Introduction

Radio is a great communication tool for African farmers. It reaches most of them. It can provide important and timely information in their own languages. And radio, (often coupled with mobile phones), can give farmers a powerful voice in development.

But radio is not always effective. In fact, farmer programs often fall far short.

  • The voices of farmers are rarely heard.
  • “Experts,” on the other hand, are featured and respected, whether they are helpful or not.
  • Program hosts are disdainful of farmers, whom they see as much lower creatures than themselves.
  • Important issues are ignored or avoided because they are complex, or sensitive, or require additional resources.
  • Broadcasters are given no training, and are expected to produce effective programs with little or no guidance or support.
  • And much farm broadcasting is very boring to listen to!

Too frequently, a radio station thinks that a farmer program is a slot in the schedule into which they can simply “dump” agricultural information, and hope that farmers will listen and use it. But a radio program is a distinct communications tool, with its own strengths and weaknesses, like a novel, or a comic strip, or a song. An effective farm radio program follows standards that exploit the strengths of radio.

As a farm broadcaster, you want your farmer program to be useful, interesting – even empowering, for farmers. And you want it to have a wide audience of both women and men farmers. To help you, we have pulled together “best practices” of farm broadcasters, and have grouped them in a way that will be easy for you to remember and use.

We call them the VOICE standards for effective farmer radio programming. There are five standards, and in English their key words spell out “VOICE.”

We describe each of the five standards in the following paragraphs. Then we provide a checklist of indicators. These indicators refer to the content of the radio program and how the program is presented.

There are many times when these standards and indicators are useful:

  • At the beginning, when your radio station creates its first regular farmer program.
  • Weekly, when the farmer program team plans its next episode.
  • Weekly, when the farmer program team reviews the effectiveness of the previous episode.
  • Whenever you are training a new farm broadcaster, or refreshing the skills of an existing one.
  • When you are revising your farmer program, and
  • When your station does the annual evaluation of its farmer program.

If you have questions or comments about these standards, or questions about how to implement them, contact us at radio@farmradio.org.

The VOICE Standards

V : The program values small-scale farmers, both women and men. It respects farmers for their hard work producing nutritious food for their families and the markets, often in the face of major challenges. It reaches out to farmers to understand their situation, and is dedicated to supporting them in their farming work and in their efforts to improve rural life.

O : The program provides farmers with the opportunity to speak and be heard on all matters. It encourages small-scale farmers to name their concerns, discuss them, and organize to act on them. It holds to account those with a duty to hear farmers and serve their needs.

I : The program provides farmers with the information they need when they need it. Farmers require specific information and they need it in time to act on it.

C : The program is consistent and convenient. It is broadcast at least weekly, at a time when women and men farmers can listen.

E : The program is entertaining and memorable. It appeals to the interests and tastes of a wide range of local farmers. Complicated material is presented in a way that helps farmers remember.

The checklist of indicators

This checklist provides examples of “best practices” in implementing the VOICE standards. Some elements are more important than others. An episode of your farmer program does not need to include all elements. (For example, male farmers do not need to be interviewed in an episode focused on women farmers.)

When you use this checklist to evaluate an episode of your farm program, listen to the episode, and then circle the rating that best describes how each indicator is used in this episode. Then, combine these ratings with your judgment and your experience to decide how well the episode meets each specific V, O, I, C and E standard. These overall scores will give you a good sense of the strengths of your farmer program, and areas where improvements are needed.

For each of the elements of VOICE, consider the criteria  and give yourself a rating from 1-5, where:

1= not evident

2= strong disagree

3= disagree

4 = agree

5 = strongly agree

Then, give yourself an overall score in the category, ranging from bad, to poor, to average, to good, to excellent.

V : Valuing farmers

The program values small-scale farmers, both women and men. It respects farmers for their hard work producing nutritious food for their families and the markets, often in the face of major challenges. It reaches out to farmers to understand their situation, and is dedicated to supporting them in their farming work and in their efforts to improve rural life.

Criteria: 

  1. The episode reflects the actual situation of female farmers.
  2. The episode reflects the actual situation of male farmers.
  3. The episode is broadcast in the language used by farmers.
  4. The host conveys an attitude of respect for, and solidarity with, female farmers.
  5. The host conveys an attitude of respect for, and solidarity with, male farmers.
  6. The host treats issues with clarity, and in a way that can be understood by farmers.
  7. Farmers introduce themselves or are introduced respectfully.
  8. The host asks farmers open-ended questions that prompt the farmer to provide detailed answers.
  9. The host gives expert farmers the same respect given to other experts.

