George Atkins, CBC’s noon farm radio broadcaster, traveled to Zambia with other farm broadcasters when he realized that broadcasters needed to set up a worldwide exchange of ideas. He aimed to network the small-scale farmers so everyone could benefit. The network has continued to grow since 1975 and there are more than 400 participating radio partners in over 38 African countries. Their approach to fighting development challenges has been very effective.
Farm Radio International is a Canadian charity that works with radio broadcasters in African countries to establish food security. They help African radio broadcasters communicate with local small-scale farmers in rural areas to deliver information about food to fight poverty.
Specifically, they provide resources such as information packages and en electronic news service to African broadcasters too increase food supplies, nutrition, and health for the small farmers and their families. They deliver special programs to increase farmers’ knowledge of improved farming practices of specific development issues, such as soil erosion or banana bacterial wilt. They also provide training to broadcasters to help them with improving their farm radio services and realize the benefits of using these practices. Furthermore, they collaborate with the Commonwealth of Learning and other partners to hold radio scriptwriting competitions on healthy communities in Africa, smallholder farmer innovation, and climate change. Farm International also provides awards to recognize the rural broadcasters for their contribution to the project. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the World University Services of Canada have funded an African Farm Radio Research Initiative to assess the effectiveness of farm radio in providing food security and encouraging self-reliance.
The organization has staff (about 10 people) located in Ottawa and regional staff located throughout Africa. The Canadian staff works on fundraising and communications with the Canadian and American public along with general oversight in terms of management of finance and their grant from the Canadian government (CIDA). The regional staff (about 20 people) are almost all African and from the country they work in. Their role is to run the major programs in the field from logistics in sending out materials to running radio campaigns in their respective countries. A majority of their time is spent running impact programs in the field. Their work so far has demonstrated the impact on specific agricultural issues at a specific location. Farm Radio partners with local radio stations and organizations that work with agriculture and together they supply radio programs with a focus on education of farmers and discussion, allowing them more tools to access new technologies. To see a further explanation, see PDFs attached.
Farm Radio International seems to have a very high success rate. They have combatted the language barrier by encouraging their partner broadcasters to use the resources provided by Farm Radio to do further research in a localized language. Upon first researching the organization, I began to wonder how effective the technical vocabulary would transfer over. However, Farm Radio’s language attempts to gear their material toward non-technical users (most of the radio broadcasters are not farmers) who will pass on the information in familiar concepts to farmers on the ground. The basic language along with background material from Farm Radio enables broadcasters to further research the subject areas, eliminating language and cultural barriers.
In class we have discussed the many issues with westerners implementing projects in the developing world without the collaboration of the local communities. Farm Radio’s organization is set up in a way to allow the African staff to have a lot of control over the content. The script, news and resource content published by Farm Radio is almost completely done by African journalists, and they have two news bureaus that collect the content. The organization demonstrates how westerners can use their knowledge and resources to combine with local development practictioners to have a successful base of operations. Farm Radio’s impact programs aim to inform farmers of low-cost, sustainable agriculture by approaching each topic from many angles. They do not act as a promotional tool for other organizations, but instead they provide a variety of different sub-topics in each campaign. For example, a campaign about soil management will highlight the different options available, so the farmers are able to make their own optimal decisions. Futhermore, transferring information via radio is cost effective and very accessible. There seem to be fewer problems with implementing radios into society than providing Internet access. The cost of batteries may be an issue, but in general, they are cheaper to implement than other ICTs.
The organization’s purpose is to provide a network, so farmers are able to share information with each other, empowering the native population to use the radios. Mark Leclair from Farm Radio said, “It’s a exciting area of work for us, because it goes beyond simply using radio as a ‘dissemination medium’ and actually pulls farmers and broadcasters into a project that has targeted goals that can have a major impact of food security.” The organization is working more directly on the ground to run the impact programs and to train broadcasters, demonstrating their will to adapt to methodology that has proven successful. Farm Radio International is an organization to learn from.
NOTE: Following the original posting of this blog, I spoke with Mark from Farm Radio, who was extremely helpful in correcting my errors. This is the edited version. Thank you, Mark, for your time and eagerness to help!
For more information on the work of the staff members: