In March 2013, mobile phone subscriptions in Indonesia—a country of approximately 245 million people—topped 285 million. That’s a penetration rate of 117 percent—higher than in China, India, or even Japan. As the cost of phones and service plans dropped, social networks and community media grew enormously, fueled by texting and phone-enabled video.

These inexpensive media tools proved invaluable to Strategies Against Flu Emergence (SAFE), a two-year program focused on changing people’s behavior to reduce the risk and potentially deadly impact of avian influenza. The key: using existing social, mobile, and community media technology and networks, and working with private sector poultry concerns and local communities to enhance safe poultry practices.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), SAFE teamed with the private sector, civil society, and the Government of Indonesia to utilize:

  • Social media to reach consumers, including housewives, to deliver healthy market and poultry handling messages;
  • Mobile education to reinforce use of biosecurity measures and promote networking among local farmers; and
  • Community media to point out risky behaviors in live bird markets and facilitate conversations between vendors and customers.

The results were impressive. Over two years, 347 farms—mostly in high-risk parts of Indonesia—self-financed biosecurity changes such as limiting the entrance of people and vehicles into the farm and improving drainage; and 2,721 vendors in 69 markets made their selling areas more sanitary. These actions were not taken solely for the sake of public safety but instead reflected business decisions influenced in part by customers—mostly women—brought together through social media to demand a cleaner, safer shopping experience.

Hitting The Target

Chicken is big business in Indonesia; the poultry industry does not export because it can hardly keep up with domestic demand. When avian influenza emerged in 2003, the disease struck Indonesia harder than any country. It killed 83 percent of its human victims, resulted in millions of chickens culled, and damaged countless farms and businesses.

Photo of a customer using a poultry vendor scale at the Cipanas market.

The disease spreads through unsanitary and risky behaviors. To change these behaviors, SAFE targeted its messages to members of the poultry supply chain: large producers, small farmers, traders, and transporters, plus live-market slaughterers, vendors, managers, and consumers. We reached out through their networks and preferred social media sites, mobile phone applications, and information platforms.

Importantly, we did not reinvent the platforms; we built on what existed and engaged three local partners:

  • Aisyiyah, Indonesia’s largest Muslim women’s with a network across 6,924 subdistricts, provided access to its Facebook page, Twitter account, and grassroots membership. Its keen interest in health and education, particularly for girls and young women, made it a particularly attractive partner.
  • COMBINE Resource Institution supports communication through local radio and manages interventions using the Internet and text messages. It provided access to Suara Komunitas, a community voice website and social media platform.
  • Satu Dunia (One World) Indonesia manages information, communication, and technology for civil society organizations and is part of a global network specializing in the creative use of interaction via text messages.

Focusing On Consumer Demand

SAFE focused much of its social media campaign on the buyers of poultry—housewives, maids, restaurants, and caterers—and communities living near the live-bird markets in high-risk areas. We believed consumers could motivate even reluctant vendors through:

  • Empowerment—Once consumers built self-confidence and understood their purchasing power, they felt comfortable visiting markets and urging market managers and vendors to act.
  • Competition—Vendors who improved the hygiene of their stalls attracted more customers, influencing other vendors to change in order to compete.

Our local partners already reached audiences among the poultry buyers. Aisyiyah had 5,000 Facebook followers, while the Suara Komunitas’ text messaging platform reached more than 7,000 unique visitors. The message we put out was simple: The consumer has a right to healthy products and should buy only healthy poultry for the family. We developed Islamic perspectives that resonated with consumers, and uploaded more than 140 articles to partner websites, generating 11,000 page views.

The results reinforced the idea that social media requires active moderating to keep people interested and attract return visits. Each partner assigned staff to be responsible for moderating discussion forums and blogs. Collectively, they galvanized the demand for cleaner poultry practices.

Reinforcing Farmers’ Lessons

As part of the campaign, the poultry industry and SAFE created teaching farms where we hosted groups of farmers to learn first-hand about biosecurity, promoted the business case for safer practices, and provided technical assistance to willing farmers.

But the conversations did not end there. Farmers, managers of teaching farms, and industry technical staff all have mobile phones—farmers, in particular, commonly use text messages to communicate with industry contacts. SAFE and partner Satu Dunia launched a messaging platform to reinforce the lessons from the teaching farms; Satu Dunia sent more than 3,500 texts over seven weeks, while SAFE sent 16,000 texts over several months, on topics including biosecurity management and equipment, ventilation in chicken houses, production management, and news of disease outbreaks.

The Leave-Behind

Long before it closed in mid-2013, SAFE began transferring responsibility to its partners for various initiatives, with an eye to their long-term sustainability. Among those that continue to thrive today:

  • Teaching farms—11 such farms are now operated by industry and academia.
  • Consumer/women’s empowerment—Aisyiyah adopted SAFE’s consumer empowerment component as part of its national program and is replicating it in new districts and provinces.
  • Healthy live-bird markets—The District Industry and Trade office, and the Livestock Services and Health office, have adopted components of the SAFE initiative to reinforce risk-reduction behaviors.
  • Farmer mobile messaging—GOPAN, the independent farmers’ association, now provides biosecurity guidance to its members through mobile texting.

Making strategic use of mobile phones, community radio, and the Internet, SAFE embodied the “voice and accountability” principles central to so many aspects of contemporary development, and showed what can be achieved through the energetic engagement of civil society. A 2014 evaluation conducted by USAID found that among the most useful and sustainable USAID/Indonesia-funded disease control activities—those that should be continued—are poultry commercial sector involvement, biosecurity training for poultry farms, consumer awareness raising, and teaching farms. These recommendations are a testament to the SAFE project’s initiatives and the social media activities that supported them.