Vernacular radio plays a crucial role in building the resilience of rural communities

  • Par Esther G. Lung’ahi
  • 31/10/2015

Radio Savane in Burkina Faso also used vernacular radio for climate change information and advisories/ K. Werntz


Vernacular radio stations are ones which broadcast in local languages. These stations are critical in disseminating climate information which can help people make informed decisions about climate change interventions.

For communities living in arid and semi-arid environments, their livelihoods are particularly vulnerable due to frequent exposure to climate change impacts. Thus, these communities especially need access to climate information and support services to build their adaptive capacity – and they can best understand it in their own language.

“Wajir community radio is a very useful tool for communication. Their main broadcasting language is Somali which is very convenient for us listeners. We can easily get on air, making our views and plights to be heard. It’s an eye opener for Wajir County people”, says Mr. Abdullahi Farah Matan, a listener and a fan of Wajir community radio.

Radio remains the most powerful, most accessible and the most affordable medium for reaching large numbers of people in isolated areas. Even the remotest villages have access to vernacular radio, which builds on the oral tradition of rural populations. This is why Mercy Corps Kenya is working with partners in Wajir Kenya and Karamoja Uganda to use vernacular radio to increase awareness on climate change and help people build resilience to its impacts.

Wajir and Karamoja are drought prone areas, therefore, there is the need to strengthen early warning preparedness, contingency and response systems for the regions. Since these communities are largely pastoral and rely on oral communication, radio is the best medium for communicating messages in a largely patriarchal society. It also has a wide appeal among the elderly and the illiterate who do not have the advantage of reading and writing.  

In addition to climate change information and advisories, the radio shows host discussions. Aired on Wajir community radio and Nana FM, the discussions are a a platform for pastoralists, farmers, technical advisors, policy makers and journalists to voice their opinion and flesh out climate change issues.

The discussions are moderated by a radio presenter to ensure callers remain on the topic of discussion and also prevent any possible offensive messages.

The target audience is mainly influential men and women in the community who reinforce traditional gender norms. The radio talk show also hopes to reach religious voices particularly among the leaders.

The talk shows are aired during prime time so as to reach as many people as possible. Key discussion themes include the importance of having both genders involved in building climate resilience. Women are asked to be involved in making decisions that were traditionally the responsibility of men.

Many of the “call ins” during these radio programmes are comments applauding the focus on gender. Some of the callers highlight the religious views around empowering women.

For instance, one caller talked of how families with girls were thriving economically and better-off compared to other male dominated households since girls are now involved in decision making and  are more resilient during times of stress and hardship.

Communities are slowly changing their culture and collectively working together to build adaptive capacities since they are more aware of the importance of collective responsibilities.

Climate change is continuous and unpredictable. Informed and flexible decisions for action are important to ensure resilience to climate change impacts.  Effective climate change education and communication is therefore required for communities in order to make them more aware, prepared and resilient.

MercyCorps Kenya’s work with vernacular radio is part of their on-going project called the Programme for Resilient Systems, part of the BRACED programme. The project is intended to build the absorptive, adaptive and transformative capacity of vulnerable individuals in Kenya and Uganda.

BRACED, MercyCorps and partners recognize education and information as the pathway to building resilient communities.

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