Rice and Radio: How radio programs and face-to-face training is improving lives in Ethiopia

Radio and Rice

Adugna Tigab is a 33-year-old farmer in Bure Kebele of Lebokemkem woreda (or district) in Ethiopia. This year due to heavy rain in the area, Adugna’s neighborhood flooded. To get to her crop, we had to walk through the swampy farms covered with the rice crop. 

When the Farm Radio International team arrived, Adugna was in her rice farm weeding with her neighbour and friend, Genete Mola. Genete is a 25-year-old woman with two children, while Adugna has four children herself: three girls and a boy she carries on her back. While Adugna mainly produces rice, she also cultivates maize, onions, garlic, and tomatoes on her one-hectare farm. 

Adugna’s family first started cultivating rice in 2010. She says her productivity has increased exponentially ever since she took part in a project run by Farm Radio International and the Mennonite Economic Development Association, or MEDA.

Improving the lives of women through vegetables

A member of the Farm Radio team interviews Adugna and Genete near Adugna’s rice field.

Aimed at improving the lives of women growing vegetables and rice, the Rice and Vegetables Radio project uses radio and face-to-face trainings to drive improved backyard vegetable and rice production in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. It’s part of a larger project by MEDA, working to ensure that both men and women benefit from vegetable and rice value chains.

For Adugna, that means important training on rice production, simple processing, and marketing. She’s learned about new breeds of rice to buy, but also how to process and then sell the rice so she gets higher value on the market.

Even though her farm size is small, she says the tips from the MEDA trainings have increased the amount of rice she grows — and she’s now making good money from her crops.

But, she’s not just growing rice. She’s learned to diversify the produce she cultivates, and can now grow year-round thanks to irrigation.  She now knows she can harvest four separate types of crops within one farming year.

Radio sparks discussion and grows profits

Adugna also listens to radio from her set at home. She says it’s there she learns about when to plant and when to apply fertilizer, the timing of different agricultural events.

Listening to the radio sparked discussion in her family about row planting, another new technique she picked up from the broadcasters, she says. The discussion has motivated the whole family to help her improve this practice.

“When we listen to the radio program at home, my husband and the kids also listen to other farmers’ experience on row planting and how much they have benefited from that. This helped the whole family to understand the importance of that practice and they now tend to help more. They are willing more than ever before to be helping me on the farm”.

Adugna doesn’t keep the knowledge to herself, either.

No radio? No problem.

Adugna shows off the radio set that her and her neighbour Genete use to listen to programs on rice and vegetable growing and production.

Adugna’s neighbour, Genete, initially didn’t have a functional radio at home. Adugna, however, told her about the information she heard on the radio. They looked after their crops based on the recommendations they received.

“Our farm land was very poor in terms of both productivity and variation of produce. We were forced to wait until the logged water drained out and we only cultivated two crop types for household consumption,” says Genete. “Our families were regarded as unlucky for having such a farm land. But once we got the training on improved rice production, we were able to afford to send our children to school, buy water pumps and solar panels.”

Soon, Genete was making enough to purchase her own radio.

“We make very good money from the varieties of produces we harvest. Now my kids can help me at day time after school and study at night with the solar light. Me and my husband can enjoy listening to our radio powered up by the solar we bought as a result of the rice and other vegetables we harvested and sold for a good price.”

Both Adugna and Genete say this extra income has improved their quality of life. Adugna says that it has changed the variety, and nutritional quality of food she feeds her family. Since she has a variety of produce at home she can also afford to buy quality consumer goods from the market. This change of life has, in turn, motivated both Genete and Adugna to do more with their rice and vegetable production and processing.

A multifaceted approach: Radio and trainers work together

Getachew Bura is Bure Kebele’s Head of Agriculture. He says that the kebele agriculture office is working in collaboration with the project to provide training on improved rice production, processing, and market linkage creation. By closely working with MEDA, they were able to support the distribution of recommended seed varieties and new farming technologies. He says that the kebele’s agriculture bureau is doing its best to improve the accessibility of experts for farming households to ask questions.

“Our office is trying to improve accessibility of expert support to rice and vegetable farming households. We have 200 farming households per one extension agent to provide optimum support on this effort. Even though we are seeing improvement in farmer’s knowledge of rice production, we find it impossible to equally reach all the 200 farmer households especially at intense farming seasons. This is where we use the radio program and motivate farmers to listen. The radio programs broadcast quality expert interviews and share farmers experiences that we use as back-up source of information to our farmers.”

Improving lives and livelihoods

This year Adugna and Genete say they are expecting a good quality of rice produce as a result of the integrated effect of MEDA project and the radio program. Adugna believes she has all the information she needs to grow rice and other vegetables, and hopes to do even better this year than last year.

About the project:

Farm Radio International is working with the Mennonite Economic Development Association in Ethiopia to research, produce and broadcast a total of 96 hours of radio programming over three years aimed at improving backyard vegetable production, improved rice production and farmer product aggregation to improve marketing results. The project is a part of MEDA’s EMERTA project aimed at ensuring both men and women benefit from vegetable and rice value chain project activities.

About the author

Nebiyu Yetsedaw is a Country Project Officer who has worked with Farm Radio International in Ethiopia for the past four years. Born and raised in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, Nebiyu moved to Addis Ababa to complete his BA in Social Work from Addis Ababa University.

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