How Yorkshire charity is using overseas aid money to change lives in farming communities around world

A Yorkshire charity is helping thousands of isolated cocoa farmers in Sierra Leone with an informative ‘forest-friendly’ radio show. Chris Burn reports.

The latest Farmers' Voice Radio initiative is taking place in Sierra Leone.

At a time when the UK’s overseas aid contributions are very much in the headlines, a small charity from Yorkshire is showing how it can make Government-backed support go a long way.

The Huddersfield-based Lorna Young Foundation has been awarded just over £53,000 from the Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to help expand its Farmers’ Voice Radio initiative, with a further £2,000 provided by the Souter Charitable Trust.

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The Farmers’ Voice Radio scheme has been running since 2010 to broadcast trusted, vital agricultural information in developing countries around the world and has reached over one million smallholder farmers to date.

Many of these farming communities, often in remote areas, are under huge pressure due to issues like climate change and intensive cultivation leading to deforestation, degraded land and declining productivity.

The broadcasts bring together local farmers, agricultural experts and supply chain partners to share their knowledge and expertise to encourage more sustainable and effective farming techniques, as well as providing tips on how to sell produce for a good price.

Using their latest grant, the Lorna Young Foundation – named after a late Fairtrade champion – has now launched a radio project targeted at smallholder cocoa farmers living around the edge of the Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP) in Sierra Leone. The area has been hard hit in recent years, having been on the frontline of both the civil war and Ebola crisis.  

A charity spokesperson says: “The GRNP is home to many threatened species. It is a protected national park, but deforestation, slash and burn agriculture and charcoal production are huge threats. Cocoa is tree-based crop that thrives in agro-forestry conditions and can play a positive role in rainforest conservation; producing cocoa with forest-friendly credentials is a great business opportunity for local farmers, but due to geographical isolation, gender, and illiteracy, many smallholder farmers struggle to access information on how to make gains in this area. Coronavirus has exacerbated this situation by closing training programmes, shutting off trade routes and inflating local market prices.”

New programme Goolla Ndiamo Yie, which means ‘Forest Friendship’ in local language Mende, sees members of the Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers Union meet each month to discuss a range of topics linked to forest-friendly cocoa production.

The discussions are recorded and edited into 15-minute programmes by community radio station, Starline FM, and broadcast twice weekly reaching an estimated listenership of 60,000.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Minister Baroness Liz Sugg says: “The skills and expertise in grassroots organisations from across the UK, like the Huddersfield-based Lorna Young Foundation, are changing lives in some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This innovative UK aid funded project harnesses the power of communication to support farmers to grow their way out of poverty and protect their local environment.”

LYF’s chairperson Ian Agnew says: “The LYF’s approach is simple and incredibly cost-effective. We are delighted to receive this second grant from the Government’s Small Charities Challenge Fund, which will enable us to reach even more of Africa’s poorest farmers and to assist with achieving sustained poverty reduction.

“The learning generated from this new project on forest-friendly cocoa production in Sierra Leone will allow us to expand and improve our online Farmers’ Voice Radio resources, benefiting smallholder farmers in other regions at a time when accessing face-to-face support is particularly challenging.”

For more information, visit www.farmersvoiceradio.org.

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