Issue Pack: African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI)



1. Introduction – true stories about how AFRRI Participatory  Radio Campaigns (PRCs) and Market Information Services (MIS) programs helped small-scale African farmers

Story 1: Neem PRC in Ghana: Georgina Kare, a farmer in Odumase, Ghana says, “I learned about neem from the AFRRI program. I cut the dry leaves of the neem tree and put them in a sack and then sprinkled them on the garden eggs (eggplants) … That was last year. This year I am intending to increase my farm and see if it can help me more. I got 30 Ghana cedis from my very small farm, and my family and I also ate many of the garden eggs.”

Story 2: Marketing Information Services (MIS) in Tanzania: Happytime Shilingi raises local chickens, grows rice and maize, and sells his produce at the local village market once a week. Before Radio Maria broadcast its MIS program, his main marketing challenges were his lack of awareness of which markets were the best, the low prices offered by middle-men, and his inability to sell all 30 of his chickens.

Shilingi was interviewed on Radio Maria’s MIS broadcast, and listened to program broadcasts between March and June 2010. When he heard the prices for chickens from various markets, he stopped selling his products at such a low price, and was better equipped to bargain with middle-men. Inspired by advice offered through the MIS program, he and his neighbours organized a group to pool their chickens and market them collectively. After the station broadcast the group’s contact information, buyers came from Dar es Salaam, Morogoro and Iringa to buy chickens directly from them at prices ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 Tanzanian shillings – much better than the prices they received from local middle-men.

Story 3: Compost PRC in Mali: Adama Coulibaly is a farmer from Massala, in south-central Mali. He says: “I cannot understand farmers who say that the rainy season is not good for them when it comes to production. I have a brother who works in Bamako. Each rainy season he sends me money to purchase agricultural inputs like fertilizer. But this year, when the radio campaign began on ORTM Ségou, I started producing compost. I split my field into two sections. On one hectare I put compost and on the rest I put fertilizer. After three weeks, the plants that received compost far exceeded the others in height! I told myself: ‘I knew.’ I told my brother that we could now use the money he sends us for other things. I only want to say thank you to Fousseyni Diarra at ORTM Ségou Radio. He is a star for us farmers.”


2. Background information on the African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI)

This section provides basic information on AFRRI. It explains how the AFRRI project worked, introduces and defines Participatory Radio Campaigns (PRCs) and Market Information Services (MIS) programs, and briefly describes five PRCs and provides an overview of MIS programs featured in this package.

Introduction to AFRRI
The African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI) investigated the capacity of radio to address and improve the food security of small-scale farmers in five African nations: Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. The project began in May 2007 and was completed in December 2010. AFRRI was implemented by Farm Radio International in partnership with World University Service of Canada (WUSC), with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

AFRRI aimed to discover, document and disseminate best practices for using radio-based communications to enhance food security in Africa. Prior to AFRRI, investments in radio programs for farmers had assumed that, because radio is the most accessible and relevant medium for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural information provided on the radio was meaningful and helpful. But there was very little hard evidence to back-up this claim. Very few studies had carefully measured the changes resulting from programming for farmers. It was also unclear what kind of radio programs and what type of radio stations might be most effective in reaching farmers, increasing their knowledge, and supporting them to introduce improved practices. Without this evidence, it was difficult for funders and other resource-providers to know whether, how and on what scale to invest in farm radio. Therefore, a key goal of AFRRI was to gather evidence on how farmers’ knowledge, attitudes and practices could be expected to change as a result of listening to radio programs for farmers.

To gather this evidence, AFRRI helped radio stations develop, broadcast and evaluate a series of Participatory Radio Campaigns. Two “rounds” of these campaigns reached about 40 million farmers. The first round of 24 campaigns was completed in mid-2009, and the second in June 2010. Outcome evaluations of the campaigns were conducted in January 2010 and July 2010, respectively.

Participatory Radio Campaigns (PRCs)
After reviewing traditional approaches to radio campaigns, the AFRRI team and its partners agreed that a new model was needed. AFRRI created a model that emphasized participation and dialogue with farmers, and that valued farmers as decision-makers rather than passive recipients of information distributed via radio.

