From sourcing seeds to selling produce: Sharing agricultural advice over the airwaves in Uganda

In Uganda, we are running a special project that runs the gamut of climate-smart agricultural production, from growing coffee to raising dairy cattle, and from sourcing and planting seeds through to marketing and selling the finished product.

For this two-year project, funded by the IKEA Foundation, we are partnering with radio stations in 12 of Uganda’s 146 districts, which are each broadcasting in the language of their region. These “district hubs” fill an important gap given that only 14 per cent of Uganda farming households were receiving support from an agricultural extension agent in 2020. Estimates of radio coverage suggest the radio programs cover around 70 per cent of the total Ugandan population.

Radio is an efficient and effective tool to share knowledge between experts at all stages of a value chain — from farmers to sellers. On the weekly radio program, they can learn from each other and share region-specific growing practices, including tips for doing regenerative and circular agriculture.

By the numbers
*As of late September 2023

> 463 episodes
> 926 hours of broadcast (original and repeat episodes)
> 102,848 mobile phone-based interactions between listeners and radio stations

We are seeing the results of the project in communities. Here are the stories of three individuals and groups that have benefited from the project:

Learning best practices for growing coffee

Byabazaire Zaveria’s weeded coffee garden.

Byabazaire Zaveria is a coffee farmer with a large plantation near the Kyamugweri village in Masindi district in western Uganda. He inherited coffee growing as an activity from his parents. Coffee production is among Byabazaire’s key sources of income. However, he wondered why his harvests were so small given the size of his coffee plantation. Byabazaire estimated he only earned half as much money from coffee as other people with the same number of trees.

Byabazaire was interested in learning modern methods of coffee production and made sure to listen to all the episodes about coffee on Bunyoro Broadcasting Services. He says that before listening to the radio program, he did not pay much attention to the spacing of his coffee plants, nor to weeding and stumping his coffee (cutting the main stems off older coffee trees to encourage new growth).

“I had little experience about coffee growing but now I have learnt a lot through the program including the recommended space for coffee growing,” said Byabazaire. “I have been planting 5×5 feet but now I started planting 10×10 feet. Weeding and stumping in a coffee garden was not a big deal to me but through listening to the program, I ensure to do everything to ensure that there is no weed in my garden as recommended by experts.”

Quadrupling the size of their maize co-operative

Members of Butagaya Maize Co-operative in a meeting.

Butagaya Maize Co-operative is located in Namagera Town Council, Jinja District in eastern Uganda. The co-operative’s key crops are maize and tomatoes. Farmers work together as part of the co-operative to use their combined power to access high-quality seeds and extension services, market farmers’ produce and give seedlings to farmers who cannot afford them at the time of planting, which they will later pay for using loans.

In its five years of operation, the co-operative has struggled with low membership. Most community members did not see the benefit of joining the co-operative. They instead preferred working individually. Yet many of those same farmers lacked knowledge about practising circular and regenerative agriculture. They still used low-intensity practices without giving consideration to newer agronomic practices designed to increase their yields.

In October and November 2022, NBS Radio ran a program about growing maize. Farmers received lots of information about maize production, including about the use of organic fertilizers and organic pesticides and the benefits of practising agriculture as a group. Farmers appreciated the program because it addressed most of the challenges faced in maize production in Jinja District.

After the program, many farmers began to understand the benefits of working as a group. Butagaya Maize Co-operative’s membership increased from 50 farmers to 200 farmers in a period of three months, and more farmers are still joining. The produce collected by the co-operative increased from 15,000 tonnes in the previous season to 20,000 tonnes. The outputs of most of the members also increased as a result of new practices like post-harvest handling that they learned from the radio program.

Increasing the client base for her beekeeping business

Beehives at Immaculate’s apiary.

Immaculate operates an apiary in Acii village in Amolatar District in central Uganda. She also runs a showroom for honey and other bee products in the nearby city of Lira. Immaculate has been running a beekeeping business for a long time. The business has been growing slower than she would like due to limited capital and a lack of exposure to other people running similar enterprises. Connecting with customers from neighbouring districts has also been a challenge since Immaculate depends on word of mouth to advertise her business.

Immaculate was selected to participate in the radio program at Unity FM as a subject matter specialist about the beekeeping enterprise. She participated in seven episodes in which she was able to share her knowledge about beekeeping with listeners. Immaculate also used this opportunity to give out her phone number to listeners who would like to engage with her outside the studio for advice about beekeeping. She also used this chance to connect with other guests that were invited to share knowledge about beekeeping.

“As per the feedback I received both in the studio and outside, I got to learn that very many people were learning much from the program. Many bee farmers appreciated the program and they were able to learn a lot. They got to understand the different products of bees and the best practices for beekeeping,” said Immaculate.

“People also got to know that I understand beekeeping professionally and this increased my customer base. I got connected to many bee farmers from different districts who have become my customers. My sales have increased to a greater extent. I have been getting many orders for the different bee products at my showroom and other farmers have also been calling me for on-farm trainings.”

About the author
Deneth Twinomugisha is a Monitoring, Research, Evaluation and Learning officer for Farm Radio International in Uganda.

About the project
The “Sustainable Dialogue and Knowledge Sharing Communication Platforms” project aims to provide a majority of rural people in Uganda with a reliable, continuous and powerful communication service through interactive platforms that share knowledge, facilitate dialogue, give voice and stimulate positive change toward inclusive, circular, regenerative agriculture. Working with the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, as well as a variety of private and public stakeholders, the project will establish the building blocks for a network of digital extension platforms hosted at 12 radio stations to create dialogue and knowledge-sharing communication hubs aimed at providing farmers with the latest regenerative agriculture practices, as well as marketing and business advice. This project is made possible thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation.

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