Radio is the only place where the Minister of Agriculture and the small farmer meet,
says Rex Chapota, Executive Director of Farm Radio Malawi. He sits in a small office with Farm Radio International staff here in Ottawa, Canada explaining the powerful possibilities associated with radio. Not just radio; but radio that values farmers and gives them the chance to express their opinions and concerns.
Mr. Chapota worked directly with Farm Radio International (FRI) for almost four years, leading the Malawi office in cutting edge research to discover the effectiveness of rural radio in Africa (see the research results here). The work was so good in fact, that a home-grown Malawi-based NGO called Farm Radio Malawi spun off of FRI in 2010. It still remains a close partner for FRI but operates as a separate organization on the ground, staffed by Malawians who understand very well the realities of working in the small Southern African country.
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s agricultural extension systems across sub-Saharan Africa were all but dismantled. Decreases in funding and shifts in policy away from government social programs led to a problem: over-burdened government agencies that were charged with serving small-scale farmers. It is not uncommon to see one extension agent serving 2,000 farmers in many countries. This situation is unsustainable and where we see radio as a way to reach out to isolated, and often information hungry, farmers.
Mr. Chapota sees a change in the way Malawi approaches communication for development:
Our research has really raised a demand for radio. We are starting to see a re-investment in radio as a means to serve farmers over great distances. Not only that, but the government (of Malawi) is now coming to us as a partner. They are learning from us how to engage with farmers. It is no longer just about using the medium for awareness-raising, but how to involve a large portion of the population in the conversation.
Through the African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), Farm Radio International learned that participatory radio campaigns aimed at informing and engaging farmers can actually lead to dramatic increases in the adoption of appropriate agricultural practices. In Malawi several campaigns focused on one-to-one maize planting and organic manure. These are the types of changes that can have a major impact on food security for millions of farmers.
Mr. Rex Chapota will be speaking at the Farm Radio International office in Ottawa, Canada on Monday June 18, 2012, sharing his experience in working with small-scale farmers in Malawi. He will examine the explosion of interest in rural radio in Malawi and the transformative effects it can have on policy formation as well as ultimate changes in food security for farmers. Please join us!