A team of five radio enthusiasts is rushing to finalize plans for a new radio project in eastern DRC that will emphasize environmental and agricultural programming. Equipment is due to arrive any day, and the first training for broadcasters is scheduled for later this month. They hope to start broadcasting by September 2018.
What makes this station unique is its location: the studio and broadcast tower are being built inside Kahuzi-Biéga National Park, a UNESCO heritage site near the Rwandan border. The park is one of the biggest in the country, and is home to the endangered eastern lowland gorilla as well as many other animal and plant species. But poaching and overharvesting of wood threaten the park’s wildlife. The destruction of the forest is also affecting rainfall and crop production in the surrounding area.
Alain Bashizi is one of the young Congolese journalists behind the project. He is also president of Club RFI Bukavu, an association of radio listeners involved in environmental and social activism. He says club members came up with the idea for a radio station in the park as a way to preserve the ecosystem—not only to save the plants and animals, but also to enable farmers in the area to thrive.
Mr. Bashizi explains: “We know that when the environment is well protected … trees will grow normally, and that prevents climate disruption, [which means] there will not be a lack of rain. The rain, in turn, makes the crops grow…. So the radio will ultimately serve to feed people.”
Farmers living near the park grow mostly cassava, beans, maize, and sweet potatoes. But their yields have decreased in recent years due to dramatic changes in the timing and intensity of the rains. Mr. Bashizi says that the dry season used to last three months, but now lasts almost twice that long.
He says last year was particularly bad: “There was a total absence of rain, to the point that all the produce dried up in the fields. Then suddenly a heavy rain fell, mixed with hail, and everyone was desperate as it caused a huge catastrophe … the hail destroyed everything, and in that whole season, the farmers harvested barely enough seeds [for the following season], if anything.”
Members of Club RFI Bukavu created a slogan for the radio that reflects the connection between the park’s unique ecosystem and the nearby villages’ food supply: “Radio to protect the environment—environment to promote agriculture—agriculture to feed the people.”
RFI, or Radio France Internationale, is providing equipment and training for the new station. The Congolese government’s nature conservation agency also supports the project. The national park is supplying a location and electricity to run the station. A French NGO called Aviation Sans Frontières has offered to fly the radio equipment from France to Bukavu.
And now the broadcasters are preparing for their first journalism training. They hope to start broadcasting eight hours a day in September, with a team of eight. Programs will be in French, Swahili, Mashie, and Kitembo, and will focus mainly on the environment and agriculture.
Mr. Bashizi says that many people who live nearby come to the park to cut down trees for fuel or for building materials. He adds that they may not understand the link between the destruction of the park’s ecosystem and their decreasing yields.
He says: “Because of deforestation by these same farmers who, of course, aren’t aware, the climate has started to change … The consequence is that almost all the farm produce now comes from neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania.”
The radio team is talking with its partners about getting a high-power transmitter. They plan to eventually be on air 24 hours a day.
Mr. Bashizi adds: “Our goal is to cover all of eastern DRC in order to raise awareness as much as possible about the risks to humanity if we don’t manage to protect the environment.”