What Do Radio and Mobile Phones Have to do With Farming?

Report
from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Published on 28 Sep 2012 View Original

MERCY KARANJA
September 28, 2012

Did you know that over 90 percent of the population in Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda listen to the radio at least once a week, and on average 61 percent listen to the radio daily? Did you also know that half of Africa’s one billion population – that’s 500 million people – own a mobile phone? Used well, radio and mobile phones are having a transformative impact on farmers with small plots of land across the continent of Africa, providing a far-reaching medium for women and men to access critical information for better decision making which ultimately improves their livelihood and well-being.

Providing farm families with timely, relevant, and accurate information has been a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa. Poor infrastructure and lack of social services leaves farm families fairly isolated in their own countries. The high prevalence of mobile phones and radio in Africa is changing all of that. One of our partners, Farm Radio International, has enhanced the use of radio and mobile phones to reach these farmers.

Farm Radio International’s success is directly tied to the fact that the radio programming is generated by the farmers and their families. Traditionally, there was never a connection with listenership and information was irrelevant or out of season. But now, thanks to the power of mobile phones and the ingenuity of Farm Radio International, farmers can call in to their local station to alert the broadcasters to the most pressing issue.

A good example of this is related to an important crop in Uganda: cassava. Farmers in Teso, Uganda complained about a disease which wiped out their cassava. To solve this problem, Farm Radio International in Uganda worked with Voice of Teso commercial radio station to focus on improving access to information regarding a special variety of cassava in the region that is resistant to disease, called Akena. Akena was selected with the input of farmers, extension workers, government, scientists, and researchers.

The program featured half hour broadcasts with expert voices from organizations and the farmers. The program focused on introducing and providing detailed information on Akena, including information on agricultural techniques and ways to access planting materials. The program offered farmers an opportunity to ask questions, share knowledge with each other, and address concerns about whether and how to plant Akena.

After the planting season, the acreage of Akena cassava planted in listening communities increased by over 500 percent. The radio broadcasts led to a spike in demand from farmers for planting materials and advisory services.

Radio is a powerful tool and mobile phones are catalytic in making radio all the more powerful – especially in regions of the world where access to information can be hard to come by. It’s important that we promote the use of this technology - as well as other innovative tools - to support the woman farmer and her family.