Making climate information accessible to rural farmers in Kenya

May 12, 2021

Enock Mac’Ouma

For rural communities in Kenya living on the front lines of climate change, adaptation has been a major challenge. Low literacy rates and unreliable access to internet services are barriers to the timely dissemination of information and the transfer of technologies that might help agricultural communities respond adequately to the threat climate change poses to their livelihoods.

Climate researchers and experts in Kenya have generated a variety of mitigation measures to help cushion rural folk from further suffering, hunger, and poverty. Their remedies include climate smart farming technologies and adaptation mechanisms such as stress tolerant seed varieties or farming systems that can reduce crop losses linked to flash floods or droughts. These noble efforts could play a major role in restoring dwindling crop yields and arresting environmental degradation. However, without effective mechanisms to disseminate information about these and other measures, rural dwellers remain exceptionally vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

The UNESCO Chair on Community Radio for Agricultural Education at Rongo University, Kenya, has been on the forefront of using participatory approaches to co-create radio adverts and podcasts on climate change topics to reach rural populations with vital information. Established in 2019, the UNESCO Chair has a mandate to enhance agricultural education among smallholder farmers in Migori, Kenya, which has a population of over 1 million people and a poverty rate of 65 percent. Declining soil fertility coupled with the effects of climate change threatens food security in the region.

In November 2019, agricultural stakeholders, the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO, Kenya Seed Limited, Rongo University researchers, Radio Milambo 103.8 FM, Radio Anyuola 107.3 FM, Radio Rameny 88.3 FM, and other community radio stations partnered to conduct a baseline study on the climate information needs of rural farmers and to develop communication strategies to realize the highest possible reach and impact. Focus group discussions were integral to this process as they provided fora for experience sharing, knowledge mobilization, and identification of the information needs of rural farmers.

The focus group discussions were followed by capacity building workshops on radio content development (adverts and podcasts). During the workshops, the knowledge and experiences mobilized through the focus groups were audio recorded and converted into polished broadcast content to be aired by community radio stations in the indigenous languages of Dholuo, Kuria, and Kiswahili.  

Research has shown that radio is one of the most effective media for promoting agriculture and rural development in many contexts across the Global South. According to researchers, farmers generally would trust climate information received via their preferred radio stations and would use it to inform decisions about their farms. The use of indigenous languages in radio broadcast also helps to make knowledge transfer on agricultural technology more effective within rural communities.

A participant reads a script during a content development session at Rongo University, January 2021. Photo courtesy of Rongo University Media

Co-producing radio content about climate change is a participatory process that occurs in stages. In the first step, focus groups comprised of key stakeholders in the agriculture sector, community radio representatives, and radio content developers determine which matters are most pertinent to the region in order to form the thematic areas around which content will be developed.

In the next step, agricultural experts and radio content developers sit together to draft scripts for radio adverts and podcasts, deciding which information should be included, its significance to the target group, and whether any factual distortions have occurred during the drafting process.

Distortion of scientific facts about climate change and related issues through adverts and podcasts is usually a key concern considering that rural dwellers are already victims of misinformation. The content creators take care to translate key concepts and jargon without losing or misrepresenting key information. Experts then pass the drafts across for reading and re-reading and corrections are made before final drafts are written.

The scripts contain key information to help rural farmers adapt to climate change. They include smart bee-keeping practices to ensure maximum yield per hive, locally available stress-tolerant seed varieties for staple crops such as maize, sorghum, beans, and cassava, the use of organic manure made from animal dung, permaculture, novel inter-cropping and crop-rotation techniques that ensure maximum yield per acre and soil fertility maintenance, and how to apply the push-pull technology to rebuff the notorious striga weed.

Developers trained in technical aspects of production oversee the process, guiding the script readers through the recording process. Here appropriate software is used to ensure the final product is clear and compelling. Recording is conducted in the aforementioned indigenous languages and makes use of music and sound effects.

The podcast and advert writers take great care to translate commonly used scientific terminology about climate change, such as “global warming”, “mitigation”, and “adaptation,” into the indigenous languages for ease of understanding. For example, “Global Warming” is loosely translated in Dholuo as “medruok mar liet e piny” and “adaptation” is rendered as “dhil kod midhiero.”

The podcast and advert writers take great care to translate commonly used scientific terminology about climate change, such as “global warming”, “mitigation”, and “adaptation,” into the indigenous languages...

These efforts are set to receive a boost thanks to an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The grant was recently awarded to the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (LCFSFS) to fund a “Voicing Change” initiative to further research the use of podcasts for climate knowledge sharing in rural communities.

The initiative aims to compare the food systems of rural communities in three regions: the Northwest Territories, Canada, Migori, Kenya, and Southern Brazil. The project will generate new knowledge on how traditional food systems can enhance food production, land stewardship, and environmental management. The knowledge generated from the proposed study will be shared among smallholder farmers using radio adverts and podcasts designed in indigenous language/s within each of the three project locations.

Vernacular radio stations have the potential to enhance the effectiveness of climate information sharing in terms of reach and understanding, as they provide a participatory platform for robust sharing of experiences and knowledge. It is our hope that this research funding will strengthen our mission of empowering rural communities with information in their own languages that will help them adapt to a warming world.

Enock Mac’Ouma coordinates the activities of the UNESCO Chair on Community Radio for Agricultural Education at Rongo University, Kenya. Enock will play a significant role in the Kenya component of the “Voicing Change” project. Email: e.macouma@rongovarsity.ac.ke

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