Photo Credit: International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Bartay Photography
We are constantly looking for innovative ways to connect farmers with each other – particularly using radio to amplify their voices so that one farmer’s questions and expertise can be shared with other farmers in their region.
This is why we incorporate simple mobile surveys into our projects. Mobile surveys give us a chance to understand what farmers know and what they want to know. Simple polls can be done by beeping a certain number (leaving a missed call) to select a yes/no response, or through interactive voice response systems that allow farmers to answer multiple choice questions with their keypad. The only technology farmers need to participate is a mobile phone with basic call and text capabilities.
And our Uliza application helps broadcasters to easily visualize the poll results and the voice responses left by callers. With each mobile poll, we like to give farmers the option to answer an open-ended question or to ask a question of their own. This provides great insight into the experiences of farmers. Broadcasters can easily use these pieces on air, sharing the poll results and airing the voices of farmers during the radio program.
More than 120 radio partners have used Uliza, meaning we’ve gathered feedback from more than 450,000 callers.
And we’ve used this feedback in interesting and significant ways.
Back in 2013 we asked ourselves, can interactive radio be used to hold government and non-government organizations accountable to the people they aim to serve with their agricultural projects?
This led to the creation of the Listening Post, which has been used by several development organizations to survey farmers on their knowledge of specific issues For example, the University of Purdue was working in Tanzania to reduce post-harvest loss by promoting the use of triple-layer sealed bags. Our Listening Post radio program asked farmers about their knowledge and practices surrounding the storage of grains, and the University of Purdue was able to use this information to make adjustments in their project. (Download the report to learn more about our success with the Listening Post.)
Our Uliza polls provide radio broadcasters and our knowledge partners with important information about the realities in rural areas. And they have been popular with farmers. In some cases, a radio program will receive 900 questions in a week.
Many times, the most popular questions are aired during the radio program and an expert is invited to answer these questions. But some questions are left unanswered and sometimes the farmer misses an episode – meaning they miss the answer to their question.
So the team at FRI’s Hangar: Radio & ICT Innovation Lab in Arusha thought, “How can we serve farmers better?”
Bart Sullivan was the captain of FRI’s Hangar for four years. He explains that the team was excited to see that so many farmers would take the time to call into the Uliza system to participate in a poll and leave a comment or question. And they wanted to respond to this effort in kind, by ensuring farmers would receive answers to their questions. Bart says, “We asked ourselves if there is a way we could reach farmers on the same channel they asked their question on: their phones.”
With the spread of mobile phones in Africa, it’s easier than ever to be connected. Bart explains that sometimes when you open a new communication channel, you get a deluge. “We quickly found that there were way more questions being asked than we could provide answers to! And when you invite someone to ask a question, they expect an answer. So we needed to find a way to more efficiently provide answers,” he says.
Uliza Answers attempts to close the feedback loop by pushing answers back to the farmers who asked the question, right on their cell phone. Callers receive a recorded voice message directly from agricultural extension workers, knowledge partners and other experts.
We’re helping to bridge the digital divide. With Uliza Answers, farmers can access information without the need of sophisticated technology like smartphones or an Internet connection. Agricultural information can be delivered on demand.
This is just the latest addition to Uliza – a platform that is constantly evolving. By listening to farmers, amplifying their voices through the radio, and answering their questions, we can close the feedback loop.