Sunday, November 15, 2015

Farm Radio International

Dr. Anamika Ray
I am sorry that due to a tragedy I was away from the internet world for almost four months. Dr. Anamika Ray, who was a known media educator of India and writer died in July, 2015. We have created a trust as "Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust" to work on her unfinished projects and in the field of media education and research. She had lots of contributions to the filed of community media or community communications. As a tribute to her contributions, today I would like to share her article on Farm Radio International, which was originally published at EduComm Asia in March, 2014.

Communication Empowers
An Effective Approach of Farm Radio International


According to the report of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2013), there are 842 million hungry people in the world. Out of them 98 percent belong to the developing countries. Most of them live in village based rural areas depending upon agriculture related activities for their livelihood without having other alternatives for the source of income.

Communication empowers. A dynamic, prolific, competitive, diversified and sustainable agricultural system is needed for the sustainable developments for deprived societies. It is then only possible when transparent communication takes place in a particular society. Radio has the power to accelerate the system towards the development. Because of huge reach and access especially among the unreached and underprivileged communities, radio has become one of the most vibrant tools for advancement as well as sustainability. Other than community radio, the community participation and pure concern of a particular community development is hardly heard about any mainstream media. Community radio not only becomes the facilitator to solve the community problems but also bridges the gap between the community and others by disseminating required information. In this context it is worth to mention that if the community is restricted into the farmer community, then that kind of radio can be treated as Farm Radio.

Concept of Farm Radio

Farm Radio, sometimes referred to as rural radio, is considered a genuine, reliable, responsible and respected form of communication. Farm radio or agricultural radio helps to propagate the message on seed selection, soil preparation, utilization of fertilizer, irrigation, water supply system, health and hygiene, commercialization of food products, animal husbandry and many more to the cultivator community (Ilboudo,2001). The farm radio with full and complete participation of cultivators can act as the key agent to empower the rural community. In this context a revolution can be seen made by Farm Radio International. The organization consists of aiming to give a new dimension to the agricultural extension and to serve the smallholder farmers. Information and knowledge are two noteworthy aspects for a community development. Understanding the vicinity additionally helps as well as the dissemination of information regarding the cultivation procedure assists to bring a change in farmer society (Mohammad Retz Nazn and Hasan Harbullah, 2010,pp. 13-20).  "Since Rural radio is community based, it can be used to mobilize people towards community development work as construction of valley dams, protected wells and immunization of animals" (Nakabugu,2001). 

According to a survey of 4500 farmers in five countries of Africa carried out by FRI through the African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), an average of 77% of rural households (ranging from 66% in Malawi to 85% in Mali)  own a radio set in the Africa continent. As farmers are living at the edge of new technological boon, radio is the only porthole to sustain (Sullivan,2011).

Introducing Farm Radio International

Farm Radio International (FRI) is a non-profit Canadian charitable organization based in Ottawa, Canada (FRI- Wikipedia, 2013). ‘Radio is a tool for dialogue and change’, said German author Bertolt Brecht (in 1927) who recognized the radio as more effective when ‘audience members can go beyond listening to creating — or supplying — content by sharing their stories, solutions, questions and concerns’ (FRI Blog: Annual Report 2012-2013, 2013).George Atkins gave a shape of that noble thought. Atkins was the voice of CBC’s noon farm radio broadcast for 25 years. During a conference of farm broadcasters in Zambia in the mid-1970s, George learned that most farm radio programmes featured information on expensive techniques or large-scale farming, and were not meaningful to the majority of poor farmers. This discovery challenged him to think on the creation of a worldwide platform to share practical (which is also affordable by the rural people) information on farming and cultivation. In 1979, he developed a new network of farm broadcasters to benefit millions of small holder farmers across the global south. It was called Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN). At the initial stage, there were 34 broadcasters from 26 countries (History | Farm Radio International, n.d.). In 2008 DCFRN was renamed as Farm Radio International (FRI- Wikipedia, 2013) -an association of more than 500 radio broadcasters in 38 African Countries. It was started with a noble cause- fight poverty and food insecurity (About us | Farm Radio International, n.d.). FRI works in African Countries.
Radio listening group in Ethiopia. The women tune into a weekly PRC program about integrated pest management in lentil and chick pea production. Curtsey: FRI.
Every year, FRI provides over 530 African broadcasters with three information packages consisting of radio scripts, “how to” guides, and “issue packs” on variety of topics.  FRI also distributes a weekly electronic news service called Farm Radio Weekly to more than 2500 subscribers in Africa. These resources are used by broadcasters to prepare radio programs for their rural listeners. The Barza online community helps over 550 African broadcasters access and share radio resources, and connect with each other. On the other hand FRI not only ensures the quality of broadcasting through the provision of scripts, news stories and other resources, but also provides training to the broadcasters to help them produce radio programmes that meet the needs and aspirations of farmer communities. 

