This 137-page research report shares findings from the African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI) related to how rural radio stations are incorporating information and communication technologies (ICTS) to strengthen their work. According to the report, low cost, modern ICTs, including mobile phones, multifunction MP3 recorders, and interactive voice response (IVR) can dramatically increase the capacity of rural radio to help farmers improve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. Traditionally, radio has been a one-way medium that reaches farmers in their homes and their fields; but on its own, radio has had limited means of interacting with listeners. ICTS can be used to facilitate two-way communication, as well as store programming for later listening.
AFRRI was a 42-month action research programme initiated in 2007 by Farm Radio International (FRI) in partnership with 25 radio stations in five African countries. In partnership with World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AFRRI’s goal was to discover, document, and disseminate best practices for using radio-based communications to enhance food security in Africa. There were three key elements to the AFRRI project: participatory radio campaigns (PRC); radio-based marketing information services (MIS); and ICT-enhanced radio facilities to test how ICTs could be integrated with radio to provide better two-way communication between radio stations and their farmer listeners.
In terms of the ICT component of the programme, each partner station was equipped with one of eight customised ICT packages to enhance their PRCs and MIS radio programming, which included a mix of communications media becoming increasingly accessible in Africa. Some radio stations were provided with desktop computers and internet access, for example. Other stations were offered portable digital recording and editing equipment which enabled them to interview farmers and agricultural experts on location, rather than in studio. Other technologies included wireless networks, call-in and call-out facilities, and satellite terminals (VSATs).
According to the report, overall the experiment demonstrated that:
- Weekly SMS alerts sent to the phones of listeners 30 minutes prior to a broadcast can boost radio campaign listenership by up to 20%.
- Two-thirds of partner broadcasters identified the internet as the most important ICT tool in the production of farm radio programmes.
- Farmers who participated in the design and implementation of radio programming with the help of ICTs were four times more likely than those in passive listening communities to adopt agricultural improvements promoted on the radio.
- 61% of extension agents surveyed said the reach and impact of their extension work was substantially improved because they could be heard on radio programmes through call-out programmes.
The report outlines that call-in and call-out capacities allowed farmers to participate in live broadcasts and to shape on-air discussions. Internet access and VSATs allowed radio staff to conduct research from reliable sources, and earn a small profit to sustain this resource. Portable voice recorders allowed radio hosts to go on location, to interview farmers in their fields and in their homes. And MP3-technology gave farmers the ability to listen to previously broadcast programmes at their leisure, offering them flexibility with when and where to listen to radio programmes. AFRRI's research also indicated a strong correlation between farmers listening to episodes of a radio campaign and going forward to adopt a new agricultural practice.
Conclusions and recommendations include the following:
- Computers and computer literacy, including the foundations of virus prevention and internet search skills, are essential for the growth of ICTs at radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Portable and multifunctional MP3 recorders, combined with audio editing workstations, are the ultimate companion tools in the creation of engaging and entertaining farm radio campaigns.
- On-air call-outs to experts are the most cost-effective way to include a variety of expert voices in a radio campaign.
- On-air call-outs to farmers are a highly cost-effective way to include the voices of farmers throughout all stages of a radio campaign. Farmers learn from other farmers and the mobile phone is an excellent way to make sure their voices are included in the campaign.
- Sending an SMS alert from broadcasters to listeners 30 minutes prior to a broadcast is an excellent way to encourage regular listenership of radio programmes.
- Radio agents equipped with mobile phones and a solar-powered MP3enabled radios that can record and replay broadcasts, are an effective way to encourage group listening and provide repeat listening opportunities for communities.
- The use of an IVR, such as the Freedom Fone, to provide voice-based information on demand can be an excellent way for a radio station to make its on-air information available off air for repeat listening through a phone call.
- Helping a radio station acquire a VSAT and establish itself as a small wireless internet service provider (WISP) in the community, can be a sustainable way to provide internet in remote areas where other internet options don’t exist.