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The East African : December 23rd 2013
The EastAfrican OUTLOOK DECEMBER 21-27,2013 e -AF R ICAN Radio comes to rescue of rural farmers Mobile technology may not always be the best option fo≥ sp≥eading info≥mation in ≥u≥al a≥eas By SARIKA BANSAL Special Correspondent H ow do you share ideas — including potentially transformative ones — with people who do not have Internet access, are largely illiterate, and live far from paved roads? Even in today’s hyperconnected world, most farmers in Tanzania — who make up 75 per cent of the country’s population of 48 million — have limited interaction with people outside their communities. Ideas, by extension, are slow to travel. Many small-scale farmers use outdated farming techniques when planting and harvesting their land, based on knowledge passed on from their ancestors. They also run the risk of being cheated in the market, if they do not have frequently updated price information for crops. Too often, this means that small-scale farmers experience low crop yields and remain trapped in a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. Mobile technology, long the fo- cus of international development efforts, is not always reliable for spreading information across rural Tanzania. Nearly 40 per cent of the country’s population lacks a mobile connection. Infrastructure limits sharing ide- as face to face with farmers in isolated villages. Despite being twice the size of California, Tanzania only has a third of the Golden State’s road network. Over 90 per cent of rural roads are unpaved, making them especially difficult to traverse in bad weather. In this environment, there is one communication technology that is being harnessed to deliver important agricultural knowledge: the simple radio. Nearly 90 per cent of rural Tanzanians have access to this inexpensive, centuries-old technology — and they use it frequently. Around the world, farmers use the radio to get timely crop information and learn new techniques. In sub-Saharan Africa, four times as many farmers have access to the radio as to cellphones. In this vein, radio stations across Tanzania have developed shows that cover a range of agricultural issues, from the intricacies of cattle rearing to the nutritional value of orange-flesh sweet potatoes. The Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation has been airing shows for farmers since 1955. Community-based and privately owned radio stations have introduced agricultural programming “Almost anyone can get a radio signal, usually in their own language.” Kevin Perkins, FRI’s country director more recently. shows have even ed interactive ments to their g r a m m i n g , giving farmers the opportunity to learn from their peers. “The radio provides i n f o rma t i o n that rural fol feel they can t said Mercy Ka who advises the Melinda Gates dation on agri cultural devel opment in Eas Africa. “Farmer talk about the ideas to thei fellow farmers They can be come agricultural innovators, and even champions.” In Arusha, a close to Mount K cal station Radio 5 recently broadcast a programme on kitchen gardens. The station invited a local horticulture expert, Digna Massawe, to explain how to grow these gardens and their nutritional benefits. Signal is everywhere In Swahili, Mr Massawe ex- plained the types of vegetables that could be grown near one’s home, their nutritional benefits, and how they could be attractively arranged. The programme’s host, Clara Moita, paced the conversation and fielded the many incoming calls. In the middle of the show, Ms Moita ran a text-based survey with listeners, asking whether they were previously familiar with kitchen gardens: 75 per cent said yes. Radio 5’s agricultural content is supported by a Canadian nonprofit called Farm Radio International (FRI). It works with 10 stations in Tanzania, collectively reaching up to 40 per cent of the country’s farmers. FRI entered Tanzania in 2007 because it saw a substantial opportunity in the predominantly rural country. “Almost anyone can get a radio signal, usually in their own language,” said Kevin Perkins, FRI’s country director here. “It’s also a listening and storytelling culture.” The organisation began in the late 1970s, when a radio broadcaster named George Atkins travelled to Zambia. He had been hosting an agricul- tural show in Canada for 25 years. Atkins learned that most agricultural programming in Africa at the time was intended for large commercial farmers. For instance, some shows talked about tractor main- WHY RADIO IS CHOSEN OVER CELLPHONE Nearly 40 per cent of the country’s population lacks a mobile connection. Infrastructure limits sharing ideas face to face with farmers in isolated villages. Despite being twice the size of California, Tanzania only has a third of the Golden State’s road network. Over 90 per cent of rural roads are unpaved, making them especially difficult to traverse in bad weather. In sub-Saharan Africa, four times as many farmers have access to the radio as to cellphones. tenance, which