Radio helps African farm families survive

In the midst of drought and famine in eastern Africa some hopeful news. A three-year study by Farm Radio International demonstrates conclusively that when properly used, radio is an effective way to give large numbers of African farm families knowledge needed to improve their food security, nutrition and livelihoods; knowledge that is vital in preventing famine in times of drought.

OTTAWA, 10 August 2011:   More than one in five of all African farm families living within the broadcast range of a carefully executed farm radio program series will adopt the new farming practices they heard about on the radio. That is the key finding of a newly released study by Canadian non-governmental organization, Farm Radio International.   For decades agricultural researchers have struggled to find ways to improve crop production and food security for small-scale farmers, especially those in Africa where drought and famine blight the already difficult lives of millions.

Unfortunately, despite many promising findings, few farm families in Africa have taken advantage of any of the improvements. Food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among rural children and their mothers, is still a desperately serious problem. When drought is coupled with political instability a bad situation only gets worse.   Radio broadcasts designed to convince farmers in Africa to adopt these better technologies seem to have had little impact—until now. Farm Radio International, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, created a new kind of farm radio program model and tested it for three years. It was a carefully designed experiment run in five African countries in partnership with 25 radio stations.

The program model is called a Participatory Radio Campaign (PRC) and differs in several key respects from traditional farm radio in Africa. The PRC gives farmers (men and women) voice in the programs. Their stories of trial, difficulty, innovation, struggle and success form the core of the broadcasts. Over the course of a 13 week broadcast season these farmers become the opinion leaders, not just for their own communities but for all the communities in the listening area. The shows are lively, entertaining and value farmers. The result has been large audiences and significant adoption of new practices in all regions where the Participatory Radio Campaign methodology was tested.

The way this program was done in terms of presentation and our voices being heard on air have made it to be a favourite program for most people,  said Rhoda Chatama, a farmer in Malawi.

In fact in villages where the only extraordinary intervention was information from the radio campaign about two thirds of the population said they listened to the broadcasts regularly and half could correctly answer a set of questions about what they had learned. Most significant of all, at least a fifth decided to try the improved practice.

Farm Radio International demonstrated its capacity to lead a multi-country research for development project and achieve extraordinary results, says Mercy Karanja, the Senior Program Officer for Agricultural Development with the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.

The Foundation recently awarded Farm Radio International further funding to implement the methodology with partners all across Africa.

For more information on Participatory Radio Campaigns, click here.

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