Participatory approaches to radio listening and content generation through the radio listening clubs (RLC) are an effective tool in empowering poor masses as they seek personal, communal, and national solutions to their development needs. This is according to research by Levi Zeleza Manda from University MalawiÂ Polytechnic on behalf of Panos Southern Africa.
The study also found that personal commitment and innovativeness are the key drivers of the listening clubs’ success. For instance there is separation between Tipilire RLC of Nsumbi Village and Tigwirizane RLC of Balamanja. While both clubs have learnt how to record oral discussions using audio tape and digital audio recorders, Nsumbi Village stands out.
The club has an agricultural scheme to show for; some members have won personal awards for their hard work and goats have been passed on from household to household.
Alongside Panos Southern Africa’s championship for radio listening clubs is Farm Radio Malawi where Salome Banda is one of the members. Banda lives in Lavu Village under Mvera EPA in Dowa District .
She belongs to Tiyanjane RLC which has 10 members where real-life case studies of successful farmers are shared and discussed. It is from these discussions that Banda learns about needed farming activities for her garden and gets feedback to give to producers of radio programme.
If you ask her, this is the main secret behind her improved lifestyle which was previously characterised by poverty and hunger- something the United Nations wants to deal with through the achievement of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number one by 2015.
According to Banda, before she was introduced to new agricultural farming techniques, there was acute shortage of food and financial resources for school fees in her family.
“Other members just like me have built modern houses, are into animal production and do a lot of businesses, thanks to information from radio listening clubs,” she explains.
Like Panos Southern Africa, Farm Radio Malawi implements these programmes together with the Department of Agricultural Extension Services and Radio Stations.
Farm Radio Malawi believes clubs are a success because they lead to greater adoption of technologies.
Research conducted by Farm Radio Malawi from 2007-2010 with five radio stations in the country shows that participatory radio campaigns are reaching over 70 percent of the farmers and ably helps over 40 percent of farmers to adopt a new technology.
Farm Radio Malawi executive director Rex Chapota told The Nation on Friday that the situation is contrary to the National Statistical Office (NSO) statistics which show that few people access traditional extension services.
“Other partners such as Bunda College help in knowledge management and content. Another key partner is the Department of Agricultural Research Services who are technology developers and provide policy direction on approved technologies in Malawi before dissemination,” he said.
Some farmers interviewed at random in Mpemba, Blantyre, say they learn that productivity enhancement is carried through improved seed selection, agronomic practices, while promoting land conservation, afforestation and irrigation.
They say business planning, preparations for crop marketing, quality control, how to ensure good prices, association activities, women leaders, small loans and credit access dominate farmers RLC.
As it stands now, most listening clubs listen to programmes from the Agricultural Research Extension Trust (Aret), Agricultural Extension Services and National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam), which are broadcast on MBC Radio 1.
Nasfam has a membership of 100 000 farmers and its publications produced in three languages offer guaranteed access to many rural households. This is according to information sourced from its website.
While Banda and some farmers in Mpemba enjoy fruits of being members of radio listening clubs farmers , other areas in the country are denied the privilege because power problems and access to radio sets.
“We cannot afford to buy battery cells for the radio sets or own a radio set itself. It’s a setback because we don’t even have money to have solar power electricity,” Rodrick Nazombe who lives in Village Head-man, Cham-wavi in Madzia-bango area, Blantyre laments.
He urges government to look into the issue as some organisations did before by providing solarâ€”powered radio sets to reduce the knowledge gap in farmers.
“Through radio programmes we hope to learn climate change issues, what new crops are now, how to prevent diseases from attacking our crops,” he explains.
Chapota admits that the key challenge on RLC remain the issue of access to power despite that they are now encouraging solarâ€”powered radios.
“Another challenge is the formation of various clubs that are specific to projects unlike generic ones because when projects finish the clubs tend to die natural deaths,” he said.
But Deputy Minister of Agriculture Kingsley Namakhwa told The Nation that Capital Hill stresses the need for partnership with organisations that deal in extension services with farmers.
For Namakhwa, this is in line with the government’s Extension Policy of 2000, which acknowledges a pluralistic extension service that allows many players to contribute in delivery of extension services.
He said the idea aims at ensuring that more agricultural programmes are placed on MBC to increase information sharing with farmers on new farming technologies, use of internet to source markets and learn about weather patterns among others.
“We are aware that radio listening clubs have contributed towards farming; nevertheless, other organisations work in isolation. We are strategising on how to bring them together with the authorities,” Namakhwa explained.
The deputy minister hinted that the Department of Agricultural Extension Services has detailed programmes for farmers something that calls for more listening clubs.
“We shall visit all ADDs this month to assess farmers on new farming techniques and messages. We shall also take time to find out the role of field officers on civic education,” he said.
He also said at last year’s symposium by Farm Radio Malawi in Lilongwe saw radio broadcasting stakeholders discussed how to broadcast agricultural programmes on their stations.
NSO figures under the national census shows that over 60 percent of Malawian households have radio sets and listen to radio regularly hence the introduction of farm RLC.
In Mchinji, under Mudziwathu Community Radio Station, evaluation of listeners clubs in communities showed that farmers in these clubs are more engaged and do better agricultural practices than those who care not members of any club.
Research by the authorities and their partner’s shows that RLC are platforms for engagement and dialogue among community members unlike just a forum for listening to the radio; hence, those involved are more likely to apply new technologies than those that do not participate.