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Found in translation: farm radio goes local

Radio programmes dedicated to farming are helping producers in East Africa (WRENmedia)
Radio programmes dedicated to farming are helping producers in East Africa

Raising productivity not only depends on the inputs, but also on the way in which farmers manage their farms. With better information and improved techniques, farmers are often able to transform their agricultural productivity. A new type of radio programme, initially piloted on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), provides advice and encouragement to its farmer listeners to build-up their businesses.

Until recently, Beatrice Syombua's concern over her plot of 100 papaya trees was limited to whether the crop was flowering - an assurance that she would achieve some sort of harvest. Otherwise, this elderly mother-of-five living in the semi-arid Makueni district, 300 kilometres east of Nairobi, had little idea of what to do to increase productivity. However, since January 2008, Syombua - who has never been educated at school - now has access to a new programme on her local language radio station, which advises farmers on better practices, including how to get more from papaya plants. "Now my priority is to tend my trees better so that they can give me double yields," she says, elated with her new knowledge.

Interactive broadcasting

Radio Mbaitu FM, which broadcasts in the Kikamba language, has prioritised content on fruit farming and horticulture, the mainstay of Syombua and other subsistence farmers in its catchment area. The station answers farmers' questions and provides them with market information. Interactive agricultural programmes are also now being included in the schedules of broadcasters in other parts of Kenya. Broadcasting in Kikuyu, Coro FM covers dairy farming, a vital part of the rural economy in central Kenya. Radio Salaam broadcasts to coastal areas on fisheries and fruit farming in Kiswahili, and the Kalenjin radio station Kass FM focuses on dairy and maize production.

Farmers first

With limited public agricultural extension services in Kenya, farmers have been left with few routes to useful information and poor farming practices have led to a fall in crop yields. Accessing new information was dependent on farmers traveling to district headquarters and possibly paying for advice, or visiting a local agricultural show. Agricultural radio programmes were predominantly ad hoc in their choice of topics, lacking in practical detail and dominated by the adverts of their sponsors.

Farming advice on the radio can help regions with no extension infrastructre (WRENmedia)
Farming advice on the radio can help regions with no extension infrastructre

More farmer-friendly content emerged in 2006 when a partnership between donor organisations and Fit Resources, a non-profit company offering business development services, saw the launch of Mali Shambani, or "Wealth in the Farm". Surveys conducted by Steadmans Research indicates this is now one of the most populat radio programmes in Kenya, with 80 per cent of listeners claiming they learned something new from it, and 50 per cent saying that they have put something from the programme into practice.

Aired for one hour each Monday on KBC, the programme targets farmers and others in the agriculture sector, providing information on farming techniques, inputs, quality standards, weather and seasonal issues, market prices and trends, business tips, landuse, and financing opportunities. Each edition also features a question-and-answer section, where listeners call or send text messages and can interact live with an expert panel. A single programme attracts as many as 200 SMS messages from Kenyans and from listeners as far afield as Uganda and Tanzania.

Going local

With support from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), Fit Resources has now extended the approach to vernacular radio stations. The plan involves bringing together radio stations, agriculture information content providers, advertisers and farmers with the ultimate aim of enabling farmers to get much-needed information via the radio. "Many organisations have provided farmers with technical skills. We sought to provide them with information we believe they lack, to make gains from their farming," said Richard Isiaho, executive director of Fit Resources. The programmes are not driven by the suppliers or advertisers, but rather by the popularity of the content. This, says Isiaho, is also a way of making the programmes financially sustainable.

Kevin Billing of the DFID-funded Business Services Market Development Project (BSMDP), which has supported the initiative on KBC, says the replication of Mali Shambani to vernacular radio stations was a natural progression. "Remember that to be copied is the best compliment one can get; it proves you have a good idea. We are here to make sure the local population of Kenya benefits from development," says Billing. "The more good information is out there, the more farmers benefit and the more we can contribute to Africa's ability to feed itself."

Written by: Steve Mbogo

Date published: July 2008


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