Communication for Development Group works to get the message across

Communication is at the heart of rural development. But successful communication is not always easy. In the recently published "Manual for development communication", FAO's Communication for Development Group has outlined some effective strategies for sharing information. The manual is designed to assist development workers in the use a variety of audiovisual materials to establish a productive exchange of ideas and information with communities in developing countries. John Madjri, the book's author, stresses the fact that "all communication is, by nature, interactive."

Two of the black-and-white drawings illustrating the 88-page "Manual for development communication"

"Interactive" is a word most commonly associated with the latest communication technologies, such as the Internet. The new manual, however, concentrates on traditional methods of communication, pointing out that radio remains one of the most effective means of delivering information to rural communities.

Philippe van der Stichele, also with FAO's Communication for Development Group, agrees about the importance of radio. "Radio is the key mass medium in rural Africa," he says, adding that, "even though a radio may represent a major expenditure and batteries can be expensive, many people are willing to pay the price for the information and entertainment radio provides." Van der Stichele is currently working on a project to set up a regional radio station in northwestern Zambia.

The Communication for Development Group has recently completed a project establishing four rural radio stations in the southern Mali. Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, who worked on the project, says, "The Internet holds out a lot of promise for the developing world, but the reality is that the telecommunications infrastructure in many countries is a long way from being able to deliver those promises." In many rural areas of the developing world, there is less than one telephone for every 1 000 people.

The FAO Group is not ignoring the Internet, but is working towards hooking up the new communication technologies with other media, including radio. One of the ways it is doing this is by establishing community telecentres. These telecentres provide public access to a range of telecommunication services, including telephones, fax machines and the Internet. Rural radio stations using the telecentres would be able filter information arriving on the "information superhighway", translate it into vernacular languages and broadcast it in an entertaining format to a mass audience.

"By using combinations of communication media, such as the Internet and rural radio, more people in the developing world can be brought into a dialogue about the issues that affect their livelihoods and take part in the process of sharing knowledge and information for sustainable development," said Loy Van Crowder, Senior Officer with the Communications for Development Group.

The "Manual for development communication", published in French, may be ordered from the FAO Sales and Marketing Group, Information Division.

9 September 1999

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