Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Making Waves in the CGIAR: Rural Radio and Agricultural Science

By Dr. Helen Hambly Odame - Research Officer, ISNAR


Helen Hambly joined the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) in August 1995. As a Research Officer at ISNAR, Helen's responsibilities include project development and evaluation of training and capacity building. She leads ISNAR's Gender and Agricultural Research Project. Helen Hambly was also a member of the center's coordinating team for its 1996 external program and management review and served as ISNAR Secretary to the Board (1997-2000). A Canadian by birth and a Kenyan by marriage, Helen Hambly came to the Netherlands from Nairobi, where she was environment project officer with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office. Previously, she has worked with private sector and non-governmental organizations in Canada, Morocco, Kenya and Peru. Helen has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies.


The CGIAR: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

ISNAR and Rural Radio

Concluding Remarks


This paper presents a new initiative of the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), one of the 16 centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the CGIAR.

This is the first project within the CGIAR that aims to link agricultural researchers with radio broadcasters in an effort to strengthen the capacity of both groups to collaborate, identify needs, and address these needs through training.

The project, entitled "Access to CGIAR Knowledge through Radio and Internet" has been underway since October 2000. It was developed through the partnership of ISNAR, the University of Guelph (Canada) and a non-governmental organization based in Canada, the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN). The pilot phase of this project is supported by the Canadian International Development Agency. The project will engage agricultural researchers and radio broadcasters from four African countries (Ghana, Cameroon, Mali and Uganda).


The CGIAR's mission is to contribute to food security and poverty eradication in developing countries through research, partnership, capacity building, and policy support. The CGIAR conducts research for sustainable natural resource management.

The CGIAR, established in 1971, is an informal association of fifty-eight public and private sector members that supports a network of sixteen international agricultural research centers. The World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are cosponsors of the CGIAR. The CGIAR's budget for 2001 is US $ 340 million.

Research is the means by which the world's knowledge of agriculture is increased and improved. Agricultural research, conducted to help the world's poorest people make lasting improvements in their lives, and in the lives of their children, is, therefore, critical to human progress.

CGIAR centers conduct research programs in collaboration with a full range of partners in an emerging global agricultural research system. Food productivity in developing countries has increased through the application of research-based technologies. Other results include reduced prices of food, better nutrition, more rational policies, and stronger institutions.

The CGIAR focuses on five major areas of work:

Increasing Productivity. The CGIAR emphasizes more productive agriculture through genetic improvements in plants, livestock, fish, and trees, and through more effective management practices. The CGIAR's productivity-related work includes such activities as building insects and diseases resistance into plants so that crops require little, if any, chemical inputs. In this respect, production reinforces a second research thrust of the CGIAR, environmental sustainability.

Protecting the Environment Better management of natural resources, especially soil and water, and reducing the impact of agriculture on the surrounding environment, are integral to the CGIAR's research agenda. New activities in integrated natural resource management that approach research from a broader environmental perspective feature widely now in the CGIAR.

Saving Biodiversity. The CGIAR is one of the world's major trustees of ex situ plant genetic resources. The CGIAR centers as a global genebank hold over 500,000 accessions of more than 3,000 crop, forage, and agroforestry species in trust for the world community. The work of the centers also prioritize the preservation of plant and animal varieties from which poor farmers currently, and in future may benefit.

Improving Policies. International and national policies underlie the practice of agriculture and agricultural research. The CGIAR's policy research aims to improve policies that strongly influence the development and diffusion of technologies as well as the management human, financial and natural resources for agriculture.

Strengthening National Research. The CGIAR cannot exist without strategic partnerships with national research. CG centers collaborate with national programs and sub-regional associations. Training for the development of skills, attitudes and knowledge in agricultural and natural resources research plays an important role in CGIAR programs.


Within the CGIAR, ISNAR is the only center that focuses specifically on institutional development and strengthening national research. ISNAR's mission is currently in the process of re-formulation due to a stronger recognition of the multiple stakeholders involved in the innovation process.

ISNAR is aware of existing and emerging challenges and opportunities facing national research systems. The new genetic engineering or biotechnologies as well as new information technologies are changing agriculture. At the same time, in many poor countries, the practice of agriculture is the livelihood of small-scale farmers who, for the most part, exist outside the institutional structures and management of research. They have however been affected by the prevailing institutions such as agricultural policies for import and export of food, seed distribution systems and markets. Such farmers possess critical knowledge about their local environment and not only adopt but adapt technologies in innovative ways. The CGIAR is increasingly aware of the importance of working with people at the local level.

Why Rural Radio?

It is reasonable to question if agricultural research has contributed sufficiently to the well-being of the world's poor. Agricultural research is about knowledge generation and its use. Innovation is not only invented in a laboratory, but out in farmers' fields with rural men, women and youth creating, exchanging and negotiating know-how. Both scientific and local knowledge can contribute towards positive progress in addressing social, economic and environmental problems.

