Radio and food: a recipe for healthy communities

woman listens to radio while cooking

This World Food Day, it might seem a stretch to say radio has anything to do with food. 

How can a device that picks up invisible signals in the air have anything to do with something that literally helps us survive? How can a voice on air have anything to do with achieving a #ZeroHunger world

While perhaps not obvious, to us the connection is simple. 

The challenge

Though farming has been a part of human life for millennia, there are more stresses on the global food system than ever before. A human population of 7.5 billion means that we are in need of more food than ever. And climate change means that traditional methods of farming are continuously being disrupted and changed. 

In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, where we work, almost one in four people are undernourished, unable to consume enough food to meet their daily nutritional needs. It’s a number that has risen in recent years thanks to climate change, political instability and economic slowdowns. 

Even when the quantity of food is sufficient, vulnerable groups can suffer from ‘hidden hunger,’ micronutrient deficiencies that impact health and increase vulnerability to disease and disability. Elsewhere, estimates suggest as much as one third of food is lost and wasted every year

What does radio have to do with this? 

At the core of many of these challenges is information. When the rains you have relied on for years become erratic, knowing weather information — or how to prepare your fields to conserve water can be key to ensuring you have a harvest that year. When the food you are growing to eat isn’t meeting the nutritional needs of your children, knowing what to plant, where to buy seeds and how cook new foods, might mean the difference between health and sickness.  

For many of us around the world, broadcasters keep us informed. Whether it’s the ritual of our morning news, a podcast about the niche topic we’re passionate about, or perhaps a power outage, where the battery-powered radio is your connection to emergency information, radio has played a daily role in the lives of individuals for almost 100 years. 

At Farm Radio International, we work closely with local established broadcasters to create radio programs that enable listeners to make — and act on — informed choices about their health and nutrition.

We work in partnership with trusted radio stations, knowledge partners, and rural people themselves to create radio programs that describe the nutrition and health benefits of particular foods, provide details on how to produce and market them, and give practical guidance on preparing and consuming the foods — and how to prevent food loss in the process. By sharing the voices of farmers and rural people who are making these decisions, we also jump start conversations aimed at changing norms around gender, food preparation and household nutrition.

Entertaining, informational, widespread

And radio goes far. Moderated by local, trusted voices, it reaches communities off the beaten path, whose access to information is limited. 

For example, our two-and-a-half year UPTAKE project reached an impressive 150,000 individuals through face-to-face and text-messaging interaction with information about improving the growth and production of potato, cassava and beans. But radio meant that this message could go farther. Through radio, we reached an additional 1.9 million farmers across Tanzania.

Radio is also entertaining. Radio dramas, cooking shows, and dynamic formats hook listeners — it’s not just dry information being transmitted over the airwaves. 

As part of our orange sweet potato project we created a radio drama, called My Children. Translated into nine languages and broadcast on 13 stations in Uganda, the serial radio drama reinforced key messages about how and why families should grow and eat more nutritious foods. And that’s only one aspect of our programs on orange sweet potato. An estimated 430,000 farmers in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda began growing the vitamin A-rich crop. In Tanzania alone, our radio campaigns resulted in a 270 per cent increase in the number of farmers cultivating orange sweet potato. 

Local voices, local solutions to hunger

But radio is also not just top down. Radio can be a medium for sharing, dialogue and playing host to conversations about food at a very local level.

Farmers and rural people are, and have always been, innovators. Learning to adapt to differing conditions on your farm year after year takes skill and creativity. Radio means that those farmers can share their local knowledge efficiently, with farmers across their own area.

Our radio resources team can take those stories and share them across Africa, making them available to more than 900 radio stations in 41 different countries. 

A #zerohunger world

We may be a little biased at Farm Radio International — radio is in our name after all. But we’ve seen how radio changes lives and improves the health of communities, ensuring that families have enough to eat, are growing healthy food, are making sure that women, children and men are eating healthy diets. Our goal, like many others working towards this aim, is for a #zerohunger world.

Knowledge, as they say, is power. And that’s the beauty of radio.

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