Lorna Young Foundation’s Farmers’ Voice Radio Project

The Lorna Young Foundation (LYF) received a grant from The Edith M Ellis 1985 Charitable Trust in June 2022 to assist them in training ten East African organisations, through the Farmers’ Voice Radio (FVR) Academy, to develop high impact participatory radio programmes that empower smallholder coffee, tea and cocoa farmers to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The FVR Academy online training programme combined four live online group training sessions with structured homework, individual coaching, digital resources and a community of practice platform, delivered between March and June 2023. It was originally planned to provide ten training places for small organisations working with coffee, tea and cocoa farmers; however, almost double this number applied and in the end 12 organisations were selected from seven countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ghana and Togo).  All applicants had a mission of empowering rural smallholder communities to adapt to and mitigate climate change and an idea for a FVR project. The course was free for all participants.
The training course evaluation showed that 80% of participants attended or watched all of the sessions and completed all of the homework activities. 80% of participants felt that their knowledge and skills of participatory radio significantly improved and gained confidence that their organisation would deliver a FVR programme series within the next 12 months. 100% would recommend the course to a colleague or peer at another organisation. One participant said: “The trainers’ professionalism was top notch. I loved how well prepared they were about the course and their willingness to share the knowledge with ease.”

The biggest barrier that participants expressed with regard to implementing their learning from the Academy was access to funds to implement a FVR programme. The start-up grant competition, which is currently open to applications from Academy graduates, will help at least two organisations to overcome this challenge.

One of the FVR Academy participants was Beth, a coffee agronomist from Kenya who helps smallholder farmers to improve their production so that they can increase efficiency and income in a sustainable way. One of the most common challenges that she hears from the farmers she works with is how the changing seasons and increasingly frequent extreme weather events are affecting their crops and ability to earn a livelihood from coffee. Beth is currently working with a coffee farmers’ cooperative society in Kirinyaga County to develop a FVR programme concept focussed on motivating youth to get involved in coffee production, reducing the costs of production at farm level (with an emphasis on organic inputs) and increasing adoption of crop and income diversification to reduce reliance on coffee.

Beth commented: “More youthful men and women are showing interest in coffee farming in the recent years. This creates an opportunity to skill them with the available modern technologies and developments in the coffee industry through means that reach them, radio being one. Most farmers in my community listen to the radio which make it even more appropriate for use in passing useful information about coffee farming.”

Another FVR Academy participant, The PureTrust Foundation in Ghana, is currently working with sustainability experts Business for Social Responsibility and a corporate partner to develop a FVR programme that aims to the strengthen the financial literacy of women shea nut collectors and butter processors in the Northern Region of Ghana so that they have greater resilience to the impacts of climate change. Ruhaimatu Yazidu, Communications Officer at the PureTrust Foundation who participated in the FVR Academy, commented: “The course has been an eye opener for me personally. This is because we have had radio with us all along, yet I never really understood how far reaching it could be especially where our target audience are very low literate farmers. I also love the fact that the farmers will be creating the content themselves. It will be very empowering to them!”

All the FVR Academy participants joined from lower-income contexts and internet connection was sometimes a difficulty, especially where the participants were field officers who had to join on their mobile phones from very rural locations. Despite this, participation and interaction in the training sessions was very high, and the feedback from participants was very positive. All the sessions were available to watch later, which helped those with poor connectivity.

12 organisations were accepted onto the FVR Academy, but one dropped out of the training due to the participant changing roles, and around half are still in the process of developing their final FVR Programme Concepts due to competing commitments in their day jobs.  The deadline for applications to the start-up grant fund was extended to end July to account for this.

The success of this second FVR Academy training programme has motivated LYF’s decision to continue to run the Academy at least annually. Several applications were received this year from organisations based in Latin America that we were unable to accommodate on the programme due to language and time zone differences. Consequently, for 2024 the aim is to launch a Spanish-language Academy programme targeted at organisation based in Latin America. Funding for this new programme will be raised from corporate sponsorship and further applications to trusts and foundations.

As detailed above, Academy participants included representatives of two organisations from West Africa (Ghana and Togo) and one of these organisations was targeting shea nut collectors and butter processors. We made the decision to include these organisations as the challenges faced by the communities they work with are very similar in nature to those of rest of the participants, who were East African organisations supporting coffee, tea or cocoa producers. As one participant mentioned in the evaluation, the biggest benefit of the programme was “the opportunity to interact with people from different countries dealing in various crops”.