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April 02, 2008

Kenya launches agricultural extension advice by radio

When extension services offered to farmers by the Government were discontinued in the 1990s to cut on public expenditure, Mr Sammy Ng’etich and other farmers were wondering what they would do next.

The sad reality was that at their village, no person had training in agriculture to offer them advice on crop or animal husbandry. But today, Mr Ng’etich and many other farmers are celebrating the advent of vernacular radio stations and the start last month of programmes that target farmers and what they do best: growing maize and rearing livestock.

For the elderly Mr Ng’etich and many other farmers in Kenya, consolation was only offered through the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, the only radio station then. Otherwise, farmers had an option to travel to district headquarters for audience with “bribe-seeking” officers or wait until the annual Agricultural Society of Kenya show at a place near their town to have word with the experts.

While the agriculture programmes proved to be beneficial to farmers, they were not, however, as effective because they did not usually address issues that farmers were keen to know. The programmes were also ad hoc in topics covered and, sadly, they were not, according the farmers, exhaustively handled.

The radio station initiative is a partnership between Fit Resources, a non-profit company offering business development services and provide agriculture information generated on a needs-basis.

As is expected, farmers have complained in the past that educational programmes were controlled by the heavy hand of advertisers who doubled as suppliers and turned the radio talks into selling points. This reduced the time for teaching the farmer. This also meant that they did not necessarily address the needs of farmers and would be discontinued as soon as the sponsorship dried up.

Farmers were, therefore, left at the mercy of the suppliers whose main motivation is the profits. This is besides the importance of agriculture, which employs about 14 million people across the country.

This, however, could change following the new initiative by Fit Resources and supported by Britain’s Department for International Development. “A lot of organisations have provided farmers with technical skills. We sought to provide them with information which we believe they lack to make gains from their farming,” said Richard Isiaho, executive director of Fit Resources.

The plan involves integrating the radio stations, agriculture information content providers, advertisers and farmers with the ultimate aim of enabling farmers to get better farming information through the radio.

Theexpectation of this initiative is based on the success of a pilot project initiated through the KBC in 2006.

The 30-minute programme, known as Mali Shambani (Kiswahili for ‘wealth in the farms’) is the most listened to after news, according to a study conducted by Steadman Research.

The programme is not driven by the suppliers or advertisers, but rather by the popularity of the content. This is also a way of making the programme sustainable.

Starting last month, vernacular radio stations joined a similar partnership.

Radio Salaam will broadcast about fisheries and fruits farming in the coastal areas where this kind of farming activity is most practised. It will be broadcast in Kiswahili.

Mbaitu FM, which broadcasts in Kikamba, will air content on fruit farming and horticulture.

Coro FM will broadcast in Kikuyu, and will cover dairy farming, which is popular in Central Kenya region.

Kass FM, broadcasting in Kalenjin language, will also tackle dairy farming, and maize farming, which is popular in the region.

The programmes are expected to reach more farmers by including those who do not listen to the KBC, partly because of difficulties understanding the Kiswahili language.

Business Daily Africa

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