SPANNING THE GLOBE
FARM RADIO NETWORK CONNECTS MILLIONS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
by Julienne Spence and Sarah Andrewes
Imagine a radio network with 440 million listeners - more than the combined population of the United States, Canada and Mexico. That network exists in the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN), Toronto, Canada, which has educated radio listeners in developing countries since 1979 and established itself as the leading rural radio network for farmers. From Nepal to Nigeria, DCFRN aids farmers by broadcasting practical information on topics like food security, access to land and credit, food storage, the rights of farm women, and many more.
The groundwork for DCFRN was laid in 1975 by Dr. George Atkins of Canada, as he, a broadcaster from the BBC, and a third broadcaster from All-India Radio were traveling in Zambia. These farm radio veterans were aware of the importance of radio in the developing world. The radio was then, and still remains, the main means of outside contact for people living in rural areas.
However, what they realized was that the most appropriate information was not getting to farmers. "Farmers were being told about expensive fertilizers and equipment they would probably never own, when there was useful information to be found in neighboring communities," said Atkins. This dilemma gave him the idea to share practical farming tips through a radio network.
The network began to take shape, and by 1979 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean were sharing examples of good farming and nutrition practices via farm radio programs. At first, the ideas were sent by broadcasters to the head office in Canada, where they were developed into radio scripts and mailed to all the broadcasters in the network, creating a system of script sharing. While the process of script sharing has evolved, Atkins' original vision of DCFRN has not changed.
The network now spans 70 countries with over 500 partner stations and 600 members. There is no membership fee, all broadcasters have to do is share their ideas. Funding for DCFRN primarily comes from donations and The Canadian International Development Agency, a federally funded Canadian government program.
In keeping with Atkins' vision, the network has evolved into a very organized process. DCFRN covers more than 70 countries, with research done in each one. This allows the network to learn more about the local environment and track the issues affecting its listeners. This awareness helps DCFRN develop topics, which in turn become radio scripts.
After research, script topics are chosen with the help of broadcasters, agriculture extension specialists and by learning what other organizations, such as Unicef, have identified as priorities. Topics are assessed for technical accuracy and whether they are applicable in other countries. Depending on the topic and the expertise at headquarters, the technical assessment may come from a farmer, an agriculture extension specialist, a scientist or health worker in a partner country, or field workers from other non-government organizations.
The information is then written into a suitable format for radio. For example, if DCFRN is writing a script about food security, the story may be packaged in an interview format with dialogue between the host and a guest expert. Another format is to work the topic into a drama. By putting the message into an entertaining and educating format, the likelihood that the message will reach people increases.
Once a script is developed, there is a review process managed by volunteer technical experts. There are approximately 200 volunteers that DCFRN relies on to examine material. Usually the reviewers belong to a research institute, such as the International Potato Center in Peru, a university or non-government agency, or a government agency that carries out research. Once the script has been assessed, it is put into circulation among the partners. The process has evolved into a system that works well within the countries in which it operates and allows radio networks within the developing world to relay their messages outside as well.
DCFRN stories are often picked up by other radio networks because the stories are well researched and entertaining for their listeners. In order to ensure the script is relevant to as many listeners as possible, DCFRN relies on broadcasters to adapt the scripts for their audience.
Feedback from broadcasters and other members of the network assists DCFRN in developing new script topics and different formats to reach their listeners. Feedback also is very important in determining if DCFRN needs to expand their focus.
In recent years, the network has found the need to expand topics to not only include food security and farming tips, but also information about cultural issues such as HIV/AIDS. Many countries that DCFRN broadcasts to are badly affected by this disease. By providing scripts about sharing food with those that are ill and cannot provide for themselves, the network is promoting an attitude that results in prosperous communities.
DCFRN is also moving into broadcaster education to assist in the development of the scripts and how the message is relayed to the audience. "We have focused about half of our resources to getting the scripts out and the other half to assisting broadcasters with the skills to broadcast the scripts, explains Nancy Bennett, executive director of DCFRN. "This is one area we hope to promote in the future, helping broadcasters learn from each other's experiences. We intend to partner with other organizations to hold international workshops and use the Internet for training/capacity building and distributing materials."
It is that kind of optimism and forward thinking that will take DCFRN into the future. It is possible their partners may one day broadcast over the Internet. Having an audience reach of 440 million and growing is impressive, but what is most important is the message they're sending. Whether a farmer in Zimbabwe is sharing a script topic or a farmer in the U.S. is donating to DCFRN, the network is about farmers helping farmers. AM
Submitted by Julienne Spence and Sarah Andrewes, Fleishman-Hillard Canada. Andrewes is the granddaughter of DCFRN founder, Dr. George Atkins.