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The Role of Rural Radio in Agricultural and Rural Development Translating Agricultural Research Information into Messages for Farm Audiences

by Sylvia Biraahwa Nakabugu - Head Of Programmes, Farm and Environment, Radio Uganda


Graduated in Political Science, in French and in Journalism, Sylvia Biraahwa Nakabugu joined Radio Uganda as Programme Organizer in 1992, before being promoted to Senior Information Officer & Head of Rural and Farm Department in 1995. Sylvia Biraahwa Nakabugu currently supervises production of programs geared towards Farmers & rural audiences in English and in 21 local languages.

Executive member of Uganda Media Women's Association, Sylvia is establishing a community radio station for women and coordinates a rural outreach programme, which has established 30 radio listenership groups in 10 districts. Sylvia Biraahwa Nakabugu is also an Executive member of a newly formed non-governmental organization called Environmental Journalists Association of Uganda, which promotes objective environmental reporting. In the past, she has participated and facilitated in various workshops on rural broadcasting and community radio.

31 years old, married and mother of five.


The paper observes that radio is a complementary component in promoting agriculture and rural development.

Radio has proved the most effective media in promoting agriculture and development in rural areas. But, there is a controversy on whether radio can really bring about change.

The study also observes that if radio were properly blended with other modes of promoting agriculture and development, it would be at a higher level.

The paper will bring out linkages between rural radio, agriculture and rural development, and will show linkages of research findings and communication through radio, show ways/suggestions of translating agricultural research information and give recommendations for practical purposes.











Over two billion people live in rural areas of developing countries. In Africa, most agricultural communities live in rural areas. In these rural areas one finds that there is a direct relationship between agricultural and rural development. This comes about by the fact that most people in rural areas depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

Because such a large population lives in rural areas, they are often the birthplace of trends and events, which will have a major impact on cities later on. For example food is grown there to feed the whole nation and droughts, diseases and infestations to crops are first felt there. Even research meant for better farming practices is tested there. Therefore there is need to keep the communities informed of what is happening in and around them in order for them to adapt to varying situations.

In this breath, radio has forever time stood out as a major dialogue initiator, temperament respondent and untiring arbitrator. The link therefore between radio, the rural community, agriculture and development cannot be over emphasized.

The nature of life in most rural communities is that of a subsistence manner. The communities need basic life necessities like food, shelter, clothing, all mainly got from agriculture. It is therefore important that the agricultural sector is developed, in order to develop the rural areas. The pivotal role of rural broadcasting therefore becomes handy.

For purposes of this paper, we shall take Uganda, as an area of reference. Uganda is confronted with a number of developmental challenges. However there is a major challenge to have food security because of the growing population and this can only be done by promoting agriculture and rural development.

Uganda's approach to agricultural development is enshrined in its modernisation of agriculture plan, which calls for a shift from traditional agriculture to a technologically based scope. Also with elements of diversifying cash crop production and ensuring food security. The challenge government faces in achieving this goal centrally lies in its communication strategy as a denominator to cause change. This calls for communication approaches that target and involve the communities. One such approach is rural radio.


Rural Radio signifies a two-way process, which entails the exchange of views from various sources and the adaptation of media for use by the communities. It allows members of a community to gain access to information, education and entertainment and offers an opportunity for the community to participate actively in the media as planners, producers and performers. It is the means of expression of the community rather than for the community. It is different from urban radio in that it is directed specifically to rural people and to their information needs.

The first rural programmes in Africa appeared in late 1960's. This stemmed out of a general radio evolution that was taking place from the 1940's to 1960's in Europe, Canada and USA.

The radio forum movement in Canada of 1940 - 1960 is a significant example to the evolution of radio.

As a result of these efforts, a methodology of rural radio evolved which saw radio shifting to a more involving and participatory interactive medium.

"Community participation is a fundamental characteristic of rural radio - live public shows, villages debates and participation in the actual management of the radio station are just a few examples. This approach empowers rural people to participate in the dialogue and decision - making processes essential for them to control their own economic, social and cultural environment and play an active part in development activities"1.