Knowledge, and more broadly, information, can enable farmers to bring about improvements to their environment and agricultural activities, and create new income and employment opportunities. However, the new information highway has some potholes in it - not the least of which is the concern about the type and quantity of information moving around the world at tremendous speeds. Information is not just a source of power, but it can take or lock power away. In such circumstances, relevant information may exist but it can be inaccessible.

Therefore, more attention must be paid to the carrier of information and its accessibility. Experience in rural communications demonstrates that radio is a practical and creative medium for facilitating the education and empowerment of the poor, including women and youth (Balit, 1999). In sub-Saharan Africa, radio has proven to be an effective media through which agricultural information can be communicated across long distances, in languages familiar to rural people. For many years, global plans of action for improved rural information and communication, supported by agencies like the FAO and World Bank, have highlighted the importance of rural radio.

Radio is also teaming up with other media- including two of the most popular forms in some countries - the mobile telephone and internet. The CGIAR is catching this new wave of information technologies - many of which are not so new, like rural radio. Some centers, such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, have successfully operated radio programs. However, the waves that a center such as ISNAR is interested in are those created when radio becomes a means through which new linkages to improve agricultural research in such a way that it is more beneficial to the rural poor are realized.

Approach of the ISNAR Rural Radio Project

ISNAR, the University of Guelph in Canada, and the DCFRN have teamed up to make relevant information generated within international centers like ISNAR and national research programs more accessible to radio broadcasters and listeners and to strengthen the capacity of scientists and radio broadcasters to work together.

In the 3 year pilot project we are working with agricultural researchers and radio broadcasters from four countries in Africa (Ghana, Cameroon, Mali and Uganda). These countries were selected based on existing networks of partners involved in ISNAR, University of Guelph or DCFRN activities.

ISNAR is using the methodology of the training cycle to systematically identify and respond to needs of radio broadcasters and agricultural scientists who are committed to linking up to provide better information to rural radio listeners (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Training Cycle

ISNAR's training involves individual learning and development for capacity building within and among organizations. It is strategic in design and addresses each of the seven stages of the training cycle: (1) training needs and organizational constraints assessment (TNA); (2) training plan and curriculum development; (3) planning and drafting of training modules and materials; (4) training of trainers; (5) production and delivery of training modules and materials; (6) monitoring implementation of training activities by national trainers; and (7) evaluation and post-evaluation of all stages of the training cycle.

ISNAR's training approach is based on experiential learning theory and is participatory by design. It is a learner-centered approach that highlights the adult learner's experience. Learners are engaged in a process of reviewing, reflecting, and applying new knowledge, skills and behavior. Participatory methods keep learners active in the training process. ISNAR chose the experiential and participatory approach to training to enhance skill transfer, to facilitate conceptual and attitudinal development, and to encourage appropriate changes in participants' behavior. This approach is essential to organizational change and the development of new modes of working, including linkages among not so typical partners like scientists and radio broadcasters.

Our project has two objectives: Objective 1: To identify and address opportunities for information exchange in two areas: agricultural research partnerships and project management. Objective 2: To strengthen training and research methodologies for the development of rural radio, including improved use of other information available from international agricultural research centers on the Internet or by e-mail for radio scriptwriting.

The major project activities will seek to reinforce capacity building for improve collaboration between agricultural scientists and radio broadcasters. The activities include:

  1. Assessing broadcasters' needs and help them assess needs of farming communities.
  2. Focusing attention on (a) strengthening partnerships among research, extension, private sector, NGOs, and technology users, and (b) key issues in project management for farmers and their organizations. This will build on research already carried out by ISNAR. Relevant material coming from other international centers and systemwide programs will also be identified and made available for radio script development.
  3. Developing a training module for skill-development workshops for radio broadcasters on script writing, accessing information from the Internet, and adapting information for radio. In this process the training module will be tested in a workshop, again involving researchers and radio broadcasters. The training will be followed up through our process of action planning and reporting.

Project outputs will include new radio scripts, new linkages among scientists and broadcasters, capacity among these partners to make messages more relevant to farmers and skills among them to identify more effectively farmers' needs.

It is also expected that this pilot project will inspire a model of collaborative research and training involving rural radio to share with other CGIAR centers and national partners. This preliminary phase of the project should identify a larger, longer-term initiative. It is our goal to strengthen agricultural research/media linkages for the benefit of the rural poor.


In conclusion, we hope that this opportunity to attend the first International Workshop on Farm Radio Broadcasting will help ISNAR and its partners learn more about the potential of rural radio, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We expect to take advantage of this learning in the process of implementing our new project and thinking about possible work for the future.

We thank FAO Sustainable Development Research and Extension department for its efforts and we look forward to sharing the results of our project with this assembly.



Balit, S. 1999. Voices for change: Rural women and communication. FAO Communication for Development Group Extension, Education and Communication Service, Rome, Italy. Proceedings of the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information, 4 to 6 October 1999, Rome, Italy.


Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page