The PRCs focused on helping farmers make an informed decision on whether or not to adopt a new farming practice. The PRC approach acknowledges that farmers understand and can express their own needs, can evaluate options if they have the right information, and can make decisions to adopt – or not to adopt – a particular practice. It actively engages farmers in identifying and choosing the theme of the campaign. It features their voices, perspectives, concerns and questions.

PRCs were implemented through the following eight steps:
1)         Community rapid appraisals: Participatory Rapid Appraisals were conducted in 100 communities (four per participating radio station, each typical of the area served by the radio station). This research gathered information on what farmers need and how farmers use radio.
2)         Improvement selection: Knowledge partners (for example, agricultural research institutions and university extension services) were engaged to help identify established agricultural practices. The PRC looked for practices that had been evaluated and found to have a positive effect on food and nutrition security for resource-poor, rural farmers when widely adopted. The PRC favoured practices that were low-tech and could be implemented with readily available resources.
3)         Formative research: In focus group discussions, information was gathered about listeners’ knowledge, attitude, and behaviour/practices regarding the agricultural practice; their radio listening habits; and their preferences with regard to radio program style. Organizations that provide agricultural education and related products and services were also identified.
4)         Campaign design: Workshops brought together radio staff, farmers, extension workers, local NGOs, and others, to design a four-six month long PRC. The design process was supported by a PRC Manual produced by Farm Radio International. Each PRC included four stages, with farmers at the centre of each stage: 1) launch of campaign and identification of improvement; 2) discussion of improvement in relation to the needs and practices of local farmers; 3) farmers are encouraged to make an informed decision about adopting the improvement; 4) discussion of how to implement the improvement, including troubleshooting of any problems encountered.
5)         Broadcast: Campaigns were broadcast at a reliable, predictable time, a time that farmers had identified as convenient for them to listen.
6)         Monitoring and evaluation: The campaigns were evaluated in terms of their progress towards established objectives. Mid-course corrections were made as necessary. Data was gathered through written logs of each PRC episode, analysis of listener feedback (via letters, SMS, e-mails, calls-in, etc.), focus group discussions (with adult men, women, and youth in listening communities), and the detailed observations of “case farmers” (three per radio station) – ordinary farmers who agreed to keep a record of their responses to PRC programs..
7)         Summative evaluation: Town hall meetings were held for each radio station and its associated communities. Through these discussions, the strengths, weaknesses, and lessons learned from the first round of PRCs were identified. This helped to shape improvements to the second round of campaigns. Farmers, extension workers, broadcasters, partner NGOs and other stakeholders also met for small group discussions and participatory activities for one or two days.
8)         Outcome evaluation: At the conclusion of the second round of PRCs, an outcome evaluation was conducted in each country. Tools used for this evaluation included 4,500 household surveys (300 per radio station) in 90 communities, farm visits and field measurements, key informant interviews, and collection of data from other sources, such as national agricultural extension services.

It should be underlined that, while PRCs clearly have a useful role to play in radio programming for farmers, they are not the only form of agricultural radio that small-scale farmers need. Other services, such as Marketing Information Services, weather forecasts, and regular, reliable farm programs are also important.

A snapshot of some of the PRCs produced through AFRRI

This section briefly describes five of the PRCs conducted. Each of these PRCs is the subject of a script in this package. A number of additional scripts on other PRCs will be distributed via Farm Radio Weekly over the next few months.

1. Fruit production in Uganda (Mega FM, Gulu)

Why was this topic chosen? 
As a result of the prolonged war in northern Uganda, many fruit trees were cut down, a big setback to agricultural activities. Farmers expressed interest in growing more fruit trees, to improve their household food security and in recognition of the good market for fruit in the area. Planting fruit trees would also increase the density of trees in an area which had been heavily deforested during the war. A program entitled Tet tipuwaa or “Under the shade” was launched on November 18, 2009.

