When Farm Expertise is Scarce — How Radio and Cell-Phones are Helping African Farmers Pick Up Ag Info

A farm broadcaster with Farm Radio International (source: FRI)

Whether it’s your favourite ag website, the radio or newspaper, Twitter, your area sales rep or the local ag extension office, farmers in Canada and most developed countries have many sources to turn to for expertise. Never mind scarcity, information overload is often a problem.

But imagine farming without electricity, without a computer, without the newspaper — where would you turn if you were dealing with a disease in your crop or livestock? How would you know what the market is like for your produce?

A farm broadcaster with Farm Radio International (source: FRI)

A farm broadcaster with Farm Radio International (source: FRI)

Many subsistence farmers in Africa receive this information from a Canadian organization providing it through radio and — increasingly — through mobile phone technology. Founded by CBC journalist George Atkins in 1979, Farm Radio International now provides important agricultural information to farmers through more than 500 radio partners in 38 African countries.

Japhet Emmanuel, FRI’s country program manager in Tanzania, was recently in Ontario and Manitoba to meet with the organization’s supporters: “We work with broadcasters to ensure radio programming targeting farmers, especially small-scale farmers in Africa, is of quality, so that it provides relevant information in timely manner to all small-holder farmers ,” he explains in the interview below.

The radio programs are filled with many of the same topics you would hear or read about in Canada: agronomic information on planting, seed selection, plant spacing, post-harvest management, as well as weather forecasts and advice on marketing. There are also topics that aren’t covered on Canadian farm radio programs, such as HIV/AIDs.

The impact the programs have is significant, as Emmanuel says they’ve compared farm communities that actively listen to their programs with those that don’t receive radio signals. They discovered that farmers who listen are five times more likely to adopt a practice or technology that is promoted on the program.

While most African farmers don’t have a landline telephone, cell-phone availability is dramatically changing the amount of information they can access.

“Combining mobile phones and radio programs is one thing we see catching up quite fast and it’s quite exciting,” he says. “It makes radio more interactive — we give information by radio, but also use mobile phone to follow-up with farmers.”

As part of this video, Emmanuel discusses how Farm Radio International helps African farmers, the acceptance of biotechnology and some of the challenges — such as land-grabbing and gender issues — holding back the potential of agriculture in Tanzania:

Related: Bringing Drought Tolerance to Africa: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Support of Biotechnology


Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin


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