Malawi: Rechargeable radios allow farmers to listen while they work (by Mark Ndipita, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Malawi)

| February 10, 2014

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It is early morning, and the sun is just rising into the sky above Antony Martin’s maize field. The sound of voices is louder than the birdsong coming from the surrounding trees. But Mr. Martin is alone as he weeds his maize, his sole companion a small radio.

Mr. Martin did not own a radio until August, 2012. Now, he says, “I am used to listening to the radio when I am working in my field. Previously I could not afford a radio set; it was expensive to buy batteries.”

Many farmers in Malawi have no electricity in their homes, and the cost of batteries is high. But the introduction of light-weight, rechargeable radio sets has made radio programs easier to access. Farmers like Mr. Martin find they are much cheaper to run than conventional sets.

Mr. Martin grows maize, groundnuts and beans near the village of Mtambira, just outside Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. He says, “I decided to purchase the [re]chargeable radio in 2012 because it was cheap; I only paid $10.”

Because Mr. Martin’s radio is rechargeable, he no longer has to buy batteries. It would cost him about 45 US cents to buy batteries to power a standard radio, but to recharge his new set costs only 12 US cents.

The radio sets can be charged either through the national electricity grid or with solar power. Like many farmers in the village, Mr. Martin must walk about two kilometres to the nearest trading centre to charge his radio and cell phone.

Many more farmers are listening to their rechargeable radios while working in their fields and at home after work. Mr. Martin says, “Four years ago … less than ten households owned radio sets, but now almost every family owns a [re]chargeable radio.”

William Mazinga is another farmer in Mtambira. He grows maize, groundnuts and vegetables. Mr. Mazinga bought his rechargeable radio in August of last year after seeing that many farmers in his village were able to listen to these radios for longer, with less cost.

He likes listening to radio programs on farming. Mr. Mazinga wants to learn about new technologies and innovations so that he can improve his yields. He says, “Before I bought my [re]chargeable radio, I used to listen to farming radio programs at my neighbour’s house. The challenge was that some farming programs were aired in the evening.”

The rechargeable radios can store enough power for a week, depending on how much they are used. The radio sets are small, and include an MP3 player. Farmers can use a flash disk or memory card to store programs and music, and there are shops at the trading centre that will load music onto them for a small fee.

Mr. Mazinga is happy with his new radio. Not only can he listen to farmer radio programs, he can also hear the music of his choice whenever he wants. He adds, “With this radio, I do not need to pester my neighbour to let me listen to farming radio programs at his house.”

Mr. Martin used to envy those few families in his village that had radios in their homes. He says, “A family that owned a radio was regarded as well off, and every family wanted to have a radio for a household asset.” Now, his dream of owning a radio set has finally come true.