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Young broadcaster’s passion delivers Kenya’s best farmer radio program

Geoffrey Onditi produces a weekly farmer radio program called Mali shambani, Swahili for “wealth on the farm.” The popular program has been running on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, or KBC, since 2007. Mr. Onditi was named Best Radio Producer for his work on Mali shambani at the Africa Farming and Food Awards in 2012.

Mr. Onditi focuses each program on a specific topic. The show has covered themes as diverse as mushrooms, livestock, poultry, staple crops, vegetables, fruits, beekeeping, and raising quail. In addition, it airs agricultural news, tips and market prices.

For his daily topic, Mr. Onditi interviews a mkulima bora, or best farmer, on his or her farm. Back in the studio, he invites experts to discuss how these farmers can improve their husbandry and yields, and invites other listeners to join the discussion.

The program’s production team draws up a calendar of topics to be covered during a farming season. For example, in 2013, there was an outbreak of maize lethal necrosis disease. Mr. Onditi recalls: “We invited experts from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to highlight the challenge and give farmers possible solutions. These included urging them to have alternative food crops like cassava or sweet potatoes.”

Mali shambani’s farmer-listeners often request specific topics. Mr. Onditi enjoys hearing from farmers and giving them what they want. He explains, “… farmers are experts, having been in the business for long. You cannot just ignore them.”

Farmers send text messages and make direct phone calls to the studio. Many still send written requests through the postal system.

Francis Wachira is a farmer who credits his success to Mali shambani. Mr. Wachira started raising rabbits, and then improved his practices by listening to other farmers and experts on the show.

He says, “Through this radio program, I have become popular because I get to talk to other farmers, hence marketing myself.” Networking, he says, is really important to a modern farmer. But, he adds, “The biggest challenge farmers face is a lack of information.”

The program’s success has motivated other KBC journalists to emulate the show on other radio and television stations. KBC’s English-language radio service broadcasts Farmer Voice, an English version of Mali shambani. National TV stations run farmer programs in both English and Swahili.

KBC’s radio and TV signals are also received in Uganda and Tanzania. The media polling company Ispos Synovate estimates that KBC’s Swahili service reaches six million people daily, and the English service a further three million.

At the 2012 ceremony where Mr. Onditi won his award, KBC won an award for Best Staff of the year, mainly because of their quality agricultural programs.

Mr. Onditi says, “Because of Mali shambani, KBC was able to attract sponsors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who have signed a three-year contract to enable the program to be repeated and cause impact.”

Mali shambani is a farmer-focused radio program. For more information about how to tailor your agricultural programming to farmers’ needs, read through FRI’s Resource Pack #95: Researching and producing farmer focused programs (December 2012: http://www.farmradio.org/radio-resource-packs/package-95-researching-and-producing-farmer-focused-programs/ [1]). The accompanying issue of Voices magazine is available in PDF format here:  http://farmradio.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/voices_95.pdf [2]