Measures of success
The campaign goals included the following:

  • An increase in the number of fruit tree seedlings farmers acquired and planted
  • An increase in the acreage of land devoted to growing fruit trees
  • More farmers seeking information on cultivation of fruit trees
  • An increased number of farmer groups established

Key messages in the program
The program focused on a number of key messages, including:

  • The importance and benefits of fruit trees
  • Sources for high-quality fruit tree seedlings
  • Information on where to market fruit
  • Information on appropriate climatic and soil conditions for growing fruit trees; and
  • The names of major service providers and the types of services available for fruit tree cultivation

Radio formats used in the program

  • Field and studio interviews
  • Call-ins, text-ins and letters
  • Vox pops
  • Music

The PRCs evaluated results in three different kinds of communities. Members of active listening communities (ALCs) were able to listen to the campaign and interact with broadcasters and knowledge partners such as extension workers. Members of passive listening communities (PLCs) were able to listen to the campaign but did not interact with broadcasters or knowledge partners. Control communities (CCs) could not receive the radio signal or interact with broadcasters and knowledge partners.

The fruit production campaign resulted in 46% of farmers in ALCs starting to grow fruit trees, compared to 31% of PLC farmers and 5% of CC farmers. In addition, a Market Information Services program (conducted at the same time) led to farmers getting higher prices for their fruit.

2. Improved shea butter processing in Mali (Radio Fanaka, Fana)

Why was this topic chosen? 
The women of Wolodo asked for help in adding value to the shea nuts they harvested. Their main concern was to earn much more money from shea butter. This is their main activity in the rainy season.

Measures of success

  • Increased number of women using the methods for enhanced shea butter processing
  • Formation of women’s groups to improve successful production and marketing of shea butter

Key messages in the program

  • how to collect shea
  • marketing shea nuts
  • the benefits of a social organization working for women
  • how to build a women’s group
  • stages of preparation of enhanced shea butter
  • marketing shea butter

Radio formats used in the program

  • Field interviews, talk tapes
  • Soundscape
  • Community discussions, panel discussions
  • Phone-ins
  • Mini-documentary
  • Mini-drama


  • Forty-one per cent of farmers in ALCs started using enhanced processing of shea nuts since the campaign, compared to 21% in PLCs and 0% in control communities. Also, the campaign has enabled women in the area to form organizations for the promotion of shea butter.

3. Vetiver grass in Malawi (Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Lilongwe)

Why was this topic chosen? 
Hilly terrain covers three-quarters of the land in the Mvera Extension Planning Area. According to local farmers, deforestation, soil erosion and surface water run-off threaten sustainable environment and agricultural production. Using vetiver grass is seen as a sound method to help control soil erosion and surface water runoff. A program entitled Mlera nthaka or “Soil conservation” started broadcasting on November 7, 2008 and completed its last broadcast on May 8, 2009.

Measures of success/objectives

  • to raise awareness and encourage farmers to plant vetiver grass
  • to raise farmers’ awareness of the importance of vetiver grass in reducing soil erosion
  • to give farmers information on planting and managing vetiver grass
  • to link farmers with other institutions providing similar services

Key messages in the program

  • Information on the types and qualities of vetiver grass
  • Information on the benefits of vetiver grass
  • Information on where to access vetiver planting materials
  • Information on how to establish and manage vetiver grass

Radio formats used in the program

  • Phone-outs, field interviews, discussions with content specialists, extension officers and farmers;
  • Talk tapes, spots;
  • Community discussions, phone-ins, and songs on vetiver grass developed and sung by communities;
  • Listener feedback through monthly feedback program, through letters and SMS from farmers, through radio listeners club, and though village evaluation meetings


  • Forty-four per cent of farmers in ALCs began planting vetiver grass since the campaign, compared to 45% in PLCs and 19% in CCs.

4. Compost in Ghana (Radio Ada, Big Ada, east of Accra)

Why was this topic chosen? 
The land in the area around Radio Ada has been degraded through erosion, bush fires, soil mining and acidification. The major problem facing local farmers is low productivity, a result of infertile soil. Farmers and other stakeholders felt that education on using compost would help reduce soil infertility, enhance yields and increase household food security as a result of better year-round availability of food and increased income from the sale of produce. Also, because PRC1 had encouraged farmers to pen roaming animals such as goats and pigs to stop them from eating crops, the farmers had a new source of manure. PRC 2 built on PRC 1 by finding a useful purpose for this manure. A program entitled Wabi nye ngla, wabi nye ngla yi ome, or “Men and women farmers, let’s hoe,” was broadcast from January 10 to May 25, 2010.

