Information and communication technology has advanced rapidly in the past few decades. Many of us now take connection to the internet and easy access to information for granted. However, in remote parts of the world, even access to electricity is infrequent and unreliable, and communication technology is developing in a way that reflects this. In Africa, one technology that has become popular as a means of reaching a wide audience is radio. Several initiatives are now using this medium to help educate farmers in rural areas.
The multinational company, SC Johnson, has announced that they have donated 225 Lifeplayer radios to remote farmers of pyrethrum crops in Rwanda. These radios have been developed by the company Lifeline Energy specifically to be used for humanitarian purposes. They can be charged through solar power or be wound up by hand. In addition to providing AM/FM radio, the devices can also record and play back programmes, or be provided with programmes already loaded onto them. The aim of this project is to educate farmers in the best practices of pyrethrum cultivation in order to increase yield of the product, which the company sells. The broadcasts and podcasts that will be available on the radios will be produced by a Canadian NGO, Radio Lifeline, which creates programmes about coffee and pyrethrum farming, as well as health topics important to Rwandan communities such as childhood diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Providing the equipment and programmes is the first step towards sharing information with farmers in isolated communities. The African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI) has carried out extensive research into the use of information and communication technologies since its launch in 2007. The project, carried out by Farm Radio International with the World University Service of Canada, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, integrates farmers’ first-hand knowledge into development of radio programmes. AFRRI’s radio campaigns have reached an estimated 40 million farmers in five African countries (Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Ghana and Malawi). Up to a quarter of these listeners have adopted farming practices discussed on the radio shows, showing that radio is an effective method of information dissemination.
Over the past five years, AFRRI has developed several strategies to reach farmers through radio. ‘Participatory radio campaigns’ include farmers in the process of developing the radio programmes, informing decisions such as topics to be discussed, when the programme will be broadcast and how the programme will develop. The introduction of call-in and call-out shows enable farmers to share their knowledge and opinions on the latest farming techniques and innovations. There is also information given on local weather forecasts and market prices for crops. The appointment of ‘radio agents’ who have a solar MP3 radio like the Lifeplayer model means that whole communities can be targeted with listening sessions of live or pre-recorded programmes. There is also the Freedom Fone service, which farmers can ring up to access pre-broadcast information such as market prices, weather forecasts and other short sound bites.
To hear more about how AFRRI is “giving voice to the voiceless”, you can watch this video:
Three research papers African Farm Radio Research Initiative (2012) Available from http://iconnect-online.org/node/598
SC Johnson Introduces New Radio Technology to Remote Rwanda Communities (2012) Available from http://www.scjohnson.com/en/press-room/press-releases/02-02-2012/SC-Johnson-Introduces-New-Radio-Technology-to-Remote-Rwanda-Communities.aspx