was irrelevant for small-scale farmers who used oxen. African broadcasters from several countries told Atkins that they would welcome new radio content. Today, FRI runs programmes in 38 radio stations across seven African countries . They work primarily with local stations like Arusha’s Radio 5, as opposed to national broadcasters, so they can tailor their messaging. In the case of Radio 5, FRI helps develop scripts of interest to smallscale farmers in the area. It also helped set up interactive software to allow listeners with mobile coverage to be part of the live shows. Farmers can call the station during a broadcast, text the station to answer a survey, and record their conversations to play on the air. age dialogue, FRI sup- ng groups” for the rats. For instance, every noon, a 65-year-old d Elembora Esse joins ghbors to listen to Rathatched hut in Malaabout 25 kilometres Arusha. Ms Elembora the group had been ul because members ussed the radio show practiced the teches at their own pace. nd the hut, the group planted a “model m,” where members ly grow leafy greens, lants and amaran- Many group memhave successfully ied some techniques their own farms. Getting new ideas The group lis- ns to the broadcast windup radio, which operates without electricity and is able to record voice. Members have recorded some of their conversations and Radio 5 has played this content on the air. “Farmers’ voices are always featured through phone-in programmes, interviews and village debates,” said Mr Perkins. “Listeners want to know that farmers like them have tried their approach.” In contrast to FRI, the non profit One Acre Fund runs face-to-face training sessions with farmers in East Africa — also designed to introduce them to new ideas. At a recent session in Magulilwa village, in Tanzania’s Iringa district, farmers participated in lively role-playing to demonstrate the optimal space between seeds. Four farmers volunteered to act as seeds. They were asked to stand very close together and grow like maize. Audience members started giggling when their peers began squirming because they were packed too tightly. “It is a highly visual and memorable example that sticks with people,” said Andrew Youn, One Acre Fund’s founder. “It sure beats a more technical message of, ‘The optimal plant population is 20,000 plants on one acre of land.”’ For the millions of farmers who are not yet touched by holistic interventions like One Acre Fund, radio can be an effective and inexpensive first step to introducing new ideas. It appears to be especially true in places like Malala village, where a group of farmers can meet and support one another as they try new innovations. The writer is a journalist who writes about social innovation and global health. She is also the Director of Partnerships of the Solutions Journalism Network BRIEFS Twitter reserves privacy change due to complaints Twitter on Thursday adopted — and then quickly reversed — a change to the way people can block others from interacting with them on the service. The brief change set off an uproar among users who said it opened the door for abusive behaviour, said NewYorkTimes. Before, a blocked user could not interact with the person who blocked them, and could tell that they had been blocked. Under the shortlived change, blocked users would not know they had been blocked. They could view and send tweets to the person who blocked them, but those tweets would have been invisible to that person. Facebook, Wal-Mart to use face recognition help Facebook, Wal-Mart and other companies planning to use facialrecognition scans for security or tailored sales pitches will help write rules for how images and online profiles can be used reports Bloomberg News. The US Department of Commerce will start meeting with industry and privacy advocates in February to draft a voluntary code of conduct for using facial recognition products, according to a public notice. The draft will ready by June. Samsung shifts plant to protect profit margins Samsung surged past Apple Inc. to the top of the mobile- phone industry by offering cutting-edge devices for more than $900 to basic models costing less than $150. With demand sagging in the most-profitable top end and Chinese rivals driving prices lower, Samsung is joining technology companies such as Nokia Oyj and Intel Corp. to be drawn to Vietnamese wages that are about a third those in China. 31 Samsung phones on sale. Picture: File Chargers for HP Chromebook recalled The US Consumer Product Safety Commission last week recalled the chargers for the HP Chromebook 11 after receiving nine reports that the laptop’s unique charger is prone to overheating and melting during use. The charger can reportedly heat up to such a high temperature that at least one customer suffered a small burn, according to the commission. There was also a report of a “minor property damage to a pillow” from an overheated charger, the agency said. The recall affects about 145,000 laptops, the notice said.
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