Educating | Informing | Illuminating

Creating positive change for rural farmers with our MP3

dsc02363By Elyse Elder

For three months I’ve served as a liaison between Lifeline Energy and its Zambian partner COMACO with a conservation farming project for small-scale farmers. I can’t believe that my time is coming to an end.

One of my responsibilities was to create an audio-based executive training course using Lifeline’s Lifeplayer MP3 for farmer cooperative leaders surrounding the wildlife-rich South Luangwa National Park.  The training course gives farmer leaders the tools to take ownership of conservation and income-generating projects.  Solar and wind-up Lifeplayers allow farmers to build on what they’ve already learned. Content can easily be edited and expanded.  Farmers are learning practical livelihood skills for the first time and it’s empowering them to create positive change and increased incomes.

Community is key for success

Based in the fast growing Eastern Province town of Chipata, I worked with a dedicated COMACO team to create the training course. During its implementation, I realized how critical one component becomes to a development project community.   When asked, COMACO employees will tell you the difference between success and failure of a project is the buy-in by the community.  James Kalaluka, a COMACO coordinator, said the number one ally of a project is community members. “When you keep repeating a message, a few farmers will listen. They become the role models.  Once people see their success, others will come on board.”

Yet how do you find these role models and make them believe in a project?  This is where radio, or in this instance a Lifeplayer, plays an essential role.

Empowering change

For the past four years, thousands of farmers have listened to the weekly COMACO Farm Talk on Lifeline’s Prime radio. Broadcast on Breeze FM, itimg_20161101_141446 gives a voice to farmers to share best practices and challenges related to conservation farming.  And they prefer to listen together in a group, not on a transistor radio at home, even if they have one.  As a result of being part of a listening group, farmers are more likely to collaborate with one another. They’re more likely to begin business ventures like farming communal fields and using the money to invest in conservation farm machinery.  Innovations come from the farmers themselves – a huge milestone considering many farmers are poorly educated and illiterate.

The producer of Farm Talk, Filius Jere, understands the importance of communities better than most.  “When farmers hear information on the radio, they are more ready to act than if a COMACO officer teaches them.  People feel they cannot relate when so-called experts come to them.  With radio, they are hearing fellow farmers and better believe they can do the same thing.”

The farmer executive training course is on its way to becoming a success because COMACO understands it’s the community that makes the difference.  COMACO is there to provide tools, but the community and the dialogue of knowledge and discovery within it creates sustainable change.  Still the most trusted technology, radio, and now the Lifeplayer MP3, are helping farmers to develop themselves and the result is a growing confidence and a more positive-looking future.

My only wish is that I could have stayed longer to witness how the executive farm course makes a difference in farmers’ futures.  I guess I’ll just have to come back.