal with the complexity of climate change issues
It’s for that reason that Farm Radio International has teamed up with the Wehubit programme to deliver interactive radio programs that assist with solutions to those problems.
The Digital Advisory Services for Climate Smart Agriculture (DAS4CSA) project, uses interactive radio programs paired with mobile phone technology to educate and encourage local farmers to take up climate-smart agricultural practices.
Three radio stations are broadcasting, tackling issues like deforestation, weather, traditional fertilization techniques, erosion and pests. They bring expert voices onto their shows, but also feature local farmers who have already tried the techniques. Radio, broadcast in local languages, is widely accessible to remote communities, and gives farmers practical advice they can implement in their own communities.
One program, for example, focused on the causes and consequences of brush fires, while another explained how to avoid them by constructing firewalls. Still another, in line with Senegal’s Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of the Environment and Nature Protection’s reforestation campaigns, discussed how and when to replant trees, where to find nurseries, and how to take care of the trees once planted.
“ Since we’ve listened to the project’s agriculture programs, we are taking constant preventative measures and are making the most of the opportunity to replant trees in order to regenerate our forest”, she says.
When farmers have questions, they can access the program using an Interactive Voice Response call in number. With prompts in locallanguages, they can respond to polls put out by the radio program or leave their own questions, which can influence later shows. To date, there have already been over 1,000 different interactions to the call in polls, with 1300 questions left and responded to.
The programs are continuously evolving. While stations started broadcasting at the end of February 2020, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic rippling across the globe, Farm Radio and the stations were able to turn on a dime. While they are still addressing questions of environment and climate, parts of each show are helping farmers navigate and adjust to new coronavirus prevention measures.
Trainers Hama Cissé and Papis Ba give a selection of soap to two journalists from Baamataré FM, as part of COVID-19
preventative measures for stations and communities.
The first ten minutes of each episode are dedicated to building awareness of the disease, including common COVID public health messages, encouraging listeners to stay at home or wash their hands
The pandemic, however, is also putting bigger pressures on farmers unable to reach markets, making information on better growing practices even more important.
Other community members from Saré Faramba have applied the different techniques shared on the program — from the ideal planting time, to information on organic fertilizer applications — to improve their harvests.
For Maimouna Diamanka, who is head of her household, and a widow, farms groundnuts and maize. For her, knowledge about changing rainfall and when to plant has already made a difference.
“Thank you for this project. It really responds to the different concerns we have on agricultural issues.”