Features

Boosting agriculture productivity with radio listening clubs

DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
FLORENCE Mzyeche is an inspiration to many women in her home village of Mphande, in Petauke because of her involvement in the radio listening clubs.
“It is difficult to make a living through farming in Petauke just like in many rural areas in the country,” she says.
But with Ms Mzyeche’s guidance, many women’s groups have found a way to cope with drought and high food prices by using new methods of farming.
“How is it that I didn’t learn about this in time? If we had applied the new farming techniques that I have learnt through the radio listening clubs, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here telling you about my misadventures. What I mean to say is all the efforts that my family put forward three years ago failed,” says Ms Mzyeche.
“I am certainly not the only one to complain about the lack of knowledge concerning new farming techniques. The experience I had on my field three years ago might not be different from that of my neighbour. For me, the redeemer now is the Radio Listening Club where we meet and learn and share experiences on how best we can improve our yields,” Ms Mzyeche added.
While many rural farmers have limited access to information, radio reaches at least 70 percent of rural households countrywide.
Because small-scale farmers are often located in hard-to-reach rural areas, it is believed that radio is a cost-effective tool for reaching them.
For many rural Zambians, radio is a key channel of information. For small-scale farmers who have limited or no access to other media such as newspapers, television, or the Internet, radio is an essential part of their daily lives.
In 2007, Panos Southern Africa (PSAf), a non-profit making organisation, established to stimulate public debate around development issues in Zambia and other countries in Southern Africa by providing relevant information, combined with other information and communication technologies (ICT), to fight poverty and food insecurity.
“We work in partnership with community radio stations in various districts, like in Petauke, we work with Petauke Explorer to increase the reach of agricultural information, enhance farmers’ participation and give farming families a voice.
Mr Elias Mthoniswa Banda, PSAf regional manager for media development and ICTs says, “Through our work, we have found that radio is the preferred source of not only agricultural information for the large majority of smallholder farmers but any information to the rural populace.”
Radio is a suitable and cost-effective tool for the dissemination of agriculture information because the data, which is usually transmitted in local languages, can be assimilated by those without formal education.
“Most importantly, radio, particularly when coupled with other ICT, such as mobile phones, can give voice to end-users through participatory radio programmes. Radio is an effective tool helping farmers to make informed decisions and supporting the adoption of innovative agricultural practices,” said Mr Banda.
Petauke Explorer station manager Patrick Phiri says as a result of their educational efforts, farmers have learnt conventional farming methods and are willing to invest in the correct application of fertilizers.
“They also know how to plant in rows with the right spacing, and the best ways to manage their farms. We can also see that post-harvest handling practices have also improved. Many farmers are testifying that they no longer store grain on the floor, but on raised platforms and this is as a result of the exchange of information through radio listening clubs,” Mr Phiri said.
Similarly, NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) the continental framework for transforming agriculture in Africa, places a high premium on the role of radio to reach farmers.
CAADP is the African Union-NEPAD long-term framework to improve food security, nutrition, and increase incomes in Africa’s largely farming based economies.
Acknowledging the fact that radio has a powerful role in distributing information on African agriculture, there is need for commitment to disseminate pertinent information to local communities by linking policy makers and researchers with farmers on the ground.
For the illiterate rural populace in particular, occasions for information exchange are usually during community festivals, family gatherings, traditional and religious associations, interaction with itinerant merchants and encounters at marketplaces or water wells.
However, these communities, women especially, are making use of radio listening clubs to ensure their own as well as their families’ survival and. These clubs have created an environment of information exchange in rural communities.
The people in the countryside are also able to use radio listening clubs for leisure through the cultural, knowledge, customs exchange.
Women are usually active participants in the social communication networks. They use indigenous communication methods for information exchange, knowledge sharing and the dissemination of strategies for mutual assistance and survival.
It is the wish of the country as well as the continent to end hunger and reduce poverty by increasing agricultural productivity.
In June 2014 at the African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, African leaders voiced their commitment to prioritising agriculture in national development plans, ending hunger and cutting poverty in half by 2025.
In fact, ending hunger remains at the forefront of long-term global political priorities.
Ending hunger and cutting poverty especially in rural area is possible through innovation and information sharing, one of which is through the use of radio.

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