Audio postcard: Interactive radio growing “the pride of Singida”

Over 50 people are crammed into Mnung’una village’s small executive office. The back of the tin roof is ripped and banging loudly in the wind. Trucks rattle over the speed bumps of a nearby road leading to Singida in central Tanzania.

Some of the women are sharing chairs and men are standing on desks in order to get a good view. A small, blue wind-up and solar radio has everyone captivated as different members of the village take turns using the new device, celebrating when they are successful.

Staff from Farm Radio International (FRI) and a partner radio station, Radio Maria, are leading the training as part of the “Building towards national demand-drive farm radio services” project, funded by Irish Aid. Farmers, experts and broadcasters will design and air a 16-week participatory radio campaign (PRC) addressing an agricultural issue important to farmers. A PRC aims to inform farmers about a new agricultural practice, allow them to ask questions about it and make a decision whether or not to adopt the new practice. A PRC then shares information to support farmers in implementing the new practice.

Each episode of a PRC gives farmers an opportunity to hear from experts and other farmers. It also has an interactive component where farmers can leave a missed call “beep,” free of charge, at a specific number. Beep2vote allows farmers to vote in a poll, while beep4tips allows farmers to hear more information or contribute to the broadcast with questions or comments.

Agnes Shayo, an editorial officer for Radio Maria, was a part of the design workshop and radio training with the farmers in Singida.

“The main reason of the workshop is to create something that will give farmers a means to speak for themselves through radio,” she said.

This particular program is all about sorghum: the challenges, benefits and best practices for small-scale farmers. Sorghum is considered “the pride of Singida” because it can withstand the region’s dry climate. Pili Athumani, 32, has five acres of farmland where she grows sorghum and sunflowers. She was at the workshop and said she hopes the PRC will discuss pest and disease control, as this information will help with the food shortages she and her four children are facing right now.

“I am always thinking, ‘Where will I get enough food to feed my family?’ Sometimes I depend on selling sorghum to get money. So I keep thinking: ‘Where to get food? Where to get money?’ ”

Another important component of the PRC is forming community listening groups, which meet weekly to listen and discuss the radio program. These groups are provided, for a small fee, a radio that doesn’t rely on batteries or electricity.

The community listening group provides a reliable way for farmers to learn from and interact with the show. Broadcasters can visit the groups and farmers can call in to record their voices for the program. Farmers also have support from the group members if they choose to implement the agricultural practice discussed on air.

Salum Mwangu is a young farmer in the village. The 25-year-old does not own a radio but listens through his cellphone when it is charged through a neighbour’s generator. He grows sunflowers on his three acres of land but wants to start planting sorghum.

“Through listening to the radio in groups, I am expecting to get a lot of knowledge concerning sorghum production, and sorghum production will increase in our village,” he said.

The program was on air starting in September. Salum is excited to have a chance to speak on the radio so that he can share his ideas, have questions answered and promote his community’s agricultural activities.

Beth White
About the author  
Beth White is a recent journalism graduate of Carleton University. She is spending the summer working in Arusha, Tanzania as a Communication Research Assistant, where she will evaluate FRI’s programs. Beth has worked in print, television and online news but aspires to work in communications for a charity organization.

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