Amid Kenya’s Food Crisis, Radio Educates Farmers

Posted by: admin on Mon, 2011-07-18 09:36

At a time when Kenya is struggling to feed its population following severe droughts, radio programs are educating listeners on better farming techniques in a bid to improve food security.

By Dinfin Mulupi

Kenya is on the brink of possibly one of its worst droughts in 60 years, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Aid groups have issued their largest-ever appeal for food aid for parts of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The food shortage resulting from this year’s drought is not uncommon in Kenya, although this year it is particularly severe. For decades, Kenya has suffered frequent acute food shortages. Paradoxically, it is believed that close to 80 percent of the population engages in farming. While Kenya’s food shortages are caused by a complex set of circumstances – drought, high global food prices, political instability -- the poor farming techniques practiced by Kenya’s majority small holder farmers have been singled out as a major factor.

To remedy this problem, some radio stations in Kenya are broadcasting programs to educate farmers about successful agricultural techniques. The goal is to promote food security for the region by helping small holder farmers increase their yield.






Challenges Facing Farmers

At the same time that its population is growing, Kenya’s agricultural production and performance has been declining, according to the Sustainable Agriculture Center for Research and Development in Africa (SACRED). Some of this drop in output is due to financial constraints that keep farmers from using higher yield seeds and fertilizer.

Yet the lack of up-to-date knowledge about farming methods is considered a significant obstacle to success for small holder farmers. This stems in part from the government’s decision to stop hiring agricultural extension specialists, a valuable source of agricultural expertise. SACRED points out that farmers are missing out on the advice these specialists dispense, like where to find suppliers of certified seeds, techniques for applying chemicals, how to deal with pesticides and crop diseases, and which are the right crops or animals to keep.

Leveraging the popularity and accessibility of radio, radio programs have sprouted up around the country that combine both research and extension services. Projects like the Farmers Voice Radio (FVR) Initiative are delivering farming advice in Swahili, English, and several vernacular languages through national and community radio stations.

“We deal with current issues that are relevant to the farmers,” says Dan Anduvate of FVR. “For instance, in areas where fishing is the main income-earner the program will focus on fish farming and not maize. Relevance and timeliness are key.”

The FVR Initiative launched two years ago in Kenya and Malawi with the aim of educating farmers about agri-business, food security and how to increase their household incomes. Currently, FVR is working with six radio stations in Kenya and plans are underway to expand to more community FM stations, therefore widening the program’s reach among rural communities which mostly practice farming.

The research component of the FVR initiative collaborates with two universities: Kenyatta University (KU) and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). They are exploring how radio can best be used to communicate to farmers. Other organizations involved include FIT Resources, a, “business development services provider,” and the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers, which offers extension services to farmers.

The program is broadcasting on radio stations such as, Radio Taifa, KBC English Service, Coro FM and Pwani FM, all members of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Two community radio stations namely, Radio Mangelete in Kibwezi broadcasting in Kamba language and Sauti FM broadcasting in Dholuo, are currently on board. Plans are underway to involve more community radio stations that can broadcast in vernacular languages.

FVR programs are broadcast frequently so that farmers will hear them repeatedly and thus have the confidence to experiment with the advice they have heard. The program addresses health issues and cultural beliefs that inhibit agricultural activities (like the belief that some crops cannot be farmed by women). It also tackles issues such as land ownership, especially among women, and how it affects productivity.

“At meetings organized for communities, it is the men who show up whereas when we go to the farms we find women working,” explains FVR’s Anduvate. “During payment it is the men who still show up. This affects production because women gain little out of the hard work and do not access training yet they are the ones involved in production.”

Farming radio’s pioneer

Long before FVR started broadcasting, its partner FIT Resources developed Kenya’s very first agricultural radio program.

“In 2005 we realized that the farmers had many problems -- among them lack of skills and limited access to markets, extension service providers and modern technologies,” says Richard Isiaho the Executive Director of FIT Resources.

The program, “Mali Shambani” (Swahili for “wealth in the farm”), went on air in 2005 and still runs today. The one-hour live magazine show contains topical segments, including business, news, weather forecasts, “role model farmers,” and question and answer sessions. The show also brings into the studio experts in distinct areas such as dairy farming.

“One of the most successful episodes aired focused on ostrich farming. Many farmers eventually tried it out,” he says.

The show registered 600,000 listeners in the first six months. Today, it remains the second most-listened to program on the KBC network (news is number one). “Mali Shambani” has since become self-sustaining and no longer relies on donor funding.

It is imperative that such educational radio shows become self-sustaining, believes Isiaho. “The way media works today is that stories are published or aired based on how they enhance the readership or listenership,” explains Isiaho. “Radio and TV programs, for instance, are aired for as long as corporate organizations sponsor them. Sustainable radio programs should be ‘off-shelf’ -- packaged and ready for consumption by whoever finds them useful.”

He believes that radio stations should develop their own programs, attract an audience to them and only then attract commercial partners to ensure sustainability. Due to their dependence on corporate sponsors, most agricultural radio programs in Kenya survive only a few months before they are pulled off air after the sponsors stop supporting the programs.

Going mobile

While these agricultural radio programs would like to take advantage of other technologies to reach their audience, there are barriers to expansion. For example, despite the fast growth of mobile telephony in Kenya, it has its shortcomings for an agricultural audience.

“Most farmers in rural areas only understand how to receive and make calls,” says Anduvate. “Even though we are trying to expand the usage of mobile phones beyond the traditional call-receive function, we cannot abandon radio. Due to illiteracy among rural populations, mobile phones at the moment cannot be a replacement of radio.”

Radio still resonates with the Kenyan public as a primary source of news and information. Add to this the emergence of more community radio stations broadcasting in vernacular languages, and, Isiaho argues, farmers now look at radio as an extension service provider.

Dinfin Mulupi is a business journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is currently the East Africa corresp for an online business paper based in Cape Town in South Africa.
Recent Articles by Dinfin

Kenya: Citizen Watchdogs Go Online
Challenging Kenya’s Powerful through Satire
Kibera Citizens Turn Reporters


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