The Ottawa Citizen article: “Taking to the African airwaves” talks about Farm Radio International’s work

On Saturday, September 3, 2011, The Ottawa Citizen published the article: “Taking to the African airwaves: An Ottawa aid group is using radio broadcasts to spread the word of efficient farming practices” by Alex Webber.  The following is the article:

As drought and famine plagues several parts of eastern Africa, an Ottawa-based NGO is using radio to connect small-scale farmers across the continent in a project designed to improve agricultural techniques and reduce poverty.

Each week for the past three years, Farm Radio International has helped 25 radio stations in five African countries produce interactive radio shows designed to help farmers overcome agricultural obstacles in their communities. Called Participatory Radio Campaigns, or PRCs, the shows focus on promoting solutions to common agricultural problems and have been successful in getting small-scale farmers to improve their practices.

 About 70 per cent of Africans are involved in small-scale agriculture … and they grow most of the food that’s eaten in Africa, and yet the farmers who produce this food are among the most likely to be hungry, malnourished and living in poverty,  said Kevin Perkins, Farm Radio International’s executive director.

He said the show’s success is due to its interactive nature. Instead of just having a broadcaster read information, PRC’s feature interviews with local farmers, on-air debates between groups and talks with experts. Perkins said listeners play a key role not only during the campaign, but also in identifying the agricultural issues they want solved.

For example, Perkins said when Farm Radio International staff arrived in Ghana they quickly learned there was a deep rivalry going on between livestock and vegetable farmers. The livestock farmers, who could not afford to fence in their animals, were allowing their goats to eat the vegetable farmers’ crops. To ward off the animals, vegetable farmers began putting poison on their crops and the tension between the two groups became a major issue in the community.

For six months, Farm Radio International helped local broadcasters produce shows focusing on the livestock fencing issue. Each episode was 30 minutes long and featured input from several members of the community representing both sides of the debate. Some of the episodes focused on the challenges of specific local farmers, other episodes explored the benefits of fencing in animals, and others explained how farmers could make their own fences from local recyclable materials instead of buying costly supplies.

When the six months were finished, Perkins said more than 80 per cent of the livestock farmers in the participating community had fenced in their livestock and several other farmers in communities nearby who could hear the radio show began fencing livestock as well.

“They were able, on air, to have debates between these different factions and resolve their conflicts on air, so people could all participate in that peace-building process,” said Perkins. “Different technologies and different solutions were presented and farmers could say, ‘hey, here’s how I did it’, and other farmers could learn from them.”

Perkins said PRCs are also being used in other countries, such as Mali, that are prone to droughts and dry spells. There, he said, PRCs focus on teaching small-scale farmers how to grow crops that require little water, such as millet.

Next time there’s a year of very low rainfall they’ll be much more likely to get through and still have a harvest at the end, Kevin said.

Radio, because it’s so accessible, is the easiest way to give information to small-scale farmers. Information packages and pamphlets are often in French or English, but radio shows are often broadcast in the country’s native language and people don’t need to know how to read to understand the message. With the success of the first wave of PRCs, Perkins said Farm Radio International is working on creating more, and it recently received another research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue its work.

Perkins said he hopes with more PRC programs, life for small-scale farmers will continue to improve.

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