In the course of almost fifty years as a radio broadcaster, Filius Chalo Jere has become “a father figure” to many of his younger colleagues. But when they look to him for guidance, he quietly tells them to look elsewhere—to their listeners—for real proof of whether they’re doing a good job.
Filius says: “The most important thing that they must know is that the radio listener owns the radio set and invests in batteries…. As such, the listener must find it worthwhile; otherwise, they have the freedom to switch off or switch to another channel.”
Filius’ channel is Breeze FM, a commercial station serving at least 800,000 people in eastern Zambia, near the border with Malawi. Twelve years after his official retirement, he now volunteers at the station, producing a popular program called “Ulimi ndi Malonda”, or “Farming is a business.”
He recalls what kept him going: “When I retired in 2005, after thirty-six years as a journalist, my conscience would not allow me to abandon small-scale farmers because I realized that what they lacked and needed most in order to improve their livelihood was not handouts of food and inputs, but simple information.”
That information includes effective farming practices, environmental conservation techniques, and business opportunities in agriculture.
His programs have always featured farmers’ voices and often their songs, too. In his early days, he recorded field interviews on an analog tape deck for the first farm radio program in Zambia, called “The Farmer’s Notebook”. In 1972, he was one of the pioneer producers to work with the late George Atkins, founder of Farm Radio International.
Filius was one of the three broadcasters to be recognized with the George Atkins Communications Award this year. Farm Radio International presents the annual George Atkins Communications Awards to radio broadcasters who excel in providing programming to help small-scale farmers feed their families and increase their income.
Despite his years of experience, Filius doesn’t always have the answers for farmers struggling with specific problems. He says, “The most challenging thing in my work is that farmers have come to regard me as an expert on farming, and demand solutions beyond my ability or jurisdiction.”
Another challenge for Filius is to provide the latest information and expert advice without contradicting government recommendations, such as on the use of chemical fertilizer. Weighing the different recommendations is key to Filius because he knows that his listeners, many of whom are unable to access the Internet or television, depend on his radio shows.
He explains: “In Zambia, radio is the most effective channel for passing on development information.… Rural people believe that what they hear on radio just has to be the correct thing for them.”
What they hear on the radio has helped many of Filius’s listeners improve their farming income and build better lives for their families.
Filius adds: “The most rewarding thing is to see poor farmers attaining household food security over the years…. I see more and more once-poor farmers affording to send their children to school. By this, I see myself indirectly contributing to improved education with the resultant uplifting of rural livelihoods.”