Rural Radio: Africa's Internet
That sentiment was shared by Mr. Sanago's four colleagues from community radio stations in Niger, Mali and South Africa at a recent workshop on Rural Radio and Food Security at FAO headquarters in Rome. Their aim was to identify the information needs of poor listeners in Africa and the major constraints to fulfilling those needs.
The five come from very different regions, but they face common obstacles and share a common goal -- to help people attain food security so they can move beyond subsistence to a better life. "We want to help our people improve their lives," says Dramane Bagayoko from Mali's Radio Djamena Foko. "And you need a full belly to do that."
Tuning in to the needs of the hungry
So FAO has teamed up with two non-governmental organizations that specialize in community radio to provide practical and focussed help. The World Association of Community Broadcasters, AMARC, is an international community radio network, and the Developing Countries' Farm Radio Network, DCFRN, teaches radio production and script writing to improve food security and health. The three organizations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to devise training programmes for community radio broadcasters.
They will also set up a food security news agency with correspondents from AMARC's member radio stations, initially in Africa but later across the world. The service will disseminate information provided by FAO and tailored specifically for radio production.
AMARC usually works on civil rights issues, but sees food security as equally important. "We are talking about the right of the population to be informed and to be heard about food security," says AMARC's Africa Director, Michelle Ntab. "It is a right that FAO members need to support -- not just with words but with legislation and money."
Often, says Ms. Ntab, governments only pay lip service to community radio. She believes this is because governments fear the empowerment that radio can offer to groups who previously had no voice. The stations are typically located in regions where corruption and unequal access to land and resources are at the heart of food insecurity. "Community radio is about empowerment," says Ms Ntab. "That microphone changes lives."
Community radio is also about women, says Kady Souley Boncano, from Niger's Radio Anfani. "When I interview women, I often have to hide because the men don't want them to stand up and be heard," she says. "But women are the ones who produce the food! Most of them are illiterate, and if they can't be told which seeds are good, they will simply plant bad seeds again and again."
Because community radio primarily serves the poor, private sector financing is rare. "Advertisers don't target our listeners," says Letsatsi Sathekge of South Africa's Radio Turf. "We don't get paid, so experienced people leave to work in commercial radio."
"We have a small generator so we can only broadcast 10 hours a day," adds Abdoul Karim Sow from Niger's Radio Jamana Nioro du Sahel. "And we don't have a computer."
Nor does Mr. Sanago -- he doesn't even have a phone. Each week he drives 100 km to Arusha to log on to the Internet, but he can't afford to surf it. And yet these five broadcasters were in Rome because their stations were able to email replies to questionnaires sent out weeks before the workshop -- and all had sufficient education to fill out the form. "The stations represented here," says Mr. Ilboudo, "are, in a way, privileged."
During the workshop an Internet site was launched dedicated to community radio, but for the time being it has a minor role to play because networks are too limited and expensive. Paradoxically, the limitations of the Web have forced people to recognize the advantages of radio. "People are going back to radio," says Nancy Bennett of the DCFRN. "But there has been very little invested in the broadcasters themselves." Training is therefore a key part of the strategic plan.
"Most rural radios get information from government sources and NGOs," says Mr. Ilboudo. "But they don't know how to combine what the community is saying with the official information. We want to teach them how to turn a fact sheet into a radio script. Africa is so steeped in oral culture that the only limit is peoples' creativity. And there is plenty of that."
Solving rural problems
Community radio needs to solve problems. "When peoples' cows are sick they need to know how to cure them," says Mr. Sanago. "If the radio doesn't tell them that, they won't listen."
That is the crux of community radio. "We need to understand the technical information to turn it into radio," says Mr. Sathekge.
Half the work of communicating has to be done in Rome and in FAO's field offices, says Mr. Ilboudi, and he pledged that the Organization would work towards that goal. "What we need to do is to listen to the people who produce the food," says Mr. Ilboudo. "And then we can produce information that they will want to listen to."
People do listen to Olkonerei FM and the station itself, by providing work experience, fills an important role in bridging the gap between the traditional pastoralist and a settled, cash economy. "Radio is part of both worlds, says Mr. Sanago. "Unless it is shared by both, it simply talks to itself."
18 December 2001