Overall score: Bad  / Poor / Average / Good / Excellent

O : Opportunity for small-scale farmers to speak and be heard

The program provides farmers with the opportunity to speak and be heard on all matters. It encourages small-scale farmers to name their concerns, discuss them, and organize to act on them. It holds to account those with a duty to hear farmers and serve their needs.

Criteria: 

  1. Female farmers discuss issues that are important to them.
  2. Male farmers discuss issues that are important to them.
  3. The host/interviewer helps farmers express themselves with confidence and clarity.
  4. Farmers ask questions of experts or of people in positions of authority.
  5. The host asks questions of experts or of people in positions of authority, using questions that farmers would ask.
  6. Officials are held to account on matters of concern to farmers.
  7. Farmers are interviewed in groups or panels which provide them with the opportunity to build on each others’ comments.
  8. Farmer/listeners provide feedback about the program off-air (e.g. by SMS or phone calls) and, samples of that feedback are broadcast.
  9. Farmer/listeners provide feedback about the program on-air (e.g., by phone-ins, phone-outs or beep-to-vote).

Overall score: Bad  / Poor / Average / Good / Excellent

I : Information is useful and timely

The program provides farmers with the information they need, when they need it. Farmers require specific information and they need it in time to act on it.

Criteria: 

  1. The information provided is useful for female farmers.
  2. The information provided is useful for male farmers.
  3. The information serves the interests of small farmers (not governments, big businesses and big farms).
  4. The information provided is accurate, fair and balanced.
  5. If earlier information provided is wrong or misleading, a correction is made on air.
  6. Information is sought from expert farmers.
  7. Information is sought from scientists and other professionals.
  8. The host helps experts to communicate clearly.
  9. Specialists provide information that is useful and in the farmers' interests.
  10. Information is supplied at the right time in the cropping cycle.
  11. “Daily Farm Report” information is provided (see definition).
  12. “Current Issues” information is provided (see definition).
  13. “Major Issues” information is provided (see definition).

Overall score: Bad  / Poor / Average / Good / Excellent

Definitions: 

  • A “Daily Farm Report” contains information that farmers need on a regular basis to adjust their farming practices. The useful elements of the farm report relate to weather conditions and market conditions. However, in some places the farm report might include information about the availability of labour or credit.
  • Information on “Current issues” is information that keeps your farmers up-to-date on current activities and situations that are relevant to farmers.
  • Information on “Major issues” is information about the most important issues that farmers face as they try to improve their crops, their livelihoods, and the welfare of their families.

C : Convenience and consistency

The program is convenient and consistent. It is broadcast when women and men farmers can listen, it is broadcast at least weekly, and it is repeated.

Criteria: 

  1. The program is broadcast at least weekly, when female farmers can listen.
  2. The program is broadcast at least weekly when male farmers can listen.
  3. The host promotes the next episode.
  4. The station re-broadcasts the episode every week, at another time convenient for female and male farmers.
  5. The episode reminds the listener of what station and program they are listening to.
  6. The station runs promos for the farmer program during breaks throughout the weekly program schedule.

Overall score: Bad  / Poor / Average / Good / Excellent

E : Entertaining and memorable

The program is entertaining and memorable. It appeals to the interests and tastes of a wide range of local farmers. Complicated material is presented in a way that helps farmers remember.

Criteria: 

  1. The episode features a sig tune that alerts listeners to the start of the episode.
  2. The host’s intro to the episode gives the listener a compelling reason to continue listening.
  3. Female farmers respect and enjoy this host.
  4. Male farmers respect and enjoy this host.
  5. The episode uses a variety of radio formats (four or more).
  6. The various elements of the episode follow each other in a well-paced way.
  7. The host breaks up long interviews with questions and summaries.
  8. The episode uses humour.
  9. The episode includes music of interest to female farmers.
  10. The episode includes music of interest to male farmers.
  11. The episode is free of technical glitches that distract listener’s attention.
  12. The episode features story-telling.
  13. The host summarizes important or complex points.
  14. The host provides "signposts" that tell listeners where the episode is going.
  15. When on location, the host paints a “word picture” of the setting.
  16. When on location, the sounds of people, animals, work, machinery, flowing water, etc. are heard.
  17. The episode uses memory games (quizzes, poems) to help farmers remember key facts.
  18. The episode holds the listener's interest right to the end.
  19. The episode features dramatic elements (such as tension, story, anticipation) to hold listeners' attention.

Overall score: Bad  / Poor / Average / Good / Excellent

Overall score

Based on the scores you gave V, O, I, C and E above please select your overall score for VOICE for the episode:

Bad / Poor / Average / Good / Excellent

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Doug Ward, Chair of FRI, and revised over the years with input from FRI staff and farm broadcasters across sub-Saharan Africa

Project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD)