Podcast gives Syrian farmers a helping hand after years of armed conflict
By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Wednesday, 8 December 2021
A podcast series co-produced by Sussex researchers is helping to connect farmers in northwest Syria and share agricultural learnings, filling in the gaps left by years of conflict.
Ten years of armed conflict has severely affected Syria’s agricultural sector, with state-led support services collapsing in opposition-held areas, such as northwest Syria. This has resulted in major disruptions to food value chains, as well as the loss of crop production, livestock, and agricultural assets and infrastructure.
Dr Mirela Barbu and Prof Martin Spinelli of the University of Sussex, working in partnership with the Council for At-Risk Academics’ (Cara) and the Syrian Academics and Experts (SAE), provided Syrian agricultural experts with training in podcast production. They then helped set up and run the first podcast series aimed at supporting Syrian farmers, Agricultural Voices Syria (AVS).
Dr Mirela Barbu, Senior Lecturer in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Sussex Business School and Principal Investigator of this project, said: “Agricultural Voices Syria is a unique experiment in conflict-zone podcasting – but also a way for us to share knowledge and skills to empower Syrian agricultural experts, based in Syria or in exile, to communicate and support farmers in the northwest of the country.
“Episodes have featured agricultural engineers, agronomists and academics speaking on topics such as irrigation and fertilisation, soil preparation and productivity, control of diseases, seed production and preservation of local vegetables, organic fertilisers and compost production.
“During the project, 15 episodes have been produced and disseminated to more than 1,000 farmers in nothewest Syria. AVS has continued to grow, averaging 600 new listeners every week. We have 6,000 regular users and the 23rd episode has been just released”.
The podcast episodes were recorded in Arabic and are available to listen from Anchor or Castbox, via the mobile phone app. Transcripts in English for the first 15 episodes are available on the Agricultural Voices Syria website.
Through a follow-up survey, the team discovered that around 98% of farmers were using WhatsApp, resulting in the development of an app to allow individuals to listen in from their phones.
Prof Martin Spinelli, Professor in Media and Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, said: “Podcasts are a particularly inexpensive and accessible digital communication tool in conflict zones where traditional media access is controlled and sporadic.
“The history of using podcasting to give voice to people marginalized by official, authorized, licensed media channels is also a very significant factor as to why podcasting is very good for development projects. Podcasting, especially in the developing world, is an opportunity to rebalance the scales somewhat between the large state and commercial broadcasters, which tend to dominate the scene, and more independent humanitarian/development NGO voices that would have a hard time reaching the same kind of audience.
“Podcasting is an important form of communication for developing connected communities that might have been fractured through conflict or migration, and Agricultural Voices Syria is a great example of that kind”.
Dr Shaher Abdullateef, founder and Director of Syrian Academics and Experts (SAE) said: “One of the most critical impacts of the Syrian conflict on agriculture has been the collapse of support services for farmers, which, before 2011 were provided by the government. Thousands of Syrian academics and technical experts have been forced to leave the country with profound impact on the level of technical knowledge and expertise in Syria.
“Agriculture Voices Syria provides Syrian agronomists and agricultural engineers with a great opportunity to share their knowledge with Syrian farmers and collaborate with local and international actors who are working to ensure food security and improve livelihoods in Syria.
“Helping those who work in the agri-food value chain to overcome the challenges they face is of great importance to us. We will continue producing podcast episodes on agricultural-related topics and welcome contributions from across the agricultural community.”
Producers hope now to expand on the podcast, working with SAE to create short videos for YouTube which will provide farmers with practical demonstrations of agricultural techniques. This digital technology can also support small-scale farming in other post-conflict countries.
The University of Sussex is a member of the ‘Cara Scholars at Risk UK Universities Network’. This project, funded by the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, further strengthens relationships with at-risk academics to build on in future research efforts.
The AVS project will be presented during a symposium organised by Cara Syria Programme from 6-10 December, supported by the British Academy and The Royal Society. To join the Cara Symposium, please visit: https://www.cara.ngo/cara-syria-symposium-voices-from-the-syrian-academic-community-unique-local-insights-contributions-to-research-policy-and-practice/