Radio is widely acknowledged as the best way to deliver farming information to small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
But, until recently, little was known about the circumstances in which African farm broadcasters operate, and whether their farmer programs serve listeners’ needs.
We launched a research project called the African Rural Radio Program Analysis (ARRPA) to help fill these knowledge gaps and help ensure that radio programs truly serve the needs of listeners in rural African communities.
The African Rural Radio Program Analysis
In 2011, we reviewed the work of 22 radio stations/organizations in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania and later presented our findings in a comprehensive report. In 2014, we followed up by reviewing the work of six radio stations in Francophone Africa, three each in Burkina Faso and Mali, and produced a synthesis report summarizing the findings of ARRPA 2011 and ARRPA 2014, and their similarities and differences.
Here are some of the things we have learned since launching ARRPA five years ago.
Programs aired in local languages
All of the stations reviewed in both ARRPA 2011 and ARRPA 2014 air their farmer programs in local languages.
Ensuring program quality
We developed the VOICE standards to help encourage effective farmer radio programming. They encourage broadcasters to value the small-scale farmers who tune in, provide opportunities for them to speak and be heard, share the information they need when it is needed, ensure that programs are consistent and convenient, and develop programs that are entertaining and memorable.
The stations that participated in ARRPA 2011 found it easier to provide relevant, credible, and timely information and offer convenient programming for their listeners. They did less well at meeting standards for providing opportunities for farmers’ voices to be heard, and broadcasting programs that farmers find entertaining. The findings from ARRPA 2014 were similar. One difference was that, in ARRPA 2014, stations had more difficulty offering convenient programming.
Broadcasters often work in challenging conditions
Only three of the six stations assessed in ARRPA 2014 have email access, and in some cases, connectivity is poor. Similarly, only three stations have internet access at the office. The proportion of stations with internet and email access was similar in ARRPA 2011.
Stations show ingenuity in addressing challenges
Stations demonstrate creativity in addressing challenges such as better understanding their audiences.
For example, to interact with its audience, one station trained and engaged relay agents in certain communities. Relay agents keep the station informed about events in villages which can hear the station. The station trains them on agriculture and other important community issues. In turn, relay agents help the station work on community issues by mobilizing villagers to attend village meetings and other events.
How and why farmers tune in
When it comes to listening behaviour, we learned from ARRPA 2014 that listeners generally discuss farmer programs with others in the family, but also outside the home. One men’s and one women’s focus group noted that listeners can now hear farmer programs on their mobile phones. When asked why they listen, audience members said that they listen primarily to hear useful farming information. This is consistent with ARRPA 2011.
In ARRPA 2014, women’s focus groups made many pointed comments about inequities between men’s and women’s status, and their desire for radio stations to address and help repair them. The six stations looked at in 2014 employ 172 paid staff, only 23 per cent of whom are women. This gender divide is consistent with ARRPA 2011, which found that 16 of 20 program hosts were men, and 19 of 20 farmer programs were produced solely by men.
Using Farm Radio resources
Few of the stations who participated in ARRPA 2014 were aware of Farm Radio Resource Packs, and even fewer knew about our other resources for broadcasters. The situation was much different in ARRPA 2011, where almost all stations had received Farm Radio’s broadcasters resources and used them in various ways.
While the ARRPA 2014 sample is too small to easily generalize its findings to other stations in sub-Saharan Africa, the many similarities between the findings of ARRPA 2011 and ARRPA 2014 suggest a variety of ways that Farm Radio and other organizations can usefully collaborate with African rural radio stations to better serve farming communities over the airwaves.