Sharing Knowledge, Giving Voice

Broadcaster Martin Mhina on the challenges of preparing and hosting a quality farmer program

Martin Mhina

Martin Mhina interviews a maize farmer in Tanga Region, Tanzania, for the farmer program, Shamba darasa, on Voice of Africa.

Martin Mhina pushes open the heavy, soundproof studio door, puts on a pair of headphones, and pulls his microphone close. In the same instant, the on-air light turns red and a big smile brightens his face as he greets his listeners.

Martin produces and presents radio shows at Voice of Africa’s Korogwe station, about six hours’ drive north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Voice of Africa just wrapped up a two-year partnership with Farm Radio International, producing 31 episodes of a program called Shamba darasa, or “Field class,” focused on new varieties of drought-tolerant maize, as part of a project supported by USAID’s New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge Fund, through the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Tanzania.

Preparing and hosting radio shows is a lot of work, and making shows that meet Farm Radio’s quality standards meant extra challenges for Martin and his colleagues. To prepare Shamba darasa, Martin and his co-producer Namkishi Msangi travelled regularly by motorcycle to villages in the area, to interview both male and female farmers. But the farmers were often busy in their fields or reluctant to speak to reporters.

Back in his office at the radio station, Martinexplains: “A lot of farmers lose confidence and cannot speak freely when they see a recorder. Some farmers are shy to speak to us. Other men are jealous and do not want to see us interviewing their wife.”

Travelling to villages and trudging through fields to hear from farmers was both time-consuming and expensive. Sometimes the journalists couldn’t afford to drive to the more distant villages. At other times, they couldn’t find farmers to interview on the topic they wanted to cover, and returned to the station unable to complete their planned program.

But Martin and his colleagues worked hard to win the farmers’ trust. They played popular local music at the beginning and end of the show, and made sure to include local languages as well as Swahili in their farmer programs.

Most of all, they spent time in the field—not only using their recorders to interview farmers, but also picking up a hoe to help them.

Martin remembers a turning point in the production of the program. It happened while he was visiting Kwadzunga village: “When we arrived, the women were a bit reluctant to participate. I sat down with them and started to prepare maize with them and make stories. Then they opened up to me, and we started working.”

Once, when they were unable to present the farmer program at the usual time, listeners immediately called the station asking what was wrong.

He adds, “They also call the station to say ‘thank you.’ Radio is very important in this area.”

Voice of Africa broadcasts seven hours a day to Tanzania’s Tanga and Coastal regions. The weekly farmer program, Shamba darasa, focused on maize: preparing the soil, selecting seeds, using animal manure and other fertilizers, as well as storing and marketing the harvest.

As he zips around the region gathering interviews, Martin notices that farmers have increased their yields since listening to his radio shows.

“I think there have been a lot of changes. Before the program, farmers used to plant local maize seeds and now they plant the improved variety…. There are farmers who were not ready to try different practices—for example, farmers who grow maize on slopes. It is difficult to convince them to use fertilizer because it can easily be washed away by the rain. But after they have seen other farmers doing it and becoming successful, they are also starting to consider using fertilizer.”

As well as helping farmers improve their harvests, the farmer programs helped Voice of Africa reach new listeners, and helped radio staff develop new skills.

Martin adds, “We also learn a lot from farmers. I learned about different vegetables, for example, mlenda—it is like okra. When we go for an interview, we sit and eat with them.”

Scrolling through dozens of photographs of Voice of Africa staff visiting local farmers, Martin says he and his team are proud of the connections they’ve created with rural listeners.

“I feel happy, because I know I prepared a program and people are listening to it. I feel like I am making many friends and getting many people to listen to the radio.”

This story was prepared with the support of USAID’s New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge Fund, through the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Tanzania. For more information about the Fund, please see: https://www.ifad.org/