Voices 52

September 1999

The Network: the next decade

A message from the Executive Director.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.

Two decades of development communications – and at least two thousand stories of success, thanks to you, our members.

When George Atkins founded the Network in 1979, there were just 36 members. Most were farm radio broadcasters.

As more people learned about the valuable service that the Network provided, the Network grew.

Agriculture extensionists, community organizations and remote missions all made good use of the radio scripts which contained such practical and appropriate information.

Twenty years later, our Network is more than 1,600 members strong. Television and the internet are revolutionizing the way many of us get and share information.

Both media offer opportunity for development. But they don’t yet match the potential of radio.

Radio reaches the “last mile” – people miles from the communication highways.

People with no electric power.

People who can’t read or write.

People traveling on buses.

Farmers in their fields.

Women in their homes.

Radio is effective.

Did you know that the World Bank estimates that, per contact, extension visits are 2,000 times more costly than radio? You can use radio to create awareness of crop management methods, climate conditions, pest and disease outbreaks, market prices, health and social issues – whatever is important in your area – so that farmers can get the most from their next extension visit.

If you are an extensionist, you can use a weekly half-hour time slot on community stations to reach the most remote farmers more frequently.

Radio can be participatory.

You can create and adapt material for programs that reflect what your community wants, because radio costs less than other mass media. Our scripts – which many of you contribute – are to get you started.

Then, with just a tape recorder and microphone, you can get farmers on air, and get their thoughts, ideas, concerns and struggles heard by others.

The opportunities for radio are growing.

Air waves are being democratized, and independent radio stations are springing up.

The community radio movement is growing.

Come with us. Participatory radio is where we’re going.

The Cuban experience: the transition to sustainable organic agriculture

by Harvey Harman

In 1989 Cuba faced the worst economic crisis in its history. This crisis followed the collapse of its main trading partner, the Soviet Union, and its eastern-bloc allies. Cuban farmers suffered additionally from the ongoing American embargo on Cuban exports and imports. Cuba lost 85% of its trade in both food and agricultural inputs. Pesticide and fertilizer imports dropped by 80%. Petroleum supply was cut by half. Food imports decreased by more than 50%.

As a result, Cuba experienced a severe food shortage. “Everyone in Cuba faced a major cut in food and had to change their diet abruptly,” says Ester Perez, of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. “The crisis affected the everyday life of every person.”

The country responded quickly to the food crisis. Cuba began a nation-wide conversion from large-scale, industrial agriculture to smaller-scale systems. Animal power replaced heavy farm machinery. Chemical fertilizers were replaced with compost, animal manures, and alternative soil management techniques such as intercropping, crop rotation and the use of cover crops. Many chemical pesticides were replaced by biological and botanical pest controls.

Calling on the skills of traditional and older farmers, Cuba re-learned some of the old methods of farming. Many farmers returned to traditional cropping practices such as planting sweet potato and corn in the same field. The conversion also included policies to promote urban agriculture. Food production was moved closer to consumers to cut down on transportation costs.

Cuba put the full force of its well-trained scientific community and agriculture ministry into finding non-chemical solutions to maintaining levels of food production.

Cuba is now a world leader in the field of biopesticides, with more than 20 small factories which custom produce safe pest management products for local farmers.

“It is amazing what can happen when a government, even one with modest resources, gets fully behind sustainable agriculture,” said Mr. Martin Bourque of Food First, who has led numerous delegations to Cuba to observe their sustainable agriculture systems.

One of the most important changes was the Cuban government’s decision to break up many of the large state-run farms.

Before 1990, about 80% of farmland in Cuba was in state-run farms.

Now, most of these farms have been divided into smaller worker-owned cooperatives which now occupy 77% of Cuban farmland. Workers receive permanent rights to the land in exchange for paying a low rent to the government. The cooperatives must still meet production quotas for key crops, as well as fulfill contracts to supply the national ration system and other subsidized food distribution.

But co-ops are then free to sell their excess produce to the general public at local farmers’ markets where prices are set by supply and demand rather than by the government. The effect of this, according to Mr. Eugenio Fuster, Director of Agriculture for Havana, is that farming is now one of the better paid occupations in Cuba.

Children who left farms in the past are now returning to help out, because they see farming as a valued and economically viable occupation.

Cuba may be the first country in the world to initiate a large-scale conversion from chemical agriculture to organic agriculture.

The changes have not been easy and there are still problems to overcome. The country still struggles to produce as much food as it did before the crisis in 1989.

But, despite the difficulties, Cuba is finding a way to feed its people using sustainable methods and without relying on expensive imports of petroleum and other chemicals. The Cuban conversion is an example of what a country and a people can achieve. Many other nations today have severe economic problems and face food shortages.

Cuba is proof that a country can successfully change direction, even in the face of an economic crisis.

Harvey Harman operates an organic farm in the state of North Carolina, USA. He recently returned from an agricultural tour of Cuba.

What you said

Last year more than half our members said “yes” to providing feedback after each package of scripts.

But sometimes less than one-quarter of our members complete our info-poll.

We provide scripts based on the information you send us — so keep it coming!

We had more than 500 requests for new scripts or specific information last year.

About half were for crop information, pest or weed control, planting and ploughing methods, food storage and food processing. The other half were divided fairly evenly into four categories: environment (soil or water conservation, climate change); health and nutrition; microenterprise or credit; and other.

The “other” includes questions about managing a radio station, or globalization – which we will try to answer in future issues of Voices.

We were surprised by the absence of requests for information about helping women farmers in particular. Are there other topics that are important to you that aren’t being addressed?

Here is how you reported using Packages 44 to 47:

  • on average, scripts were used by 43% of members
  • most popular scripts overall were:
    • From loss to profit: an organic farming success (60%)
    • Compost: a wonderful food for your garden (60%)
    • Make compost as your vegetables grow (58%)
    • Compost: a friend to trees (58%)
  • most popular scripts regionally were:
    • Simple precautions can prevent malaria and How to treat a fever (Africa)
    • Use branch cuttings to create living fences and Windbreaks protect crops and soil (Latin America/Caribbean)
    • Why plants make good neighbours and A fertility trench holds water in dry lands (Asia/Pacific).

This information will help us serve you better, so that you can provide the best programs possible for the farmers in your area.

Be sure to tell us what you need!

Collected Wisdom

Collected Wisdom is a regular feature of Voices. We invite you to share methods that have worked for you as rural communicators, and that you feel will help other Network members.

Radio is still by far the most accessible means of mass communication. And community radio is a crucial communication tool that plays a vital role in development. It allows communities to share experiences and to address issues which affect the lives of its members. Ultimately, its aim is to provide information which will improve the quality of life of its listeners.

Ensuring community participation in your station is an important aspect of community radio. But it is often difficult to find ways to encourage and sustain participation of the members of your community in “their” station. Following are a few suggestions which may motivate your listeners to take an active role in their community station:

  • create “volunteer groups” from your community who plan programming and production, gather news sources, provide management back-up, and contribute towards policy-making and development planning. These activities can be overseen by a Volunteer Coordinator.
  • hold “open forums” on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, where the station’s management team reports on activities. Community members then share ideas and make recommendations for the station management to decide upon or implement.
  • some stations have both “volunteer groups” and “open forums.”
  • start a “listeners’ club” where listeners can critique programming and suggest program ideas.
  • hold an Annual General Meeting of members where reports are presented, elections are held, and a vision or plan for the station is drawn up. This usually involves most members of the community that owns and controls the station.

Remember, as well, that contacting other community radio stations is a good way to exchange ideas and experiences.

Source: What is Community Radio: A Resource Guide, AMARC Africa and Panos Southern Africa.