Tune in to the Cassava show

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Farmer listening group; photo David Onyango, CABI

Last week in the Nkhotakota region of Malawi a new radio show went on air. Not a news programme or a music show, but a show devoted to Cassava. Sounds pretty specific? Well, it’s even more focussed than that. The weekly 30 minute programme is actually focussed on managing one of Cassava’s most damaging diseases – Cassava mosaic disease.

For Nkhotakota’s farmers, Cassava is one of two staple food crops they grow, so it’s pretty important to their food security. And Cassava mosaic disease causes extensive crop losses so is a priority to manage.

This region has a population of over 250,000, so reaching everyone through traditional extension methods is challenging. This is why Plantwise is working in partnership with the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture-Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) and Farm Radio Trust to see whether radio can help change the way farmers manage this disease on their farms.

Over a period of 4 months, the ‘Cassava show’ will be on the Nkhotakota community radio station weekly, with a repeat every week. Using a variety of show formats (farmer interviews to panel discussion) farmers can learn how to recognise Cassava mosaic disease, the effects of the disease on the plant, and how they can prevent and manage it on their farms. Farmers will be able to call in to some shows and ask questions, while for others they can text (at no cost themselves) to give a view on a subject.

Participatory Research involving farmers into existing knowledge and practices has informed the planning of the programmes and the messages they will communicate. For example we know that 32% of farmers surveyed believe that Cassava mosaic disease can be controlled by a pesticide which is a misconception. This understanding helps the team decide which perceptions need to be discussed and addressed and what new knowledge is needed.

‘So’, you may be asking ‘how can Cassava mosaic disease be managed?’ Well, the answers that will come out of the radio shows focus around uprooting plants that show signs of the disease and the use of tolerant seed varieties.

Together with Farm Radio Trust and the Department of Agricultural Extension Services, the Plantwise team will be tracking the activities over the coming months to assess the actual reach of the messages (working out how many people listen to radio programmes is a challenge!), whether farmers are more aware of the disease as a result and if they are changing their planting behaviour.

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