Farm Radio International has been producing resources for radio broadcasters for more than 40 years—since May 1979. We started Barza Wire, a news service that shares stories about rural communities in Africa, back in 2007. And this month, we celebrated another milestone: our 600th issue of Barza Wire!
To celebrate the occasion, we spoke with Mark Ndipita and Ali Saouadogo, the Barza Wire bureau chiefs who work with writers from across sub-Saharan Africa to produce Barza Wire Farmer stories. They shared their experience working on Barza Wire over the years, as well as their hopes for the publication in the future.
Mark Ndipita of Lilongwe, Malawi has been the anglophone Barza Wire bureau chief for so long, he can’t remember exactly when he began—between 10 and 13 years ago, he says. What he recalls very well was the motivation that first brought him to the publication when he was working as an agricultural officer.
“The desire to serve farmers [and] the desire to contribute to the development of my country, I think is what made me join Barza Wire,” he says. “Because I knew that if I joined Barza Wire, I would have a chance to reach more farmers, not only in my country but throughout Africa.”
At the time, he recalls that Barza Wire Farmer stories addressed mainly agricultural topics such as conservation agriculture and best practices in cash crop value chains such as maize.
He says that gender issues and women’s participation in farming was a focus early on as well—topics which continue to be a strong and increasing focus for Barza Wire today, alongside climate change and health.
“Now Barza Wire can go beyond [agriculture] and look at issues of promoting the girl child, issues of kids in schools … [and] women in vocational training,” Mark says. “Farmers are human beings—they are not only focusing on farming but also the other aspects of life: health issues, gender issues, last year we focused on COVID-19. All those things affect the farmers’ lives. If the farmer is not doing well in all these other areas which we are now covering … it will affect their farming.”
For this reason, he says the many different Farmer story topics are complementary to one another.
Mark shares that he is proud of his contributions to Barza Wire over the years. “To be part and parcel of Barza Wire for over 10 years, this is something which I cherish as an achievement. It’s been absolutely fantastic,” he says.
He notes that he’s been able to improve his own skills over the years, as well as the skills of many Barza Wire writers.
“Most importantly, that the stories that we’ve published through Barza Wire have changed the lives of many, they have been broadcast over a number of different stations in Africa … I think that’s also fantastic,” he continues.
After reading hundreds of Barza Wire stories, Mark admits that he sometimes worried that the publication would run out of ideas. “I thought maybe as time goes by, … that the stories might get a bit similar,” he says. “But it’s amazing to notice that each and every time we are coming up with something new, something that can help farmers to change their lives. The different topics that keep coming up until now is telling me that there is more that we have to do.”
To readers, Mark says, “First of all, [I want] to thank them for doing a good job. That is to make sure that farmers are learning from other farmers … And they should not stop. I think that broadcasters are doing a good job and I would like to encourage them to continue the commendable work they are doing.”
As for the future of Barza Wire, he says, “I know the sky’s the limit.”
Ali Saouadogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso has been francophone bureau chief for just four years. And yet, with a background in journalism and law, his skills go far beyond his years of experience.
Ali says it was this training early in life, as well as his keen interests in rural life, the environment and human rights, which later brought him to Barza Wire.
He recalls his excitement when he first learned about the role. “When I saw the opportunity, I didn’t hesitate,” he says.
Since then, Ali says he’s grown in many skills as a bureau chief. “To tell you the truth, when I first joined Barza Wire, what I learned about most was … human connections,” he says.
He says his role relies a lot on his ability to manage diversity. While this isn’t always easy, Ali says this has always helped him grow. “Having a doorway into so many cultures, so many points of view—it’s really a richness,” he says.
Of Barza Wire itself, Ali says that the writing style is really specific—if not totally unique. “It’s a much more dynamic, much more direct, results-based style [as compared to traditional newsrooms], and so it allows the readers to understand, and to feel that they are a part of the story,” he explains.
Otherwise, Ali says that he loves Barza Wire for its diversity of formats, including Farmer stories, Resources, Scripts, Opportunities and Spotlights.
“They are [all] rich in information … and therefore allow broadcasters to enrich themselves and better inform their listeners around the world,” he says.
His hope is that Barza Wire readers continue to use these resources to their advantage and read Barza Wire as a way to enrich their own personal experiences. Because, he says, “A good journalist is first of all a great reader.”
Like Mark, Ali says that he has seen the skills of Barza Wire writers grow immensely over the years. He also notes that the themes of Farmer stories have evolved to include a much larger focus on human rights and gender issues.
“This makes our Barza Wire stories even more vibrant,” he says.
“For the next 600 editions, I have lots of hopes,” Ali says. He hopes to see the quality of Farmer stories continue to improve, alongside the skills of Barza Wire writers, and the themes of Farmer stories continue to evolve.
Both bureau chiefs extend their congratulations and thanks to the Barza Wire team, the many African journalists and writers who contribute Farmer stories, and the thousands of broadcasters who use Barza Wire to serve their listeners.
Ali says he calls on broadcasters to continue to make great use of Barza Wire “to better inform the people who really need it.”
Did you know that “Barza” is a Congolese French word with Swahili roots? It means “the place where people in a village meet under a tree to talk and sort out questions concerning the community.”