Pilot radio project tunes in to what farmers have to say

Farmers are increasingly demanding access to climate information from agricultural experts to improve their farming practice. Here radio can play in important role in engaging with farmers. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

by Catherine Mungai and Wilson Ugangu

Farmers are increasingly demanding access to climate information from agricultural- and climate change experts to improve their farming practices. They also desire to learn more, and be part of, an evolving dialogue on how local communities, governmental organizations and research institutions can work together to increase farm productivity and reduce the impacts of climate variability.

These were the findings from a radio project piloted by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) East Africa, in partnership with a local radio station in Eastern Kenya — Mbaitu FM. The 30 minute radio show “Wasya wa Muimi” (the voice of the farmer) was presented in local Kamba language every Friday evening from January to April, 2012, near and around the CCAFS site at Wote. A background study on Climate related risk and opportunities for agricultural adaptation and mitigation in semi-arid Eastern Kenya" provided the context for developing the content of the radio program. The study was conducted by the Kenya Agricultural Information Resource Centre (AIRC). Findings from the study showed that the local Kamba community in Eastern Kenya experience variable rainfall and frequent drought events. Consequently, the community has developed a range of local coping strategies in response to variable seasonal rainfall. Many of the traditional coping and livelihood strategies practiced in dry lands for centuries can no longer be relied on to guarantee food security at household level. This creates an opportunity for CCAFS to engage directly with farmers to share new and emerging knowledge from science and to identify ways of merging traditional and modern scientific knowledge on climate risk management.

Vulnerability to climate change and variability is exacerbated by the Kamba community’s reliance on crop farming such as with maize and bean intercrops that are sensitive to drought. Photo: Olive Thiong’o (CCAFS)

Involving the farmers

To actively involve farmers, the radio program adopted a simple interactive approach where the studio presenter and guest expert engaged listeners on various pre-selected discussion topics. Interaction between the listeners and studio was aided by a lively feedback mechanism made possible through short text messages (sms) and telephone calls. The pre-selected discussion topics were developed at a consultative stakeholder workshop held on 20 June 2011 in Machakos town, Eastern Kenya. The workshop brought together 28 participants representing farmers, local non-governmental organizations, researchers, local government and input dealers. In addition to the discussion topics, the participants suggested a program approach, suitable day and time for airing the program. During the workshop, 13 discussion topics were identified.

The topics included demystifying climate change, post-harvest management, tillage and cropping practices, livestock pests and diseases management, livestock feed management, seed selection, weather based agro-advisories, crop production technologies, crop pests and diseases control, livestock marketing, water harvesting and small-scale irrigation, indigenous poultry keeping, and livelihood diversification.

Feedback from focused listener group sessions was used to improve subsequent programs. The focused listener group sessions were moderated by the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP). The listener groups provided local farmers with an added platform for sharing, debating and understanding the contents of the radio program for each of the episodes. In order to ensure fair representation of the needs of the entire community, gender and social differentiation were taken into account in forming the listener groups. Each listener group comprised of 15 members.

In addition to knowing when the rains will start, farmers are interested in knowing what and when to plant. The episode on weather based agro-advisories, therefore, was aired immediately after the regional seasonal forecast was released. During this episode, farmers were advised to harvest rain water for use during the dry season, and to prepare their farms early enough in order to retain moisture once the rains start to ensure that seeds germinate well. Feedback from the listeners (through phone calls, and face to face interactions) showed that there is need to change the mindset of the local community who associate traditional crops like cassava, pumpkin, arrow roots with poverty and hunger. This has hampered the adoption and production of these food crops, yet these crops have huge potential for improving food security.

Livestock farming in the region has been seriously affected by pasture and water scarcity. Consequently, there is need for farmers to embrace pasture management technologies and adopt more resilient livestock breeds. Other challenges identified included high costs associated with purchasing drugs for controlling poultry diseases and lack of quality assurance for animal feeds and drugs sold in agro-vet shops within the community. Listeners also expressed their desire to discuss entrepreneurial skills and market information to improve farming as a business. Using the radio as one of the main channels of communication makes sense in Afirca, where it is the number one source of information for small-scale farm families in Africa.

What were the lessons learnt and challenges from the pilot radio program? Eunice Mukai, a poultry farmer in Makueni discusses the links between indigenous poultry keeping and climate variability at the Mbaitu FM radio studio. Photo: Tabitha Muchaba (CCAFS)

Overall, the collaboration with Mbaitu FM highlighted the benefits and challenges communication specialists, researchers and extension officers face in disseminating scientific information. A key challenge relates to translating technical scientific information into simple terms and concepts in local languages. To overcome this challenge, the program identified experts who already had good knowledge of the local Kamba language. In addition, developing location specific information in a timely, efficient and cost effective manner to inform decision making at the farm or household level is a key challenge. This requires collaborative efforts among communication specialists, researchers and extension officers.

Working with Mbaitu FM revealed that local language radio is suitable for communicating climate risk information to the grassroots. There is an opportunity for CCAFS and like-minded partners to explore how to use emerging communication tools such as mobile phones to enhance information sharing between scientists and farmers. The data collected and experiences recorded will be transcribed and synthesized into a document that can be shared widely. Through partnership with farm radio international, this pilot will be used to discuss upscaling climate related risks management and information dissemination throughout CCAFS sites in East Africa.

View a presentation by David Mowbray on the Rural Radio project. The presentation was held, and organised, by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in September:



This blog post was written by Catherine Mungai, Program Specialist for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) East Africa, and Wilson Ugangu.