Communities at risk of losing their land speak

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 12:06

The cost and availability of food is in the news worldwide. What we wanted to do for World Food Day this year was bring new voices to the debate from communities at risk of losing their land. Many rural people we work with rely on land for food and their livelihoods.

As I mentioned last Tuesday, most of these rural communities have limited or no access to the Internet. However many do have mobiles / cell phones, making SMS / text messages a convenient way for them to communicate. So the plan was to convert these messages into posts on social media to reach a broad audience.

We spoke to our teams in countries most affected by land issues, and got enthusiastic responses from staff and communities in The Gambia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria and Rwanda. Our resourceful IT staff in 3 of the countries were able to setup a tool (Frontline SMS) to pull together all the national messages, and other staff and partner organisations spoke to communities about the opportunity.

Their messages were then posted to Twitter to see if anyone would be interested in the experiences of rural people in a distant part of the world.

The response was phenomenal! People in the rural communities we’d spoken to leapt on the idea and we received messages from nearly 500 people, across 5 countries in just a few days. To get every voice heard, we started publishing tweets every 20 minutes, which were widely shared and retweeted, like this one from Kenya:

We also received countless messages of support. If you’re reading this and sent one, please accept our most sincere thanks! We will ensure your message get to the communities.

As with all ‘best laid plans’, it changed quite a bit on the day. Our Nigeria team suddenly started receiving messages from communities they worked with, so we were able to retweet them:

Even more exciting was the next unplanned development as Sulah from our Rwanda team managed to get an internet connection from the rural community he was visiting. So we connected for a live link via Skype.

Suddenly these tools were enabling real time conversations between villagers in rural Rwanda and the rest of the world.

The questions came in from people on Twitter, and the villagers in Rwanda responded via @ActionAidVoices.

Don't think this was just an elaborate way for people with different backgrounds and nationalities to share their experiences however. With all of the messages collected, we'll lobby governments to improve, reform and implement better land laws.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the project, and what would make it more interesting for you. Leave us a comment below.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the project, and what would make it more interesting for you. Leave us a comment below.