Measures of success

  • More farmers using compost
  • More listeners requesting information on using compost
  • More farmers practicing mulching
  • The practice of bush burning stops

 Key messages in the program

  • Understanding the causes of soil infertility
  • Understanding the need to use animal manure
  • Different methods to apply animal manure
  • Types of animal manure
  • Information on compost production and application
  • Proper handling and application of animal manure

Radio formats used in the program

  • Studio and field interviews of farmers, extension workers, and other agricultural experts,
  • Talk tapes, panel discussions, community discussions, dramas,
  • Phone-ins and phone-outs, text-ins, vox pops

After the PRC, 68% of farmers in ALCs had starting using compost, compared to 48% of PLC farmers and 0% of CC farmers.

5. One-to-one maize planting in Malawi (Nkhotakota Community Radio, Nkhotakota)

Why was this topic chosen?
Maize is the second most important staple in the radio’s broadcast area. One-to-one planting boosts per-hectare yield, cuts down on weeding requirements, and reduces soil erosion. The Ministry of Agriculture had already established green belts as plots for demonstrations of innovative and new technologies; these can be used for 1-1 maize planting. Phindu muulimi or “Productive farming” began broadcasting on September 28, 2009 and ended March 19, 2010.

Measures of success

  • Increased number of farmers adopting 1-1 maize planting
  • Increased acreage of 1-1 maize planting in comparison to traditional planting practice (three per planting station)
  • Vigour in growth of maize
  • Bumper harvest, e.g. 35 bags per acre
  • No weeds in the fields
  • The fields should draw more attention to passersby who come and learn from the owner
  • Farmers will be able to buy all the necessities required in their homes

Key messages in the program

  • Information on land preparation
  • Addressing misconceptions about 1-1 planting
  • Formation of farmer groups
  • Information on manure and herbicide application
  • Information on weeding, pest and disease management
  • Information on record keeping
  • Information on crop management

Radio formats used in the program

  • Studio and field interviews,
  • phone outs and phone ins, letter write-ins,
  • poems,
  • panel discussions,
  • traditional music,
  • vox pops,
  • debates.

Thirty per cent of farmers in ALCs started one-to-one maize planting, compared to 33% in PLCs and 13% in CCs.

Market Information Services (MIS) programs inMali, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania

Why was the topic chosen? 
During the participatory rapid rural appraisals, approximately 80% of respondents across all five AFRRI countries identified MIS as a need. Existing services lacked the sustainability, reliability and effectiveness to meet farmers’ needs. In response, the original AFRRI plan was modified to include MIS instead of a third campaign.

Measures of success and key messages
Measures of success, objectives, and key messages varied somewhat by country, though all programs shared the following goals and included appropriate messages to achieve those goals:

  • small-scale farmer/listeners are empowered to improve their market position vis a vis traders and other middle-people in the market,
  • farmers are better informed about prices in nearby and regional markets,
  • farmers have access to a range of other market information that improves the prices they receive for their products through means such as group marketing, better choice of crops, and more effective storage and processing.

Radio formats used in the program
Methods varied from country to country, but essentially each radio station researched and broadcast market prices from local and regional markets, often broadcasting live from the market. In many cases, farmers were invited to call in and offer their produce, and discuss marketing issues.

The MIS programs resulted in many success stories. Here are two:

  • Emelia Awakese says that Radio Ada’s MIS programs in the greater Accra, Ghana region have been of great help: “I listen to the market information and go to low price areas to purchase farm produce, and then go to high price areas to sell the produce. The earnings from the sale of my own farm produce doubled because of the program. In just one season, I was able to earn Ghana cedis 3,000, of which I used part to pay school fees for my daughter and two sons. I also used GH¢ 700 to purchase roofing sheets to roof my new house. And I also saved GH¢ 1,000 at the bank. I am very excited.”
  • Nasur Odur says that the MIS program on Mega FM in Gulu, Uganda has helped him apply his knowledge of using farmer groups to pool together crops and market them. This has enabled his farmers’ group to access more stable prices. He says that the information offered by the radio changed his mindset and gave him a better understanding of how farmers can operate in a market: “Understanding the value of sorting and grading produce, storing and selling at a time of scarcity, contacts of buyers, and frequent updates of market prices have been a big support to farmers.” After exploring the bigger markets in Lira, Nasur realized the benefit of purchasing produce at harvest, then storing and selling when prices rise. Since 2010, he has increased his acreage, built a house, and hired labourers to work on his land. His children are educated to senior secondary level, there is an improvement in their nutrition, and he has opened a savings account in a bank.

