The Eat Caribbean project uses radio, podcasts, blogs and social networks to provide information on agricultural value chains to farmers and related businesses in the region.
‘Farmers do not always have time to read booklets and guides, however useful they are. But they can listen to the radio while they work and hear from people just like them, experiencing, and solving, the same problems.’
Roderick St Clair is the host of the Eat Caribbean radio programme, part of a project of the same name, run by the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN). Eat Caribbean is part of a larger FAO initiative to improve food security with specific aims to develop and strengthen food security and agricultural value chains throughout the region.
On the Eat Caribbean programme, St Clair talks to farmers, extension officers, exporters, buyers and financiers. The talks aim to show how value chains can meet the requirements of buyers (such as supermarkets, fast food chains, processors and exporters) and link these buyers to farmers, while also discussing challenges and success stories. ‘We talk to anyone who is involved in agricultural value chains and who has some experience and advice they can pass on to others,’ he says. ‘We discuss the links between each business to give the others a better understanding of the challenges and options at each step along the chain. Farmers call in and speak directly to the guest advisers. They can ask the financiers questions about banking, get to know the problems transporters face, and discover the issues that concern the buyers.’
The programmes are broadcast on a local radio station in Grenada, and streamed live online every week. Anyone who misses the broadcast can visit the website to download and listen to a podcast. Its reach already goes far beyond the Caribbean. People from all round the world, particularly in Africa and South America, are downloading and subscribing to the podcast and sending comments and questions to the project website.
The discussion continues on the project’s blog, which also acts as a resource with case studies, further information and links for people to read more about value chains, and share ideas. ‘The blog provides a forum for farmers to discuss topics and make connections,’ says St Clair. ‘They can contact us with ideas for programmes, or to get the contact details of someone they heard on the show for more specific information.’
The project also uses social media, including Facebook. ‘We have just started to promote the project through Facebook,’ adds St Clair. ‘We hope to develop the page there in the next year to help people meet and share information. Using social media should help to attract a bigger audience from outside the Caribbean, and give people the opportunity to interact with each other through the chat functions and by commenting on articles and photos posted there.’
The programme started broadcasting in early 2011, but farmers are already making connections as a result of the programme, and using the information. Perhaps just as importantly, the radio broadcasts inspire people. ‘I got a call recently from a farmer who said he had been having a bad day, but after he heard the programme he was motivated again and felt happy to get back to work. It is great to get these reactions from people, just saying they are interested. That then inspires me to go forward and make the next programme. And, although it is too early to say if we have had any real effect, I see this kind of feedback as a good first sign.’
The project organises regular meetings and training courses for farmers, giving information on how to work in, and develop, a value chain. The training courses provide farmers with the initial information they need to go back to their respective countries and begin establishing value chains there. The radio programme, podcast, blog and social networking reinforce the lessons the farmers have learned, and continue to provide extra information, and motivation, long after the training course is over.
Although many small-scale farmers still do not have regular access to the internet, St Clair is convinced that the Eat Caribbean approach is effective. ‘We have to remember that the value chain goes beyond the farmers. The businesses and companies that we are trying to involve are all using the internet, and they are the ones who drive the value chain. As they get involved, the farmers see that the technology can benefit them too, and so even small-scale producers are willing to pay the extra cost to access this information.’
In the near future, St Clair hopes to develop an online radio station dedicated to agricultural and food issues concerning not only the Caribbean, but also African and Pacific countries. The technology is now available to make this possible at very low cost, and to have contributions and an audience from beyond the region.
‘Farmers have a lot of stories to tell, and they like to tell those stories,’ he says. ‘They also want to hear stories from other farmers. When farmers hear other farmers speaking, they feel more empowered, responsible, challenged and respected because they hear themselves speaking. It is not just another politician or bureaucrat that they hear, but someone like them. With the help of radio, blogs and social media, this project helps all those farmers, and everyone else involved in the value chain, to speak to each other and give them a chance to share their stories.’