Capacities for Change, GFAR blog

Uliza and the Fall Army Worm


It may be small, but the Fall armyworm is a big deal. As far as being a pest and a threat to African farming and farmer’s livelihoods, the Fall armyworm has a lot going for it. It eats 80 different plant species and travels and reproduces at a rapid rate. Considering this, it is easy to understand how the Fall armyworm has caused so much damage and spread so quickly across sub-Saharan Africa since it somehow found its way there in 2016.

The Fall armyworm is native to South America. Many African farmers are more accustomed to managing the African armyworm. But this new armyworm is more destructive because it kills young plants at the growing point, and can burrow its way into the cob of older plants, eating the kernels.

This invasive pest is here to stay in Africa, making information vital for farmers who have just started learning how to identify and manage it. This is where Farm Radio International comes in. We have developed a variety of programs and strategies to share this information.

With the help of local broadcasters, FRI has been able to share appropriate information to farmers across Africa. This information has been broadcast through radio programs, jingles, expert interviews, and other radio formats.

Most of the programs have used Farm Radio International’s ‘Uliza’ system, an application specially designed to manage interactions between radio stations and listeners.

So what is Uliza and how can it help?

“Uliza” means “to ask” in Swahili. It was designed by FRI to make it easier for listeners to engage with radio stations, and for radio stations to visualize and interpret audience feedback. By conducting mobile polls using the Uliza application, broadcasters can better understand their listeners’ interests and design programs based on their information needs.

Uliza’s main function is to collect poll results. These polls can be conducted using simple “beep-2-vote” technology or using a more flexible interactive voice response systems.

“Beep-to-vote” allows listeners to respond to a simple “Yes or no” question by calling

one of two numbers and hanging up, leaving a missed call “beep” to indicate their response. It’s free to leave a missed call “beep,” making these simple polls popular and cost-effective.

Broadcasters can conduct more complex polls using interactive voice response (IVR) technology. Uliza is supported by VIAMO to make this possible. IVR polls invite callers to respond to multiple choice poll questions. With the Uliza system, broadcasters can invite their listeners to register to participate in regular polls and gather information about their gender, age and location as well. All through the use of voice and the phone keypad!

All of these poll results can be displayed visually, allowing radio stations to easily understand and interpret audience feedback and regional demographics.

When callers respond to a poll, they are also invited to record a voice message in response to an open-ended question. The Uliza application makes it easy for broadcasters to listen to these messages and then incorporate them into their radio program. Broadcasters will often invite relevant experts to respond to these voice messages during this segment of their radio program.

Uliza is a great tool to support farmers facing invasive pests, such as the Fall armyworm. Using the Uliza application, it is easy for broadcasters to see which areas of their region have been affected by the Fall armyworm, based on farmers’ responses to the poll questions. Combined with information about wind and migratory patterns, experts can help to warn and mobilize communities that are being affected or about to be affected. In this way, the radio programs can provide the information necessary, at the right time, to help farmers minimize the damage of this pest.

Farmers’ feedback, collected by Uliza, is also useful for understanding what tools and techniques are most effective for controlling the Fall armyworm. Farmers can indicate if they are having difficulty accessing certain tools or inputs, or if they do not understand certain instructions.

Farm Radio International has been on air with our radio partners in several countries to address the Fall armyworm. In Uganda, partners broadcast an eight-week series that provided information about identifying the pest, assessing the damage it caused and advising how to combat it. Broadcasters received calls from nearly 2,800 callers through the Uliza system, and were able to broadcast farmers’ messages alongside advice from experts.

Farmers are key to managing the Fall armyworm and minimizing its impact on food security. With innovative technologies such as Uliza, farmers can actively participate in the process of gathering and sharing knowledge about this invasive pest.

Read more here:

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis 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 credit: Farm Radio international 

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