Members of the Chitontho Farmers Club gather in the Nkhotakota district of Malawi’s Central Region.
Sitting in the shade of her grass-thatched house, cassava farmer Achipera Nankambi recalls how she used to listen to a radio program called Dotolo wa Chinagwa pa Wailesi (Cassava Doctor on Air) on Nkhotakota Community Radio. The program launched in September 2016, at a time when many farmers had given up growing cassava because of a disease that made the crop unprofitable.
She says, “The program was important to farmers […] because cassava was being attacked by a strange disease called cassava mosaic.”
In 2005, Achipera lost her entire crop when mosaic disease first emerged in her area. She continued to have low yields because she did not know how to deal with the disease, and had no access to an extension worker.
“Previously, I suffered great losses because I could uproot half of the field trying to control the disease,” she explains.
Her situation changed with the launch of Cassava Doctor on Air. The program became her best source of information about the disease. A member of the Chitontho Farmers Club in the Nkhotakota district of Malawi, Achipera never missed an episode of the radio program.
“We used to sit in a circle surrounding the radio set, which was provided to us. The messages we heard in the program encouraged us to have interest in ways of dealing with the disease,” she recalls.
An initiative of Farm Radio Trust supported by Farm Radio International and the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), Cassava Doctor on Air focused on preventing cassava mosaic disease by advising farmers about the importance of uprooting infected plants and planting clean cuttings. It also informed farmers where to get disease-free and early-maturing varieties such as Sauti, which is resistant to cassava mosaic disease.
Because of the radio program, Achipera says that cassava production in her area is slowly getting back to its old glory days. She says the challenge farmers face now is finding a market for their surplus harvest.
“I have excess cassava which I harvested last year. We sell our crop at very low prices and in very low quantities. We sell just to find money for daily needs.”
The Chitontho Farmers Club also helped farmers combat the disease by sharing their experiences on the air. Group members recorded themselves while discussing what they learned on the program and sent recordings to the radio station. The station aired their voices in subsequent episodes. Farmers could also call or send SMS messages to the radio station to seek more information. In response, the station engaged experts to provide answers to the farmers’ questions.
Stellia Mangochi is the crops officer in Nkhotakota District and was one of the experts involved in the project. She says, “This program really helped us. We have few extension workers … but radio reaches to more people at once.”
Farm Radio International provided advisory support to Farm Radio Trust in developing this radio program, which was made possible through Plantwise, a global programme led by CABI that works to help farmers lose less of what they grow to plant health problems.