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Farm Radio Weekly is a news and information service for rural radio broadcasters in sub-Saharan Africa. It is published by Farm Radio International.

Issue #37

Hello to all!

This week, we extend a warm welcome to our newest subscribers from around Africa: from Benin, Félix Houinsou of Radio Immaculée Conception; from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Saiba Nzanzu Tony of Groupe d’Appui aux Initiatives de Developpement Durable and independent journalist Wibyala Norbert; from Madagascar, Christi Turner of Radio Meva Ankarana; and, from Uganda, Matua Asumi Alexis from the community organization TUALU.

As our regular readers know, we have been busy processing the results of an FRW survey that was sent to all subscribers in August. One of the survey questions asked “Which FRW story has been your favourite so far and why?” Gatien Roger Kouam Netcha from Cercle International pour la Promotion de la Création in Cameroon told us: “My favourite story, I believe, was the news story regarding rice production in Uganda. Because my country is facing the same situation and needs the experiences of other African countries to boost production and develop the local market.” This story, entitled “Imported rice levies encourage local production,” was produced by FRW correspondent Joshua Kyalimpa and first appeared in Issue #24. It is re-printed in this issue for your renewed reading enjoyment.

We also know from our survey that you, our subscribers, are very interested in soil fertility and practical farming methods that can improve yields and incomes. This week, we have a story that we believe meets both of these criteria. We look at a new practice called “micro-dosing,” which involves the placement of very small quantities of fertilizer near individual seeds or seedlings. This practice, developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, has been shown to boost crop production by up to 120 per cent in Sahelian countries, and has also been successfully used by farmers in parts of southern Africa.

Please remember that you can always share your thoughts and experiences on news issues with fellow subscribers on the Farm Radio Weekly website: http://weekly.farmradio.org/. And to tell us about topics that you’d like to see covered in future issues of FRW, you can e-mail FRW Editor Heather Miller at hmiller@farmradio.org.

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly Team

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In this week’s Farm Radio Weekly:

African Farm News in Review

1. West Africa: A pinch of fertilizer goes a long way (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, SciDev.Net, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute)

2. Uganda: Imported rice levies encourage local production (by Joshua Kyalimpa, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Kampala, Uganda)

Upcoming Events

October 5-9, 2008: Banana 2008 conference to be held in Mombasa, Kenya

Radio Resource Bank

Utilizing community media to fight poverty in a digital age

Farm Radio Action

AFRRI stations participate in hands-on training

Farm Radio Script of the Week

Micro-doses of fertilizer increase yields in the Sahel

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1. West Africa: A pinch of fertilizer goes a long way (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, SciDev.Net, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute)

Thousands of West African farmers have discovered the value of a three-finger pinch. The amount of fertilizer that you can pinch between three fingers is just enough to fertilize a single plant. A used bottle cap is another good measuring device for this new fertilizing technique, called micro-dosing.

As the price of chemical fertilizer continues to rise, many farmers are unable to afford large quantities of fertilizer. In drought-prone areas, farmers are often reluctant to invest in fertilizer because they don’t know if they will see a good return.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, or ICRISAT, set out to determine the most efficient use of fertilizer, and thereby reduce the financial risk to farmers. Dr. Ramadjita Tabo is the regional coordinator of ICRISAT for west and central Africa. He explained that the organization could not recommend something that farmers would not be able to afford. So, he says, they had to find a way to get the right fertilizer in the right place at the right time, rather than simply blanketing fields with chemical fertilizer.

Initially, six grams of NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium) fertilizer was tried in each seed hill. Then researchers realized that, since phosphorous is the major nutrient most lacking in Sahelian soils, just two grams of high-phosphorus fertilizer could do the trick. When this small dose is used, a 20 kilogram bag can cover an entire hectare.

While ICRISAT researchers determined the right amount of fertilizer, West African farmers discovered the best way to apply it. Two farmers work together to save time. The lead farmer digs a hole. The second farmer drops in seeds and a three-finger pinch of chemical fertilizer before covering it over.

Farmers in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have tried the micro-dosing method on pearl millet and sorghum crops. On average, the micro-dosing method has led to yields 44 to 120 per cent higher than crops without fertilizer.

Micro-dosing techniques vary, depending on soil and climate conditions. For example, where soil is hard, farmers dig small holes before the rain starts, then fill them with manure. When the rains begin, they plant the seeds and apply a small amount of chemical fertilizer. This method not only provides nutrients, but also helps to ensure that the plant will receive sufficient water.

Field schools have been established in remote areas to teach farmers the micro-dosing method. Dr. Tabo says that farmers learn quickly, picking up the technique in less than a week. Farmers are encouraged to try fertilizer micro-dosing on a small part of their land at first, then, if they are pleased with the results, to expand the area next season.