  1. It can be a radio station targeting a particular community operating in that community and managed by that community.
  2. It can be a radio broadcast specially made for particular group of people, owned and controlled by them.
  3. Cassette based broadcast operated in a radio listenership group.
  4. Cassette broadcast available on demand.



According to Lele Uma, "Rural development is clearly designed to increase production and raise productivity. Rural development recognises, however that improved food supplies and nutrition together with basic services such as health and education can not only directly improve the physical well-being and quality of life of the rural poor, but also directly enhance their productivity and their ability to contribute to the national economy".

Meanwhile, Nyerere Julius K. says, "Rural development is participation of people in a mutual learning experience involving themselves, their local resources, external change agents and outside resources. People cannot be developed, they can only develop themselves by participation in decisions and cooperative activities which affect their well-being. People are not being developed when they are herded like animals into new ventures".

It is evident that development implies change, and the first change that takes place is the attitude of the people who will be directly affected by the development in this case, the farmers and rural communities. In order to achieve this goal, there must be a fundamental change in the way farmers approach agriculture and the rate at which they adapt new technologies, husbandry and farming practices.

In order to achieve this change farmers and rural communities need to be informed on the importance of adapting these new practices.

Attempts by extension workers through demonstration farms and working with communities have not been sufficient to bring about change in attitudes. Radio has often been used to complement the efforts of the extension workers. However the use of radio as a mass media has its limitations such as poor signals, limited reach in certain areas, top-down approach, limited airtime and in appropriate programming. This calls for a shift in the use of radio from mass media to community centred as already illustrated in the paper.

Taking on any of the already mentioned forms:

All the above can be arranged at the convenience of the recipient (farmer) because he is involved in the planning and implementation of the radio programmes.

Because of the participatory nature of rural radio, the community feels part and parcel of the programmes and first hand knowledge can be got from the community because of the proximity of the programs broadcast. The community easily identifies with the people in the programmes and is more likely to listen to them rather that to a distant broadcaster somewhere in the city who is not in close touch with them. This has already been evidenced in different sectors of society and has contributed to the development of these areas. For example in Chad radio was used in a 1991-92 campaign to stop intentionally lit bushfires. These fires were used by farmers to clear agricultural land. This method led to degraded soils and these fires sometimes spread to forest reserves.

Farmers were encouraged through radio programmes to suggest solutions to the problem and the result after one year was that, the forest fires were reduced by 90%.


There exists a gap between the scientific/agricultural researchers and the farm users. A lot of findings from the research institutions and laboratories are not used by farmers. Research information on improved seed varieties, better farming techniques, post-harvest handling and marketing are not used by farmers either because the information did not reach them, either because the implementation of the received information is not clear. The gap between the researcher and the farmer is even wider in the rural areas; large distances separate researcher from rural farmer. Other barriers like language and diversity of cultures also come into play making it even more difficult for the research information to reach the intended audiences.

Rural radio can be used to disseminate agricultural research in the following ways.


In summary one can say rural radio contributes in:


Radio Uganda, the oldest and only public radio broadcaster, broadcasts to all regions in the country. It broadcasts in 25 of the country's 52 languages. Rural issues are extensively and substantively addressed. Agricultural programmes are produced by the Farm and Environment department. The Farm and Environment department produces programmes in English and 20 local languages. The department sources its material from government, NGOs, local governments, research institutions, academic institutions and farmers.

Materials for programmes are collected through field visits and observations, field recordings and invitations to studios. The materials are presented as discussions, talkshows, features, interviews and magazines. A minimum of 15 minutes per language is produced and aired every week. The major setbacks the station experiences are that of inadequate facilitation for field recordings, distance from audiences and inappropriate programme timing (some programmes are missed as farmers are out in their fields)

Since government liberalised the airwaves over 20 commercial radio stations have come up in Uganda. They serve urban and semi urban areas and some of them are regional based. However their programming is dominated by musical programmes and a few talk shows mainly on political issues. Agricultural issues are rarely brought in and when they do feature, it is mainly addressing a controversy. The few agricultural programmes that exist on these stations are sponsored by development agencies.

