Last fall, I visited the village of Omotol in the Seroti District of north-eastern Uganda. This is one community that has been reached by a special program that was broadcast by the Voice of Teso radio station in Seroti with Farm Radio International’s assistance (as part of the African Farm Radio Research Initiative, AFRRI) on the topic of disease resistant cassava. Cassava is an essential food crop that meets the basic food needs of most households in this area, and is also a very important cash crop sold to markets. The varieties of cassava that have been planted in the past in this area are very susceptible to two diseases: mosaic and brown streak. These diseases are spreading rapidly, and pose a serious threat to food security in Uganda and elsewhere.
In this community I met two women – Asege Winnie Odaret and Alasso Rose. These women are leaders of a community organization called the Dakabela Rural Women Development Association. Together, the women who make up his group have purchased land – one hectare at a time – by farming and marketing cassava. Their early success in cassava production has helped them establish an orange orchard, a beekeeping operation, and a piggery. These enterprises have improved food security and generated income for members of the association, their families, and their whole community.
A year ago, they were getting very worried about the cassava diseases they were hearing about. There were reports that farmers were losing their entire cassava farms to brown streak and mosaic. They also knew that there were some new varieties of cassava that could resist these diseases and thrive in their gardens.
“We knew that these disease-resistant varieties had been developed, but we didn’t know how to get the planting materials or how to cultivate and grow them.”
Asege Winnie Odaret
The radio program on Voice of Teso (which broadcasts to 8 million people and which 80% are small-scale farmers) answered their needs perfectly. By running a half-hour program every Wednesday, featuring discussions with farmers and extension workers, special call-in shows, music and poems about cassava varieties, and other entertaining features, Winnie and Rose and the other members of their group learned how to save their cassava farms by planting the disease-
resistant akena cassava. What they loved about the program was that they could hear their own voices and the voices of other farmers on the program.
“We feel that we own this program as our own. We always made sure we were ready to hear the show when it was on. Even our children made sure we knew it was time for the program to start. They would say mom, mom, come, it is time for our program to start.”
The farmers of Omotol were not alone. Our evaluation of this program revealed that over 80% of farmers in the communities reached by the program had started planting akena. Uganda’s national agricultural extension service was overwhelmed by the demand for akena, and scrambled to meet the need for planting materials. We checked in a community that wasn’t reached by Voice of Teso’s program, and found that only 45% even heard of the akena variety.
We are receiving many more life-changing stories coming out of AFFRI that we will share with you in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned…..
– Executive Director of Farm Radio International