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Farm radio broadcasters call for greater collaboration

Radio broadcasts provide a forum for members of rural communities, especially women, to express their opinions and share experiences. Here, women in southern Mali participate in a rural radio programme.

Radio broadcasters from Africa and the United States have called for the creation of a formal network to improve the flow of information relevant to rural areas and for the establishment of a World Day of Radio for Development to generate support for rural radio.

These were among the recommendations made during a symposium held at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 19 to 22 February. More than 40 radio broadcasters and representatives from international institutions supporting rural radio development attended the First International Workshop on Farm Radio Broadcasting, organized by FAO's Extension, Education and Communication Service. The workshop provided a forum for broadcasters from Africa and the United States to share their experiences and explore possibilities for collaboration to promote agricultural and rural development. The theme of the workshop was "Information and Communication Technologies Servicing Farm Radio: New Contents, New Partnerships."

Listen to an interview with 25-year-old Mosotho Stone, a radio producer and member of the National Community Radio Forum, Johannesburg, South Africa, who is convinced that the North and South can bridge the digital gap. In Realaudio (208Kb) or mp3 (784Kb). (Duration: 1min41sec)

Listen to an interview with the director of "Radio UYEZU", in Koutiala, 600 km from Bamako, capital of Mali (in French). In Realaudio (351Kb) or mp3 (1,290Kb). (Duration: 2min51sec)

Click here for downloading information.

"The meeting produced a kind of culture shock on both sides," says Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, a communication specialist in FAO's Research, Extension and Training Division, "but it was necessary, a good lesson for all participants."

He elaborates, "Farm radio in the US is more oriented towards commercial purposes. Farmers constitute only about 2 percent of the population, so broadcasts are very targeted. They provide price information, even run fertilizer advertisements. In Africa, farm radio is more directed towards helping rural communities -- a non-profit educational enterprise with a development focus. As a result of the workshop, the two sides now understand the difference."

Workshop participants discussed how to provide rural radio broadcasters in developing countries access to vital FAO information, including food security data, early warning systems, post-harvest and market data, and global agricultural and meteorological information. They encouraged FAO to use radio more often to communicate on agricultural issues.

One recommendation was that FAO create a global help desk for rural radio broadcasters that would include key technical information, a virtual toolkit for rural radio stations and links to other broadcasters to facilitate partnerships and exchanges of information. Another suggestion along these lines was that frequently asked questions collected at the local level be compiled, along with the appropriate responses, in national databases. These databases would be constantly updated to reflect the changing information needs of local communities.

A elderly man is interviewed for a rural radio broadcast in southern Mali, where, with assistance from FAO, members of four villages have built and are managing their own radio stations.

Participants stressed the importance of assessing the needs of local communities when developing broadcast content, including the needs of often-ignored groups such as women and young people. Community input was viewed as essential to ensure that radio programming is meaningful to local audiences. The broadcasters emphasized capacity-building, particularly the need to train local NGOs, farmers' organizations and journalists on where to find information on market prices, technological innovations and other topics of interest to their audiences, and how to interpret technical information and adapt it into easily understood radio messages. They recommended fund-raising efforts to support projects aimed at providing training, equipment and scholarships for broadcasters in developing countries.

A Virtual Steering Committee with members from FAO, particularly its Extension, Education and Communication Service, World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) and technical departments, and a number of international NGOs and other institutions supporting rural radio will begin working via e-mail in March to transform the workshop recommendations into concrete projects and to come up with ways to implement them.

The Rome workshop was a start, according to Mr Ilboudo. "Now the Americans want to go to Africa to see rural radio stations firsthand, and to offer support with equipment and advice. There is also the possibility of African broadcasters going to the US to visit farm radio broadcasters there. The US Department of Agriculture has indicated a willingness to facilitate this exchange by providing scholarships for the African broadcasters."

In May 2001 FAO is sponsoring a workshop in Mali -- together with other partners such as UNESCO, the AgNet Radio Network in the United States and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) in Canada -- on linking radio to the Internet. The conference will be open to participants from other countries in the region, such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal.

"The idea behind all of these initiatives is to help rural communities strengthen existing radio stations and create new ones," says Mr Ilboudo. "These stations must come out of the communities themselves for the information they transmit to be relevant. That's why training is essential."

2 March 2001



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