3. How can radio broadcasters use PRCs

Participatory Radio Campaigns as conducted in AFRRI are intensive, long-term projects, which require baseline research, careful and detailed planning, networking between many types of stakeholders throughout the campaign, and thorough evaluation processes. Thus, they are not easy to reproduce.

But our experience and evaluation of PRCs show that they have a remarkable impact. There are many lessons from the PRC methodology that can be applied to other forms of farm radio. These lessons can be put into practice by rural radio stations anywhere, no matter what their operating budget.

Here are some of the major lessons from our PRCs:

Involving farmers in radio programming: The PRCs showed that involving farmers in choosing the topic of programming, the time that PRC episodes (and repeats) are broadcast, selecting or even creating music for the “signature tune,” giving them opportunities to interact with broadcasters – especially through ICTs such as mobile phones – and continually interacting with them throughout the campaign, results in greater adoption of practices which can improve household food security.

Incorporating ICTs: The PRCs showed that ICTs are a valuable tool for enhancing farmers’ engagement and interaction with broadcast programs, and that they increase listenership and improve the effectiveness of broadcast messages.

Even passive listeners benefit: The PRCs showed that, when even a small number of farmers are engaged by a radio station on a continuous, interactive basis, listeners in other communities benefit by learning about and introducing agricultural practices which can improve household food security. Furthermore, many farmers in more distant communities that did not hear the original broadcasts, develop an interest in receiving more information and knowledge about the practices, and begin to introduce them.

Make a multi-episode plan with stages and objectives: If you want your program to cover a theme over an extended period of time, it helps to make a plan for the whole program. Think about the stages or phases and the objectives for each phase. Plan the kinds of formats you will use. Develop a “core story” that runs through the whole program, linking everything together. This planning process will lead to a better produced, more entertaining program that achieves great results.

Take a “story-based” approach to your programs for farmers: Putting a “story” about a real farmer at the core of your program will make it more memorable, engaging, and effective. A core story is a brief narrative which conveys the core message of a campaign in story form.
Specifically, in a campaign’s core story:

  • the character and situation of a specific farmer are revealed
  • the farmer struggles with the campaign problem
  • the farmer resolves the problem by taking action himself or herself and successfully implementing the campaign improvement

Following VOICE standards: Farm Radio International and its partners developed a set of standards to support the planning and evaluation of effective farm radio programs. We call these standards the VOICE standards.

Value. We value farmers. We respect them for their hard work in producing food for their families and the markets, often in the face of major challenges. We talk in depth with farmers to understand their lives and to learn how radio can be of service to them.

Opportunity. We provide farmers with the opportunity to use radio in ways that help them to be active participants in development. We help them to:

  • bring their voices to radio,
  • identify issues of concern to them,
  • discuss those issues, and, if required,
  • organize to improve their situation

Information. We provide the information farmers need to safeguard and improve farming and the quality of rural life. We present the information in ways that help farmers understand it and use it. This information includes:

  • discussions among local farmers about matters of concern to them
  • news about what farmers in other regions and countries are doing
  • reports on market prices for local products and the cost of farm inputs
  • reports on weather and other growing conditions
  • comments from extension workers and others who support farmers
  • research, scripts, dramas etc. from organizations which support farmers (e.g. Farm Radio International)
  • emergency messages and instructions in times of emergencies such as floods
  • campaigns to encourage farmers to scale up implementation of improvements that farmers themselves have determined can boost local food security in a sustainable fashion.

Consistency. Farmers can count on us. We broadcast to them on a reliable, regular basis, at least weekly, at a time when they say they are available to listen. Where necessary, we broadcast at two different times for the convenience of both women farmers and men farmers.

Entertainment. We take great effort to broadcast programs that farmers find irresistibly attractive as well as useful. There is no excuse for boring farm radio programs!  

Further resources on AFRRI

List of AFRRI Reports


  • Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, managing editor, Farm Radio International
  • Reviewed by: Kevin Perkins, Executive Director, Farm Radio International