One first step to supporting farmers is to understand their information needs. Farm Radio International aims to strengthen small-scale farming and rural communities, and a key step in doing so is to know the communities better. This is where formative research comes in. We collaborate and learn about the community in order to understand its information needs and radio preferences.
Farm Radio International’s radio program design process is unique because it starts with and focuses on the audience. In this way, it might be better called audience research, as we endeavour to learn what the audience needs and the best way to deliver it. Audience research allows us to understand the current knowledge, attitudes and practices of the listeners, any knowledge gaps and information needs. This shapes and informs the type of radio program strategy that would be most effective in providing them with the information and services they want.
What sort of information do we find out?
Theodora Kubaje lives in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Guinea fowl are native to this area, and up to 90 per cent of farmers raise the birds, which are both an important protein source for families, and a source of income. Considering the birds are native and common to the area, it might be assumed that local farmers and families do not need any guidance when it comes to keeping the guinea fowls. However, after talking with farmers in the area, we realised that they still had many questions about how to best look after their guinea fowl. Theodora told us how she needed more information on housing, feeding and caring for the fowl through each stage of their life. Using this information, and in partnership with URA Radio in the Upper East Region of Ghana, we were able to design a radio campaign that would strengthen farmers’ role in the guinea fowl value chain. This project was widely praised for providing valuable and much needed information to farmers and the community.
Vitamin A deficiency is a major issue in many East African regions. In an effort to address this, Farm Radio has promoted the increased production and consumption of orange-fleshed sweet potato in a number of its focus areas. This type of project is often challenging, as many farmers are reluctant to start planting and eating a new vegetable. After speaking with farmers, we learned that some communities feared eating orange-fleshed sweet potato for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the vegetable would turn their teeth orange. This information became critical for shaping the on-air discussion around orange-fleshed sweet potato. Because of it, we were able to present an appropriate program with content relevant to the audience, therefore enhancing the overall effectiveness and impact of the project.
How do we do it?
For our formative research, we use a range of methods, tools and collaborators to collect accurate and useful information. This involves cooperation and partnership between experts, farmers and local government representatives. Field teams for formative research are composed of approximately three members: an FRI staff member, a local agricultural extension officer and a local facilitator or interpreter. The community play the most important role, sharing their experiences and discussing their needs by participating in focus groups and in-depth interviews.
Along with this research, we review relevant background documents so we can gain a greater understanding of the information that is currently available to the community. We use websites, project documents, science papers and strategies. We also try to understand what resources and services are available to farmers locally. By doing this, we can appreciate what are reasonable and realistic proposals for the community.
The formative research process is hands-on and in-depth. Donors, sponsors and other collaborative partners do not always have a firm grasp of the target community. In one case, formative research conducted for a large-scale project in Uganda revealed that the language groups in the region didn’t match those that had been planned and recommended by the donor. It is these instances that make formative research so important to the process of each project. We couldn’t make effective and appropriate radio programs without it!
This blog post, by Steph Stroud, is part of our Partner Spotlight on Farm Radio International (FRI). Partners in GFAR like FRI are aware that rural communities often have little say in their own future and in directing support to create the innovations to get there. Yet farmers and social groups are experimenters, producers of knowledge and researchers in their own right, hence they need to be empowered to drive innovation processes. FRI has used radio for three decades as a tool for bringing information to people that other communication methods often cannot. Paired with other technologies, radio also allows an opportunity for two-way conversation, so that development practitioners can hear farmers’ knowledge, insights and concerns, and respond accordingly to them.
Multistakeholder actions that empower farmers to voice their own needs and know-how to drive innovation and improve their livelihoods, are part of GFAR’s Key Focus Area Empowering Farmers at the Center of Innovation.
GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and Collective Actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!
Photo credits: 1-Farm Radio International; 2-Simon Scott