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Amplifying women’s voices through radio in Malawi

Radio is generations old, but when combined with some ingenuity and a few modern technologies, it can accomplish great things. As farmers, foresters and providers, women have a unique understanding of the ecosystems they live alongside. A pioneering radio programme in Malawi is tapping into this immense body of knowledge through a platform for women to engage in landscape restoration.

As farmers, foresters and providers, women have a unique  understanding of the ecosystems they live alongside. A pioneering  radio programme in Malawi is tapping into this immense body  of knowledge by creating a platform for women to engage in  landscape restoration.

To accomplish its forest landscape restoration (FLR) goals, the government of Malawi confirmed through the ROAM process that engaging with farmers, specifically women, is critical to the adoption and implementation of FLR practices. This led to the challenge of determining how to reach deep into the countryside with extension services and to create a platform which would give women and men a voice in farming and restoration issues.

Enter a local Malawian NGO called Farm Radio Trust (FRT). They rolled out an innovative communications model called Her Farm Radio that taps into the power of radio, mobile technologies and other information communication technologies (ICTs) to raise awareness, promote informed decision-making and give a voice to smallholder farmers on FLR.

Together with the USAID-funded Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi project and the Department of Forestry, FRT worked with farmers and local stakeholders to introduce 15 minute segments on FLR on two radio stations that were popular among communities in Machinga and Mangochi districts. Groups were formed to listen to the programmes together – after which they discussed and shared feedback with broadcasters through WhatsApp group chats.

They also used mobile phone messaging and a cost free method of voting on certain topics called flash calling (dialling a number and then hanging up before an answer). These platforms allowed for interactive and customised discussions around FLR and farming among a large and dispersed group of stakeholders.  

In addition to the 40 dedicated listening groups, Her Farm Radio targeted 200,000 farmers within the two districts with a goal of featuring the voices of female farmers, their perspectives and concerns on FLR, and providing them with information on landscape restoration interventions that offer multiple benefits – including improving and stabilising local livelihoods. 

The project was immensely successful in engaging communities, especially women, in FLR. A survey conducted after the project indicated that 64% of the respondents have planted trees, while over 50% said they started to use energy saving technologies as a result of the radio programmes.

Thanks to Her Farm Radio, thousands of women and men increased their knowledge of locally appropriate FLR techniques, and discussions around gender were at the forefront.

Read" Her Farm Radio:  Building knowledge and developing the capacity of Malawi’s female farmers on forest landscape restoration" IUCN