After 40 years, Farm Radio looks to the future
By Kevin Perkins, Farm Radio International Executive Director
Since our humble beginnings in 1979, Farm Radio International has grown to become a dynamic, bustling Canadian charity that punches way above its weight in terms of impact and outreach.
From our conception 40 years ago, our vision and hard work have touched the lives of so many across Africa. Just look at what’s been accomplished:
- We’ve grown from serving 34 radio stations to having 880 radio partners across the continent.
- Millions of farmers in 40 countries can now benefit from our award-winning broadcasts.
- Because of advances in technology, we’ve combined radio with mobile phone technology to make radio more interactive than ever.
George Atkins, our founder, knew from his own career as a Canadian farmer and farm broadcaster that reaping a good harvest was as dependent on good information on the radio as it was on good seeds or timely weeding. A day or week without a good farm radio show was like a summer without sunshine.
Since George’s start, where volunteers typed the scripts and stuffed them into manila envelopes bearing the Canadian stamp, we’ve come a long way.
Technology has changed the way we do business. Now broadcasters click online to get scripts within seconds. We’ve also developed broadcasting training materials and improved our measurement of how we reach and impact listeners. We can now use mobile phones to bring more interactive and engaging radio programs to the air.
While we’ve narrowed our focus to sub-Saharan Africa, our scripts are available in more languages than ever before — English, French, Hausa, Swahili and Amharic.
We’re still innovating.
Our ambition is to offer all African rural citizens access to dependable, reliable, high quality radio shows, week after week, year after year. We are getting closer, but there are still farmers who do not have access to the information they need.
So, what will Farm Radio International be like in the next 40 years?
Climate change, which is happening right now, will mean that rural Africans will need new information to make their farms as productive as possible in the face of unprecedented weather patterns and changing growing conditions. They will continue to need to talk to each other through on-air forums. And they will turn to radio to help them anticipate, survive and recover from extreme weather events like the floods that recently devastated Mozambique.
No matter how technology evolves, I know in that radio will continue to be part of the mix of getting and receiving information.
Knowledge is power
The most profound constant for me is that we humans are a communicating species. We need to ask questions and share our experiences — this is how we learn and evolve and overcome the challenges that face us. This involves a lot of people talking and listening to each other. It necessitates accurate and unbiased information.
George Atkins’s vision remains relevant and attainable.
As an organization we believe in the right of rural Africans to accurate and unbiased information to guide their decision making. Donations from individual Canadians allow us the freedom to search out and deliver information from a variety of sources through a medium that is used and trusted by nearly everyone.
We will continue to protect that right and pursue our dream of reaching all family farmers throughout Africa.
Happy 40th anniversary Farm Radio International!
Photo courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation