SMS Connects Farmers to Radio ‘Extensionists’

Originally published on November 10, 2014.

Since 2009, Malawians have suffered from crippling fuel shortages. They typically wait in long lines at filling stations only to pay exorbitant prices, and few agricultural extensionists can budget for travel to visit farmers and provide hands-on training or advice.
 
Through the Malawi Dairy Development Alliance (MDDA), implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, some dairy farmers in northern and central Malawi discovered an innovative approach to acquiring new skills without the need for travel – using their mobile phones and radios.
 
Operating from 2007 through 2012 and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), MDDA focused on increasing the incomes of nearly 3,400 rural dairy farming households and other actors along the value chain, and improving the competitiveness and sustainability of the commercial dairy sector.
 
Land O’Lakes designed 10-minute radio sessions on dairy production and marketing to improve waning milk yields and transmitted them weekly on the Zodiak Broadcasting Station. Successful farmers from local milk bulking groups led the radio discussions on topics such as animal husbandry, business management, fodder conservation, supplementary feeding and milking techniques.
 

I rush to my radio whenever I receive the text message."

Patrick Nyamasauka (Farmer, MDDA client)

Land O’Lakes collaborated with Esoko, a Ghana-based information service provider, which set-up and deployed a series of texts that informed isolated farmers of the program's start times. Esoko, which was working in 16 African countries to connect smallholder farmers to market information, also sent out post-program texts to summarize the broadcasts and leave farmers with the information provided during the shows at their fingertips.
 
"I rush to my radio whenever I receive the text message. I listen keenly to the radio, and the message that comes after the broadcast helps me to remember the issues that were being discussed," said farmer, Patrick Nyamasauka. By connecting with Esoko, Land O’Lakes linked over 900 farmer-members of three major milk producer associations – Central Region Milk Producers Association (CREMPA), Mpoto Dairy Farmers Association (MDFA) and Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association (SHMPA) – to valuable information using SMS and radio.
 
Members of a milk bulking group listen to a radio broadcast to learn about milk hygiene.
Patrick Chigoloweza, a member of the Lumbadzi Milk Bulking Group said he benefitted from these services, "It is easier to access extension information through Esoko. Previously we used to struggle to get dairy farming and business information."
 
The five-year MDDA project strengthened 14 private sector input suppliers and four dairy producer associations to support the growth of the smallholder dairy industry in Malawi. The alliance’s partners invested $15 million in either cash or in-kind resources toward the goals of the overall project. Land O’Lakes helped increase milk productivity by 32 percent and dairy farmers earned on average 67 percent more income from dairy farming as a direct result of their active participation in MDDA.

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