In recent years there have been growing calls for policy makers to establish community radio stations in rural areas to promote and hasten the development process. The first community radio station was established on 20 July 1999 in Kibaale District known as Kagadi - Kibaale community radio (KKCR) station an initiative of URDT Uganda rural development training project. It broadcasts in prevalent local languages. This station is distinctly different from public or commercial radios that are rural-based in that it is fully owned by the local villagers in the sub-county of Kagadi, in Kibaale District, Western Uganda. The villagers have selected a committee to represent the different interests and stake holders groups in the management of the station.

The issue of transition into commercial agriculture to improve household income levels is one of the major areas of focus.

Other Institutions like Uganda Media Women's Association (UMWA), Farm level applied research methods in East and Southern Africa (FARMESA) and Uganda National Farmers Association (UNFA) have adopted different approaches of using radio for agricultural and rural development.

The Uganda Media Women's Association (UMM) was set up with an aim of building a gender-sensitive and just society through gender balanced reporting.

UMM identified two strategic targets:

  1. Rural women who suffer a serious lack of information
  2. The whole nation's women, who are marginalised in existing radio programming.

To address these needs, UMM has produced radio programmes, established radio listenership clubs in 15 districts and is now planning to establish its own women-focused radio station. Currently there is still difficulty of obtaining airtime on both government and private radio stations and the radio listenership clubs (RLCS) are donor-funded so the challenge is to sustain them. However, the radio listernership groups have been instrumental in bringing to the fore issues of rural development.

Uganda National Farmers' Association (UNFA) is an umbrella organisation for farmers in Uganda. It has branches in various districts of the country. It gives an opportunity to farmers to come together and address their problems collectively. Through its information department, UNFA informs and educates members and non-members on how to improve their farming capabilities. It ensures a two way communication between the Apex body and member organisations.

In its goal to keep farmers informed, UNFA identified radio as an appropriate media to educate farmers, enable farmers share experiences, enable farmers get information from technical people and provide information on market prices for farm produce. It began by running programmes on Radio Uganda in six major languages. However later it was realised that the farmers needed to be involved as much as possible in the final output to them. So it changed approach and has now established radio listenership groups (RLGS) which are formed within the already existing structure of special interest groups (SIGS). These SIGS are groups of farmers that come together because of a common interest. The programmes are made by professional broadcasters and distributed to the SIGS on demand. This approach has proved more effective and participatory and the farmer gets exactly what he/she requires. The response has been overwhelming.

Farm level applied research methods in East and Southern Africa (FARMESA) is a regional project covering Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. It started in Uganda in 1998 on pilot basis in two districts Mukono and Kumi. The project is based on priority issues the farmers identified for the researchers in which they needed assistance. One of the major interventions is training farmers in their own locations (fields) in what is known as farmer field schools.

The project is composed of various mini-projects identified by farmers as priority areas. An information and communication mini project was also formed with the aim of disseminating information and popularising activities on FARMESA across all mini-projects within the working sites and beyond and also to network with other sister countries. It was also meant to transfer agricultural messages within FARMESA and beyond and to keep communities well informed of new developments.

Under the information and communication mini-project, farmers have been trained in basic communication skills i.e. News/story writing, Newsletter production, basic photography skills, setting up community libraries, and establishment of radio listenership groups. As a result a farmers' quarterly newsletter has been started in the two districts and radio listenership groups have been formed. Recorded programmes are distributed to the farmers, and radio set and batteries. For the listenership groups guidelines for discussing the recorded programmes were provided to the farmers; these were discussed and adopted. The guidelines are being used to evaluate the radio programmes and act as a tool for evaluating the usefulness of the radio groups as a method. The radio programmes are complimented by the newsletter.


Given the trend of broadcasting in Uganda today, the following observations can be made.


The weakness of linkages among farmers, advisors and researches is brought about by three major aspects:

The challenge of linking farmers, advisors and researchers is an enormous one. Communication and information are key aspects to bridging the gap between the parties mentioned above.

"The reality today is that communication technologies exist and are advancing rapidly in terms of availability and lower costs, especially the telecommunication technologies. The challenge is to use the information technologies and communication media effectively for sustainable agriculture and rural development, which often means utilisation of a range of media - traditional, folk media (storytellers, songs, dance, village theatre), training videos, audio cassettes, rural radio as well as new information technologies (e-mail, World-wide web)"2.

