Philosophy and principles
Radio is considered one of the oldest information technologies, and is one of the most popular in the developing world, partly due to its accessibility and affordability. While many rural people own a radio, those who do not may access programming through family, friends, or neighbours. Traditionally, radio has been seen as a one-way communication tool, providing information, news, and entertainment to listeners. However, when integrated with other communication tools (such as mobile phones) it can serve as a two-way platform for dialogue, to further discussions about topics that interest listeners, and to create entertaining and interactive programmes. For farmers, radio has the potential to help connect them to technical specialists, policy-makers, other farmers, suppliers, or buyers. Radio, and particularly participatory, demand-driven radio programming as a tool for extension, complements existing agricultural information systems that emphasise interaction among stakeholders (farmers, public and private knowledge brokers, market actors, researchers, policy-makers, the financial sector, etc.) where no single actor is the expert. (1)(2)
Radio programmes for farmers have a long history in several regions, including Latin America, West Africa, as well as parts of Europe, and North America. Most recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations developed guidelines for communication for development that directly pertain to current agricultural information system gaps and needs. (3)
Radio programmes can cover a range of topics and integrate scientific information (appropriately repackaged in various formats) with consideration of, and reference to, the social and cultural context, knowledge, and interests of the intended audience. Radio programmes can serve a number of communication functions including: enabling active listening (to find out farmers’ preferences, needs, opinions, etc.); raising awareness of services, events, or programmes; disseminating information and facilitating discussion about the information; hosting campaigns on behaviour change topics (disease prevention or adoption of a new variety); and initiating networking between farmers.
With the right support, including an enabling governing structure, thoughtful and inclusive design processes, and relevant and appropriate use of technology, radio has the potential to enhance existing extension services, and to integrate both public and private sector partners in an effective response to the communication needs of farming families. Despite these opportunities, radio is still, in practice, often considered part of the dissemination plan rather than an integral component of the extension service. The challenge is packaging information into good quality radio programmes. With more training, broadcasters can help other agricultural development actors to communicate effectively and accurately with farmers.
There are several factors to consider when implementing radio as part of an extension service.
Radio broadcasters and their affiliated stations are partners in extension services: It is critical to identify effective criteria for selecting radio stations to partner with, to ensure that the radio programmes are well received and trusted by the listeners. Community, private, or public stations can all be considered, depending on the targeted reach, scale, and resource availability of the particular extension service. Community stations offer local, contextualised programming, while private stations are often better resourced and could offer more interactive, technologically driven programmes. Stations that broadcast nationally offer broader topics of discussion such as agricultural policy, and local and international market information.
Design of radio programmes: The participatory design process is inclusive and involves multi-stakeholder engagement. It can also be directive, where communication specialists, together with extension and agricultural scientists work together to develop the content before testing it with the targeted audience. Conducting initial audience assessment on preferred formats, timing, and information needs will help to shape the programme around farmer needs. The design process should also consider the involvement of appropriate ‘knowledge brokers’ (researchers, extension staff, private sector agents, farmers, etc.). Researchers provide new findings or proven technologies that support greater productivity and gains for farmers. Private sector agents provide avenues for farmers to connect with certain markets (local, regional, international). Extension staff often connect with government agencies and non-government organisations (NGOs).
The interactive component will need to consider both the listeners and the station to ensure that there is a consistent and timely feedback system in place. In some cases, it might be useful to facilitate the creation of listenership strategies; through programme sharing (recording and sharing copies of programmes), group listening (sourced from existing farmer organisations), or training on use of smart phones to help with connecting to radio programmes directly.
Broadcasting programmes: Timing, duration, and schedules of the programmes require careful consideration when planning with extension. Certain time slots are better for farmers, such as evenings or weekends, when they are home and have finished all other work. Women may prefer pre-recorded programmes or opportunities to listen as a group if they have no access to a radio at home. Monitoring and evaluation of radio requires ongoing qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis in order to capture both the intended and unintended consequences of participatory, demand-driven radio extension services.
There are several areas of capacity that require support for radio to be used to its full potential. First, radio stations vary in their infrastructure, and the kinds of equipment, training, and support available that will enable them to work with farmers or through other advisory services. Assessments of needs and procurement of the right equipment might be necessary. Broadcasters may appreciate low-cost recorders such as mp3 players to help them produce programmes in the field. Second, radio station staff will need to develop particular skills to work directly with extension services and address the needs of farmers. These skills include the technical use of phones to call listeners or receive calls from listeners, using voice-based systems; gaining knowledge about agricultural practices; and having the people skills necessary to bridge the gap between specialist-level knowledge and the grassroots rural vocabularies of their listening publics. Rural communities may also need training on how to use phones to call and receive calls, or record messages for the radio stations. Farm Radio International used its experience over the last 10 years to develop a tool called VOICE, which enables radio stations to consider key factors, such as consistency, relevance, and convenience that can help them to develop high quality programmes for farmers (Figure 1). With training, and in collaboration with other agricultural actors, radio broadcasters can play an active role in extension, beyond simply facilitating information sharing.(popup text="(6)"}Gilberds, H. and Myers, M. 2012. Radio, ICT convergence and knowledge brokerage: lessons from sub-Saharan Africa. IDS Bulletin, 43(5): 76–83.