Ethiopia: Farmers join together to learn from the airwaves

| April 12, 2015

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The heavy overnight rain has left a thick fog in the cold morning air. Shrouded figures emerge from the gloom, driving overladen pack animals to the market in Durame. Donkeys strain to pull carts up the steep road towards the provincial capital. Automobiles are noticeable by their absence.

In the past, Ayelech Shalamu didn’t make time to listen to the radio. She was busy looking after her five children and tending to her quarter-hectare of farmland. But seven months ago, the local radio station started broadcasting a program which caught her attention – Wese.

Like everyone in the Kambata province of southern Ethiopia, 300 kilometres south of Addis Ababa, Mrs. Ayelech depends on the local staple crop enset, called wese in the Kambata language. The plant provides food, shelter and an income to almost everyone in this part of Ethiopia. Enset is also known as “false banana,” because it looks like a banana plant, but has leaves which point straight up at the sky.

She explains “I had never heard any information about enset before. All we had was our families’ traditional ways. We used to plant it anyhow and anywhere. But I have learned that the soil needs proper planned cultivation, and the plants should be properly spaced.”

Growing enset is a long-term business. The plants are ready to harvest after at least three years, and many are left for five or six, or even longer. Recently, however, local farmers are noticing that their crops are affected by disease and performing badly.

Mrs. Ayelech adjusts her headscarf and points at the ground near her feet. She says: “We used to cut off the bad leaves and leave them on the ground by the plants. The radio show told us to remove the [infected] cuttings from the field and burn them. This limits the spread of the disease.”

Mrs. Ayelech chairs one of the 20 listening groups established as part of an Irish Aid-funded program to educate people on the importance of nutrition and to bolster food security.

Her friend, Abebech, is also a member of a women’s listening group called Lemlemitu kosie [The fertile neighbourhood], based in Desagaba village, a few kilometres from Durame. Mrs. Abebech grows enset and wheat on one-tenth of a hectare. She says, “I know now that I should only put compost between the seedlings once they are established, not on them. This encourages the roots to grow better and strengthen the plant.”

Betsega Bekele is the station manager at Kambata Community Radio. Her station broadcasts from Durame to about 270,000 people scattered across the undulating valleys between steep-sided mountains in Kambata province.

Ms. Betsega says: “The in-station training we received from Farm Radio International helped us to target exactly what it was that the farmers wanted to know. The farmers chose to base the programs on enset because it is the most important plant that we grow.”

Meles Maarcos is the extension officer for Desagaba village. He is happy that the farmers are getting information from the radio program. He says: “It’s useful because they hear things and take them on board. I have been discouraging intercropping in enset for years, and now they finally understand that it creates too much competition in this crop.”

Nagash Heramo chairs the all-male Dirbo listening group. He used to plant his seedlings in January each year, but has learnt to dig planting holes and fill them with manure before the rains start falling at the end of March. Mr. Nagash explains: “I prepared my field three months ago. Now [that] the rain has come, I can get on with planting. The radio has created an intimacy between our members. I heard my own voice on the program – I was really excited!”

Mrs. Ayelech introduced a system of fines to encourage her group members not to miss or arrive late to meetings. So far, no one has been fined. She says: “We love meeting as a group. We all learned new things, and we want to share it with as many people as possible. Every village in the province should have a group – it’s the best way to farm!”

Photo: Left to Right: Mrs. Abebech, Mrs. Ayelech and Mrs. Tadelech with their community listening group radio. Credit: Paddy Roberts