Radio vs. Climate Change: Audio for Africa’s Farmers

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There are a lot of things that radio can do, many of them quite surprising. I think that a recent initiative in Africa is the single most surprising radio story I have run across in a long, long time (and as you may correctly surmise, I see a lot of odd and interesting radio stories while running this blog).

According to Sam Aola Ooku over on EcoWordly.com, radio is being used in a new and revolutionary way — to combat the effect of climate change on Africa’s farming community:

Small holder farmers in Africa are already experiencing the impact of climate change. Weather patterns are changing, extreme weather events becoming more common, and ancient calendars for planting, weeding and harvesting are no longer valid. The threat of food shortages, crop failures, and growing deserts are real and immediate.

While African farmers are adapting and developing some coping strategies on their own, they need new information about farming methods that minimize the negative impact of climate change. A major challenge is providing such information to large numbers of people at low cost.

Radio broadcasts can help address this challenge because they are spoken-word, often in local languages, building on Africa’s oral culture and therefore not constrained by illiteracy. The technology for broadcasting and receiving broadcasts are widely available and affordable. Information can be delivered to farmers’ homes at a cost of pennies per program.

A Canadian charity is leading two new initiatives that help African radio stations to reach farmers with important information about adapting to climate change. Farm Radio International supports broadcasters in meeting the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities, and helps broadcasters build the skills to develop content that responds to local needs.

Now that is innovation! I have written many times about the digital divide, the disparity between those with computers / Internet access and those without. This story is the finest illustration of that concept and how to use radio in a practical fashion to deal with it. In this case, it is not just access to a Mac or PC that is the fundamental issue, instead it boils down to a fundamental question of literacy. Radio is the perfect means of distributing data in a society that is still firmly rooted in oral tradition, bar none.

In a famine prone part of the world, being able to impart farming techniques and info is a task of paramount importance. According to this article, the small scale farmers in areas like Ghana are already well aware of the effects of Climate Change. Their planting and harvesting seasons have shifted by a factor of months. Between this and the existing scarcity of resources, these rural Africans find themselves at more and more of a disadvantage. A very hungry disadvantage.

Enter FRI:

300 radio broadcasters in 39 African countries are involved with FRI to fight poverty and food insecurity. FRI researches and produces radio scripts on rural development issues and distributes them to the broadcasters who interpret and use the scripts to provide their listeners with practical information about farming, land management, health and other issues.

FRI has now launched African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), a 42-month action research project in Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania. A collaboration between FRI and World University Service of Canada and funded by a US$4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AFRRI will gather, implement, evaluate, and share best practices for using radio-based communication strategies to enhance food security in rural Africa.

Now this is a fresh new program, so I am sure its evolution will be interesting to watch. I must confess that I have an almost kneejerk reaction to it. I find myself impressed and intrigued by an implementation of radio which seems so obvious yet so surprising.

As my compatriot Doug Zanger over at our sister site RadioCreativeLand would say, “Now that’s creative!”

Photo courtesy of annachok, used under its Creative Commons license

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