Last month, it was my great pleasure to travel to Mali to meet with most of the team implementing the African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI). The whole Africa-based group of staff gathered in Bamako to review progress and plan future activities. The team includes Rex Chapota of Malawi, Ben Fiafor of Ghana, Margaret Kingamkomo of Tanzania, Emily Arayo of Uganda, Modibo Coulibaly of Mali, Martine Ngobo (the Senior Research Manager), and Gizaw Shibru (the Program Director). Also in attendance was Bart Sullivan, our ICT guy and the lone (but not lonely!) Canadian on the team, and Doug Ward, President of the Board of Farm Radio, (and past Vice President of CBC English Radio – his experience in radio has greatly enriched AFRRI). During our time in Mali, we had an opportunity to visit Radio Fanaka, one of the stations participating in AFRRI.
We travelled to two communities that have been listening to Radio Fanaka’s programs about composting and on new methods of processing Shea Butter. It was remarkable to see first hand how popular and important these programs have been to famers. Throughout the week, what really stood out for me was that farm radio works best when it engages listeners in discussions, dialogue and debate, and when it continually seeks direct feedback from farmers. When local farmers can be heard on the airwaves, describing what they have done, the challenges they have faced, the solutions they have found, and the questions they have, the radio programs that result are more popular and effective.
In one sense, it is not surprising – most people love to hear themselves on the radio or see themselves on TV – something Andy Warhol once said springs to mind… But it also reveals that farmers have enormous respect for each other: they trust that, if similar farmers in another village tried something and it worked, it will probably work for them too. This is a lesson that we can apply to all of our work, including our scripts, Farm Radio Weekly stories, and broadcaster training programs. By highlighting the ideas, innovations, and most of all the stories of ordinary farmers, radio programs can help them to create better lives for themselves and their families. Whether you’re a donor, partner, staff member, volunteer, or a quiet cheerleader – thanks for being part of it!