How has research information been prepared and disseminated to rural audiences in Uganda?

In the past research information has been disseminated to rural audiences in the followings forms and ways: "On farm visits on -the- spot advice; "Barazas" (Village meetings) for information and demonstrations; radio programmes in several local languages; TV programmes in English; simplified, illustrated brochures in mainly three local languages, Luo, Luganda and Runyoro - Rutoro, Runyankole - Rukiga; well illustrated films; simple posters, district farm institutes; pocket books".3

Currently research information is received and disseminated in the following ways:

Information is then delivered through farmers' magazines, newspapers, posters, leaflets, handbooks, radio, television, films and video.

The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) is responsible for the coronation of development of agricultural technologies suitable to farmers' needs and to ensure their wide dissemination in order to achieve the desired impact. Through its outreach programme NARO is to strengthen its adaptive on-farm research and technology dissemination activities with farmers, advisors, community-based organisations, NGOs and others working in rural areas.

The system will operate through Agricultural Research and Development Centres (ARDCs). A total of 12 ARDCs with one for each agro-ecological zone of the country. These will be the major linkages between NARO and other research organisations and farmers groups. The main function of the ARDC Staff will be to conduct adaptive research through on Farm trails with the active participation of farmers and advisors. The services of the ARDCs will also be available for purchase by NGOs and agricultural firms operating in the zones.

Agricultural transformation in Uganda is being guided by the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA), which seeks to ensure increased agricultural production and productivity and contribute to poverty eradication and food security while maintaining a good environment. Under PMA five programmes were identified. The extension strategy and programme being developed is the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) programme.

The NAADS programme seeks to develop a demand-driven, client oriented and farmer-led agricultural service delivery system. To ensure effective implementation there will be farmer representation and participation at all levels of the NAADS programme i.e. national, district, sub-county and farm. Various stakeholders will also be involved as partners.

The objective for NAADS is "increased farmer access to information, knowledge and technology through an effective, efficient, sustainable and decentralised extension with increasing private sector involvement in line with government policy". In order to achieve the mission objective, an institutional framework for a National Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information System (NARKIS) is proposed. Details of this can be found in a document entitled "National Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information System (NARKIS), a proposed component of the Uganda National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS)", prepared by L. Van Crowder, Francois Fortier and Remigio Achia in March 2000.

All these measures are being undertaken to ensure that the final product to the farmer/recipient is the appropriate requirement to enhance his/her livelihood.


These units would then distribute packages to the end users.


Radio programmes cannot grow more food. However, planned radio campaigns complementing face-to-face advise and extension, with administrative and material support available can motivate, can inform, can entertain, can unify and can contribute towards desirable change.

It is important not to over rate the valve of broadcasting or cassette based programmes in the development process and to realise that there is a limit to transmitting demonstrative knowledge through the radio medium. The highest impact which can be obtained is awareness and understanding of problems and inspiration and motivation to action. Thereafter the extension workers of development agencies must take over to ensure positive results.

If these two elements can be co-ordinated properly they will form a very strong instrument to agricultural and rural development.


  1. "Rural Broadcasting" September 1993 by Wolfram Fromlet and Noshir Bathena
  2. "National Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information System (NARKIS), a proposed component of the Uganda National Agricultural Advisory service (NAADS)", prepared by L.Van Crowder, Communication for Development, SDRE, FAO, and Francois Fortier, Information Management Specialist, WAICENT, FAO and Remigio Achia, FAO Uganda.
  3. "Communication and Non-Formal Education in Uganda" Harden Vansen
  4. "National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) programme, Pre-appraisal document of the Extension Task force and joint donor group mission. August 2000" Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development (MFPED).


1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "Communication for Development, Knowledge and Information for Food Security in Africa: From Traditional Media to the Internet"
2 L. Van Crowder, "National Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information System (NARKIS), a proposed component of the Uganda National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS), 17 March 2000
3 NARO and CABI, "Electronic delivery of agricultural information to grassroots level in Uganda", September 1999.


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