July 31, 2020

Radio is king: South Sudanese farmers get trained during COVID-19

Vast swathes of rural Sub-Saharan Africa lack internet reach and this is where almost all of the continent’s food is produced. Here, radio is king. It is the main, if not only, medium of information sharing. The South Sudanese government is utilising this tool with public broadcasts about hand washing but SPARK is also using radio to confront impending food shortages.

Alongside Cordaid and Agriterra, we are broadcasting free training for farmers across local radio stations in South Sudan. Between April and May, conditions in the country’s rural pastures are ripe for planting sorghum, maize and vegetables. Yet with COVID-19 lockdowns, a volatile security situation, years of failed harvests due to drought, and a second, more deadly wave of locusts on the horizon, smallholder farmers this year face limited chances to sow their crops.

On top of that, increasing food prices as a result of travel and border restrictions with neighbouring countries, mean food shortages are soon expected in South Sudan. Therefore, the consortium of local and international NGOs decided to take urgent action to boost the productivity of the country’s food producers.

The Food Security through Agribusiness in South Sudan (FSA) programme supports smallholder farmers, particularly youth and women, to establish new agribusinesses or expand existing ones, so that they may become more resilient. The new radio shows cover topics like entrepreneurship, production planning, horticulture techniques, field crops, marketing and finance skills. After each pre-recorded training is aired, there is a live Q&A show whereby SPARK’s Business Support Officer fields questions from callers.

Participants are required to keep records of their progress. After the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, the Business Support Officer will review each smallholder farmer’s records to assess and select farmers to officially join the programme, which will provide further training to help them grow their farms into sustainable MSMEs.

Through Cordaid, the programme also provides seeds to farmers and also plans to distribute foundation seeds to specific progressive farmers specialising in local seed production. In landlocked South Sudan, farmers are finding it difficult to source or afford seeds to plant. There is concern that time is running out to provide the necessary inputs before the season ends, which of course will lead to less food.

The radio talk show is designed to ease dependency on NGO handouts and put the future of South Sudan back in the hands of local farmers by boosting farmers’ skills and knowledge on good agronomic practices, business skills, cooperative development and finance, which were jeopardised by the COVID-19 pandemic Subsistence and smallholder farmers have the potential to dramatically improve the economic situation of not only themselves, but for many other young people. COVID-19 has of course cost many businesses and livelihoods but with support, there could also be some benefit to South Sudanese agricultural businesses that no longer have to compete with imports from outside the country.