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.