Presently under the leadership of Kevin Perkins (Executive Director) along with 15 members of the Board of Directors, 12 staff in Canada, and over 40 in Africa, 34 volunteers and countless supporters from various countries, FRI works for not only food security and economic affluence by accessing the practical, relevant and timely information on farming but also provides a platform to engage and exchange their views among the farming communities.
African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI)
The African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), implemented by FRI between 2007 and 2010 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sought to investigate how effective is radio in enabling smallholder farmers in Africa and how can new technologies increase the effectiveness of radio as a sustainable, interactive development communications tool.(Sullivan, B. (2011). Through AFRRI, FRI aimed to realize the effectiveness of PRC strategies for fulfilling the aims and objectives of smallholder farmers and the organizations that serve them (Agricultural Radio that Works, 2011).

To answer these questions, FRI embarked on an action research program that involved working with 25 radio stations (a mix of public, commercial FM and community stations) in five countries (Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Uganda and Tanzania).  FRI worked closely with its partner stations and local knowledge partners to design produce and evaluate a total of 49 participatory radio campaigns and 5 market information (MIS) radio programmes.  An evaluation of the outcomes of 15 of these campaigns was conducted in 2010 using data collected in the field from 4600 households. The information (from the interview of the farmers) was recorded and stored in mobile phones and then sent to a database in the cloud.  From here it was analyzed. The whole process was powered by the service provider ‘Mobile Researcher’ (Karenhampson, 2010, October 23).

Participatory Radio Campaigns on Agriculture:

The farmer is in need, the farm radio is deed. Right information at the right time empowers the cultivators to take wise decision. The Participatory Radio Campaign (PRC) was developed by FRI as a deliberate and designed radio programme, (with specific duration-12 to 16 weeks) aiming to respond to information needs expressed by particular farming communities. It has helped thousands of small holder farmers not only to adopt the new innovation in the harvesting but also allow them to understand ‘how to take benefit from it’.

The PRC approach results in measurable impact because the farmers can decide the content, context and time of broadcasting to share their knowledge at common platform with the participation of people like them. With the knowledge gained through AFRRI, FRI has been working with new partners to implement PRCs on a range of topics. In 2012-13, FRI developed 16 PRCs in five countries (FRI Blog: Annual Report, 2013).  The PRC offers a space to farmers to ascertain, to exchange the knowledge, to gain information and to share experiences with the new agricultural practice that can improve their family’s food security. The focus of the PRC is to help farmers make an informed decision to adopt (or not) an improved agricultural practice.  After guiding listeners to the decision-point, the PRC provides implementation advice to those farmers that wish to adopt the improvement.  In a PRC, various formats including panel discussions, vox pops, village debates, phone-in shows, mini-dramas and music have been followed to make the farmers feel attached with the information dissemination process. Farmers’ feedback is used for monitoring and evaluating the PRC using new ICTs such as cell phones, MP3 players, and interactive voice response systems These ICT tools, together with bulk SMS messaging systems help radio programmes to enhance the level of participation, reach and accessibility (Agricultural Radio That Works, 2011). The PRC methodology includes a number of important stages, including: Community rapid appraisals, Improvement selection, Formative research, Campaign design, Broadcast, Gathering Listener Feedback, and evaluation.  Around 40 million smallholder farmers have been served by PRCs. Among them 20 million gained knowledge about the promoted agricultural improvement and 10 million adopted one or more of a wide range of improved farming innovations as a result of these PRCs (Participatory radio campaigns and food security, 2011).

