Ugandan journalist and broadcaster Martin Amaiyko Kigongo produced his first radio documentaries just a few months ago, in August 2023, as part of Farm Radio International’s “On-Air for Gender-Inclusive Nature-based Solutions” project. Martin has spent most of his career as a news anchor and reporter, so he says tackling a series of in-depth 20-minute stories was an enormous challenge.
“When you practise something for the first time, there’s a lot of struggle,” he said. “I failed a lot, but I tried to do my best. I had to show myself that this first time will be a success.”
Martin’s efforts were rewarded in November, with a national Population Media Award for best radio program on population and development. Judges chose his work from 65 entries, praising the simplicity and “eye-catching” presentation of a complex subject.
“It was so very, very surprising. Wow! Among all the radio stations they chose me,” a beaming Martin said. “It is one of the happiest days of my life.”
Martin started his career at age 18 writing drama and comedy scripts for one of Uganda’s most popular radio stations, Kampala-based Radio Simba. He pursued his journalism degree and finally got his big break as a news anchor on International Women’s Day in 2018.
Martin says Radio Simba managers ask their staff to switch roles on Women’s Day, as a way to underline some of the difficulties that women face. That day, they told him to read the news. He emerged from the broadcaster’s booth after four minutes with his heart pounding “like someone who had been climbing a hill,” certain that he had blown the opportunity. Instead, his boss’s inbox was filled with messages from listeners praising Martin’s confidence, authority and “sweet” voice.
Martin got the chance to make radio documentaries early in 2023, after Radio Simba agreed to partner with Farm Radio on a five-year project to highlight gender- and youth-inclusive Nature-Based Solutions to climate change. Each year of the project, broadcasters in six countries (Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia) will produce a series of 11 programs, including three radio documentaries.
Martin and his colleagues at other Farm Radio partner stations learned what goes into the craft at a series of hands-on workshops in June and July.
Martin says he was surprised by much of what he learned, and that using his new skills helped him win the Population Media Award.
“This was a very new course to me, and I had to go very slow,” he said.
One important difference is the use of sound. Martin says that as a news reporter, he would often ignore or eliminate natural sounds such as bees swarming a hive or a farmer working in the field. During his training, he learned that those sounds can help listeners visualize what’s happening, which in turn helps them more easily understand the story.
Martin also learned that as the reporter and narrator, it’s his job to take charge of telling the story by interpreting guests’ statements and explaining what he hears and sees. He adds he also learned that documentaries are not necessarily in-depth investigations. Instead, they focus on the story of a person or group of people facing a challenge.
Martin says his goal as a journalist has always been to serve the community by inspiring change. He believes he has done that with his first award-winning documentary series.
“It will change society,” he said.
The series highlights a group of farmers and activists in Kikandwa subcounty, a community about 75 kilometres northwest of Kampala, who are using agroforestry to tackle the devastating impact of deforestation. It shows how residents are replanting indigenous trees to restore natural habitats, support agriculture and become prosperous.
“Many people believe cutting down trees is the only way to survive but my documentaries showed them it is not like that,” he said. “It is very great advice to share.”
Listen to a sample of one of the award-winning documentaries (in Luganda).
About the project
The On-Air for Gender-Inclusive Nature-based Solutions project is a 5-year project led by Farm Radio International in partnership with the Government of Canada that will use high-impact radio programs to work with local communities in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia to identify, share and support local Nature-based Solutions and amplify those solutions to a network of 3,500 broadcasters across 38 African countries so they can be duplicated across the continent.
About the author
Anita Elash volunteered as a radio documentary advisor for Farm Radio International in Uganda in 2023 for our project about Nature-based Solutions to climate change.