Technology and new media are playing an increasingly active role in society. Hashtags, tweetups and followers have entered our lives (and the blogosphere) in recent years. Many of us check our news feeds before we brush our teeth in the morning. In Africa, a new report shows that mobile devices, the Internet and social media are “major catalysts for change” across the continent.
Farm Radio International believes technology and new media can make the world a better place, especially for farmers. But what happens when you don’t have access to some of these new technologies?
This was the topic of this week’s G-Everyone discussion hosted on the UN Foundation’s Google+ online social network page. The live event was organized in the run up to the G8 Summit happening in Ireland next week – a forum bringing eight global leaders together to discuss some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Mercy Karanja of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Farm Radio’s Executive Director, Kevin Perkins and ICT extraordinaire, Bart Sullivan, sat down to talk tech and specifically how ICTs are revolutionizing radio for farmers.
One of the coolest ways farmers can interact with broadcasters is with beep voting or flash polls, Sullivan said. Missed calling, also called flashing or beeping, is one of the most commonly used functions of the mobile phone. Just dial a number. Let it ring. Hang up. People use miss calls to get in touch with someone without spending money on airtime. Radio stations are capitalizing on this, integrating it into their efforts to interact with their listeners.
“It’s revolutionized the way broadcasters interact with their listeners,” Sullivan said, noting that text-literacy can’t be taken for granted.
With beep voting, both the barriers of writing an SMS and the cost are eliminated. “The radio presenter gives out two phone numbers – one for option A, the other for option B,” explains FRI training and standards manager, David Mowbray in his audio postcard. “Listeners call the number corresponding to their chosen option. The trick is the calls are not answered and just show up as missed calls.” Broadcasters then count the number of missed calls on each of the two phones to tally the results.
Recently, one of FRI’s Ugandan broadcasters aired an episode of a mini-drama aimed at increasing the production and consumption of vitamin-A rich orange sweet potatoes (OSP).
After the program, broadcasters asked listeners to vote which crop they believed provided the best nutrition to their children. They received 1,500 votes in an hour.
“So that could tell us in what areas people thought OSP was a good source of nutrition for their children and areas where they maybe haven’t heard of it yet because we can map where the votes are coming from,” Perkins said.
That’s just one of the many ways FRI is integrating ICTs to interact with farmers.
And if Perkins could meet with David Cameron face-to-face next week, what would he say? That any economic development strategy must have the interest of small-scale farmers at its core.
“Small scale farmers are going to feed the world and they need as much support and encouragement as possible,” he said. “I would say that radio, combined with other ICTs is the most impactful way to give farmers a voice and to share the knowledge and provide the information they need to succeed.”
Watch the Google+ Hangout from G-Everyone here: http://youtu.be/EEcYzPOzWW4