Marketing Information Service (MIS)

Marketing Information Service (MIS) is one of the major and active involvements in the development process for the economic security for the farming communities in Africa. Through MIS radio programs, five radio stations that participated in AFRRI offered their listeners information on product price, market scenario, demand-supply ratio, physical distribution, enhancement of product quality, production activities with cultural and traditional practices, transportation, negotiation with middle men, post-harvest support and background of the consumers. MIS featured the participation of farmers and their associations, traders and buyers, and extension agents at local, district, national and international level (Sullivan, 2011). According to AFRRI report, ‘an average of 64.8% of respondents were aware of the MIS radio programs, and 84% of those who listened found the MIS radio programs to be “very useful”. ‘It helps the farming communities to assess ‘what to grow, when to grow, and how much to grow’, which assists them to overcome the economic hurdles (Rao, 2011).

Information Dissemination among Farmers

Farm Quest
FarmQuest, a 12-episode innovative new reality radio series was aired in the last part of 2013 aiming to revive the faith on farming as career among the young generation in Mali (FRI Blog, 2013). 

Radio Dramas: Making (Air) Waves with New and Old Technologies
Technological convergence in radio broadcasting has given a wide scope to the audience for their active participation. This has been demonstrated by the 30 episodes radio drama ‘My Children’, where the central character shares her farming experience on nutritive food in traditional variety. Story telling from a common mother to thousands other mothers could achieve heartfelt interactive engagement of the audiences (ibid.).

Radio Program on Climate Adaptation     
Dr. Adaptation show has attained a very acceptable and positive response from the listeners. This programme – a call in show, featuring a radio host and an engaging climate adaptation expert called “Dr. Adaptation” - creates a consciousness of the small scale growers on Climate change along with the required procedure to fight against the adversity (ibid.).

Barza: A Virtual Village
Barza means “a place where people in a village meet under a tree and talk.” Using the platform of, the broadcasters share radio scripts, audio clips, various suggestions among themselves across the continent (ibid.).

In addition to these FRI is engaged with farm radio e-courses, and in station training designed to improve broadcasters skills for serving small – scale farmers with better radio. FRI offers The George Atkins Communications Award to the farm radio broadcasters for their exceptional dedication to food security and poverty reduction in low income continents. Many new projects like ‘Promoting orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) for nutrition’, ‘Radio for farmer value chain development’, ‘Demand-driven Participatory Radio Campaigns (PRCs)’, ‘Introducing more nutritious maize in Ethiopia’, ‘Climate change: Helping farmers adapt’, ‘Integrated mental health in Malawi’, ‘Strengthening staple crop production in Ethiopia’, ‘Linking Ghanaian farmers to a lucrative new market: The WFP’ have been under taken as new initiatives by FRI (ibid.).

Farm Radio plays a pivotal role in development of farming communities.  It gives a common interaction platform to exchange and share news, views on various innovative methods regarding cultivation, marketing, connecting with consumers, post-harvest system and many more in affordable manner. Farm broadcasters become the communication agents for the growth and expansion of a community who are living in the periphery of modern technology in the modern era. The tireless effort of Farm Radio International has been able to give a new dimension to the war against poverty for the grass root level people. 

About us | Farm Radio International. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2014, from
Agricultural Radio That Works. (2011). Retrieved February 24, 2014, from
Farm Radio International - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. (2013, December 23). Retrieved February 27, 2014, from
Farm Radio International Blog: Annual Report 2012-2013 Radio 2.0: when radio is more than radio. (2013). Retrieved February 25, 2014, from
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: The State of Food and Agriculture 2013. (2013). Retrieved February 22, 2014, from
History | Farm Radio International. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2014, from
Ilboudo, J. P. (2001). Rural Radio: Role and Use over the Past Three Decades. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from
Karenhampson (2010, October 23). African Farm Radio Research Initiative conducts field surveys with mobile phones | E-Agriculture. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from
Mohammad,R.N , Salleh,M.D, &Hasbullah,A.H. (2010).Radio as an Educational Media: impact on Agricultural Development. The Journal of South East Asia Research Centre for communication and Humanities.Vol-2.2010, pp.13-20.
Nakabugu, S.B. (2001). The Role of Rural Radio in Agricultural and Rural Development Translating Agricultural Research Information into messages for farm Audiences. Programe of the workshop in Uganda, 19 Feburary 2001.
Rao, S. H. (2011). Retrieved February 22, 2014, from
Sullivan, B. (2011). How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from
Sullivan, B. (2011) 2. The new age of radio How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa. Retrieved from

Reviewed by Kevin Perkins, Executive Director, Farm Radio International, Canada. Dr. Ray was an Assistant Professor in Mass Communication at Gauhati University, Guwahati, India.


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