From farm to air: the making of a radio program
Heading to the field
I recently tagged alongside Abdul Mohammed Dahim, a broadcaster with Radio 123 in Tamale, Ghana, to interview farmers for an upcoming radio program. I rode on the back of his motorbike as we headed to Bihinaayili community, about 30 kilometres outside of Tamale. In striking contrast to the arid landscape along the main road, the road to Bihinaayili was lined with lush green fields, thanks to an irrigation system that allows farmers in this community to use water on their crops year-round.
Dahim had called the lead farmer a few days earlier, asking to arrange a meeting. We arrived to meet a group of about 10 farmers sitting under a big shady tree. Dahim pulled out his notebook and introduced himself, although many of the farmers recognized him from previous field visits. He then took out his phone to record (his recorder was recently stolen) and began to ask each of the farmers their names. He then asked them a series of questions related to land preparation and what they were doing to prepare for the upcoming season. Throughout the meeting, he jotted down questions in his notebook that he would later relay to the agricultural extension officer who would appear on the live radio program. Farmers were curious about things like tractor services, where to acquire fertilizer and insecticide, and how to prepare the land for cowpea planting.
Sharing the voices of women
Driving into the community, I saw many women farmers dotted throughout the fields, picking vegetables or piled into the back of a Motorking (a type of motorcycle outfitted with a large carrying space on the back) heading to the market. But unfortunately, none of the women were present at the meeting.
“The women are busy,” the men told me.
Certainly they were, but I was disappointed to see that they wouldn’t be part of the meeting. Nevertheless, Dahim knew he had to go the extra mile to make a gender-balanced program. So, we went to the women directly and interviewed them while they worked. One woman was picking bra, a local leafy green, and she explained how she observes the weather leading up to the planting season. Another woman who was preparing to transport the bra to the market explained the importance of good planning prior to the planting season. Both were evidently quite busy, but were open to talking and clearly had a lot to say.
Airing the radio program
The next day, Dahim edited the recordings on his personal laptop. He also conducted additional research online at the radio station and told me he regularly uses Farm Radio Resource Packs. For this episode, he read the backgrounder on cowpea production and focused on sections about land preparation and planting. This would help him better understand the subject matter and draft interview questions for Mr. Abdullai, the agricultural extension officer scheduled to appear on the program.
I returned to the station on the night of the live program only to find out that Mr. Abdullai called at the last minute to say he was unable to make it to the station in person. This is something that many radio broadcasters are far too familiar with. Nevertheless, Dahim did a phone out interview with Mr. Abdullai instead.
After opening the show with a signature tune and introducing the topic, Dahim played the recorded field interviews and then called out to Mr. Abdullai. He read through each and every question from the farmers. The discussion was lively and informative – Mr. Abdullai was able to provide answers about local vendors selling fertilizer, where to inquire about tractor services and how to register for government subsidy programs. Farmers also asked him for more education on the seasonal calendar to help them with planning.
The importance of farm radio
It was a fascinating experience to witness the production of a farmer radio program from start to finish. It’s a lot of work to travel to remote communities, research agricultural topics online, arrange interviews with local experts and host an upbeat and engaging program late at night. I was glad to do this with Dahim – someone who has been a Farm Radio partner for years and has clearly learned a thing or two about high-quality radio programming.
It struck me just how simple it can be to offer vital information to farmers who may not get it any other way. It reinforced the notion that radio stations should be listener-driven and offer programs that reflect the needs and interests of the community. In a country like Ghana, where the agricultural sector employs the vast majority of the population, farm radio programs should be prioritized. They should also be generously funded, to enable broadcasters like Dahim to visit the field more often and come well-equipped with proper tools and resources.
I asked Dahim what he loved about doing the farmer program. He paused, then smiled.
“It is so heart-touching if I share knowledge or if I engage farmers to know their challenges and work towards addressing them,” he said. “I believe the farmer program is a lifeline.”