This week in Class, we read a 2011 report explaining the findings of a program called AFRRI from Farm Radio International, entitled “The new age of radio; How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. I know what you’re thinking: Radio? Really? Isn’t that a bit outdated? However, what FRI found was that these existing technologies were already present in Africa en masse, and thus provided an opportunity to test the pairing of 21st century methods with prolific, accessible, and low-cost radios in order to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa. I feel that overall, the FRIs findings demonstrate an excellent way to educate farmers, disseminate knowledge, and eventually elevate the food security conditions across Africa. However, many of their conclusions and recommendations are dependent upon funding and capital as a pre-requisite. In addition, enhanced human capacity and inspired outreach programs contribute greatly to these programs’ success, which means that individuals with the capabilities to reach these remote audiences must be found, trained, and nurtured over time.
The ability of radio to disseminate knowledge to people whom can neither read or write is an extraordinary asset. The low cost penetration of this medium, particularly for communities without phones or electricity explains the immense transcendence and applicability of a technology that was invented one hundred years ago.
Farm Radio International estimates that within sub-Saharan Africa, there are approximately 800 million radios in use. Additionally, through studies across a multitude of lower-income countries within sub-Saharan Africa, FRI finds that some 76% of households own a radio. These numbers provide the foundation to have an increased framework establishing a mass movement to provide increased rural agricultural education and training for farmers and businesses throughout developing Africa. Through a 42-month action program called “The African Farm Radio Research Initiative” or AFRRI, Farm Radio International partnered with 25 radio stations in five African countries to apply and test a range of ICT “packages” with the intention to enhance farm radio.
The AFRRI included three core items. The first, Participatory Radio Campaigns or PRC, implemented new farm radio programs across five countries and evaluated over time their listeners, the passive community, whom also played a central role in the designing of more programming and provided farmer feedback. The second, Radio-based marketing information service or MIS, established a much-needed service for smallholder famers whom required better access to market information. The third, ICT-enhanced radio, equipped radio stations with better digital technologies, ranging from desktop computers and internet access to portable digital recording and editing equipment for interviews in the field. Their research led to a variety of conclusions and recommendations for equitable and successful farm radio programs in future iterations. Among them:
-Computers and computer literacy programs more explicitly were “essential” to the emergence and growth of ICTs at stations in sub-Saharan Africa.
-Durable, portable, and multifunctional MP3 recorders, especially when combined with audio-editing workstations should be considered a staple among Farm Radio Stations.
-Farm radio stations should implement ‘on air call outs’ to agriculture experts as well as other farmers as a cost-effective way to include a plethora of informed and educated voices for their listeners.
-Regular, 30-minute reminders issued via SMS are an excellent way of encouraging regular listenership of farm radio programs.
-Farm radio stations should supplement their DJs with MP3 radios that are able to record and replay broadcasts in order to increase listening opportunities and group listening for communities.
-The use of the Freedom Fone or other IVRs (interactive voice responses) can be used in order to reach even more listeners through phone calls for additional or repeat listening opportunities.
-Establishing the Farm Radio Station complex itself as a wireless networking hub through VSATs (very small aperture terminal) is a cost-effective way of improving access in remote areas.