US and African farm radio broadcasters to meet

Rural radio broadcasters in southern Mali, where an FAO project supported the establishment of four radio stations.

For the more than 2 billion people living in rural areas in developing countries, radio remains the most popular, accessible and cost-effective means of communication. Radio overcomes the barriers of distance, illiteracy and language diversity better than any other medium and is ideally suited to people with a rich oral tradition. New technologies and cost-effective FM transmitters make it easier to reach rural audiences, and the Internet has brought unique transmission opportunities.

These topics and others will be on the agenda when FAO brings together radio broadcasters from Africa and the United States to share their experiences and explore possibilities for collaboration to promote agricultural and rural development. More than 30 participants, including representatives from international institutions supporting rural radio development, are expected to attend the First International Workshop on Farm Radio Broadcasting, taking place at FAO Headquarters in Rome, 19-22 February. The theme of the workshop is "Information and Communication Technologies Servicing Farm Radio: New Content, New Partnerships."

Linda Reinhardt, Chair of the Standing Committee on Women in Agriculture, International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), and her husband own a family farm in Kansas, USA. She also follows closely world developments in agriculture. Here, she points out the importance of being a member of Farmers' Organizations in her country and abroad. Click here to listen to Ms Reinhardt in Realaudio (227Kb) or mp3 (859Kb). (Duration: 1min49sec)

Bernard Cassen, Director-General of Le Monde diplomatique (France), discusses the loss of interest in rural development and food security issues among the international press and gives three key reasons why (in French). Click here to listen to Mr Cassen in Realaudio (265Kb) or mp3 (998Kb). (Duration: 2min07sec)

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"The opportunity to share experiences is very important for African broadcasters," says Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, a communication specialist in FAO's Research, Extension and Training Division. "Many of these broadcasters didn't know that farm radio existed in the United States, and they wonder why they are using radio when they have access to so many other means of communication." At the workshop, the African broadcasters hope to get answers to questions such as what topics US farm radio stations cover, how they make the programming interactive and what kind of linkages they have with new technologies.

At the same time, US broadcasters will learn about the evolution of rural radio in Africa and how it is used to disseminate information about agricultural and rural development.

Long-distance teaching

Rural radio serves a number of vital purposes. It can be used to inform hard-to-reach communities about agricultural techniques, production tools and natural resources and can serve as a long-distance teacher, providing the information rural populations need to adapt to technical, economic and social changes.

But rural broadcasting is not a one-way street. Radio programmes can also provide a forum for members of rural communities, especially women, to express their opinions and share their experiences.

Broadcasting in the hands of the community

Over the past three decades, state broadcasting monopolies have given way to privately owned or association-based local broadcasters, giving communities more control over rural radio. It has also broadened its scope to cover not just agriculture but all aspects of rural development, including social, educational and cultural issues. Furthermore, radio's value as a source of entertainment, particularly music, guarantees that people will keep tuning in all over the world.

A Malian farmer is interviewed for a rural radio broadcast.

"Today there is a lot of competition among local radio stations, and this pluralism has changed the landscape of communication in Africa," says Mr Ilboudo. "On the one hand, small, locally based broadcasters provide a forum for rural audience participation -- creating a bottom-up rather than top-down approach to programming. On the other hand, content tends to be defined by commercial interests, with the best air time often devoted to advertising or entertainment." He notes that journalists are not always well trained and the equipment is often of poor quality.


Creating North-South partnerships

One of the anticipated outcomes of the workshop is to connect broadcasters in Africa and the United States through the Internet. FAO also hopes to provide rural broadcasters with permanent, on-line access to vital FAO information, including food security data, early warning systems, post-harvest and market data, and global agricultural and meteorological information.

"Today there is a lot of competition among local radio stations, and this pluralism has changed the landscape of communication in Africa."

But in many rural areas of the developing world, there is not even one telephone per 1 000 people. Does this leave those broadcasters who are off-line out of the information loop? Not according to Mr Ilboudo. "The idea is to let broadcasters know what is available and how they can access it, not just through the Internet, but also through more traditional means, such as printed material or audiotapes, which they can adapt for their own local audiences." To make this information more accessible, FAO's Communication for Development Group has set up, with partners such as UNESCO, a number of community "telecentres" providing public access to a range of telecommunications services, including telephones, fax machines and the Internet.

Workshop participants will also work to define areas for North-South and South-South collaboration and to identify country projects with potential for donor funding.

Community radio in Mali

A recent success story was the establishment of four rural radio stations in the villages of Koutiala, Bougouni, Kolondièba and Bla in southern Mali. FAO provided the resources and oversaw the projects, but local residents built the radio stations and have begun to manage them. The programme schedule was built on an assessment of the needs of women, young people and the local community as a whole. "It took three years of awareness-raising and mobilization within each community," says Mr Ilboudo, "but the appropriation of the radio by the listeners is clear. There's no doubt that it belongs to them."

16 February 2001


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