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2. Uganda: Imported rice levies encourage local production (by Joshua Kyalimpa, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Kampala, Uganda)

On his single acre of land, Ugandan farmer Geoffrey Bisubirwa can grow enough rice each season to earn 150,000 Ugandan shillings – the equivalent of 100 American dollars, or 60 Euros. This is a pretty good return, given that a farmer would get less than 75,000 Ugandan shillings – about 50 American dollars or 30 Euros – for growing maize, one of the most common crops grown in Uganda.

Up until a few years ago, Geoffrey Bisubirwa would not have been able to sell his rice, because the local market was flooded with cheaper rice from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Pakistan. Governments in these Asian countries subsidize rice production. Meanwhile, rice production in Uganda was on a downward trend in the 1990s after the government, like many African governments, sharply reduced or eliminated duties on imported rice, as part of a global push towards market liberalization.

But in 2004, the East African community – a loose grouping of five countries including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi – decided to re-instate duties on imported rice. The import duties are putting a smile on the faces of Ugandan farmers, and giving them a reason to grow rice again.

In fact, Ugandan farmers are growing much more rice. The Ugandan Ministry of Trade projects that rice production will hit the 180,000 metric ton mark this year, up from 135,000 in 2006, and 100,000 in 2005.

Okasi Opolot is Uganda’s Commissioner for Crop Production and Marketing. He expects that rice imports will soon come to a halt. The Ugandan government further expects to boost its rice exports to areas such as southern Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, becoming the food basket of the region.

Mr. Opolot acknowledges that levies on imported rice are against the policies and advice of the World Bank and World Trade Organization. But he is quick to add that the same organizations have failed to rein in other countries’ subsidies.

Nevertheless, the Ugandan government is preparing for the day when it may be pressured by the World Trade Organization and World Bank to re-open its markets to imported rice. The government is investing in research of new rice varieties that could out-compete imported rice on the basis of quality.

Dr. Ram Chaudhary is the project manager for New Rice for Africa, known as NERICA. He says that a new rice variety called NERICA 10 will give imported rice a run for its money. According to Dr. Chaudhary, the new rice re-introduces a scent and taste preferred by Ugandans, which is not found in any imported variety. He says NERICA 10 should be able to edge imported rice out of the market, even if import duties are removed in the future.

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Notes to broadcasters on micro-dosing:

The micro-dosing technique was developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as part of an effort to assist farmers in rehabilitating degraded lands. The majority of farmers in the Sahelian region where ICRISAT introduced the technique were not fertilizing their land. Applying chemical fertilizer in the quantities recommended by fertilizer companies was not affordable, and the more easily available manure went unused. Farmers indicated that the fertilizers were “too risky.” Dr. Steve Twomlow, ICRISAT’s global theme leader on agro-ecosystems, explains that the micro-dosing technique was developed to make the most out of the amount of fertilizer that farmers could access. Twenty-five thousand small-scale farmers in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, have now adopted the technique. It has also been promoted in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Now that thousands of farmers are using the micro-dosing approach, ICRISAT is working to persuade fertilizer companies to sell smaller packets. Already, companies in South Africa and Zimbabwe have agreed to distribute smaller fertilizer packets, together with information on how to use them. ICRISAT plans to expand its micro-dosing research, to see how it could be used on crops such as legumes and vegetables.

For more detailed information on micro-dosing, see:
– International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics website: http://www.icrisat.org/New&Events/Smallfertilizer.htm
-A poster describing micro-dosing methods and the results of micro-dosing trials: http://www.ciat.cgiar.org/epmr_ciat/pdf/poster_27_epmr07.pdf

The following Farm Radio International script describes the micro-dosing approach through a discussion between the host and Ousmane Hassane of ICRISAT:
“Micro-doses of fertilizer increase yields in the Sahel” (Package 79, Script 4, November 2006)
For more Farm Radio International scripts on soil fertilization, visit: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/fertilization.asp.

To read about other ways that farmers are coping with high fertilizer prices, you may refer to these past FRW articles:
“Farmers find manure a good substitute for expensive chemical fertilizers” (Issue #28, July 2008)
“Rice bran can substitute for chemical fertilizer” (Issue #18, April 2008)

You may wish to hold an on-air interview with one or more experts who can discuss the micro-dosing approach to fertilizer, or other low-cost methods of improving soil fertility. If you wish to find a farmer or researcher knowledgeable about the micro-dosing approach, you could start by contacting ICRISAT. To find out what other techniques farmers are using to cope with high fertilizer costs, try contacting a local farmers’ organization, or simply ask some of the farmers you know. Some questions to ask during an on-air discussion include:
-Describe how and why the fertilization technique was developed.
-Describe the fertilization technique in detail.
-Has this method proven effective in this area?
-For which crops has this method proven effective?
-Are there alternative fertilization materials that farmers can use, if the suggested materials are not available?
-Are there ways that farmers can adapt the technique, based on soil conditions or rainfall patterns on their farm?

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Notes to broadcasters on local rice production:

This news story provides an example of how agricultural subsidies and tariffs affect a farmer’s ability to sell his or her product locally and, over time, either encourage or discourage national production of a crop. In the 1990s, Ugandan rice farmers found it difficult to earn a living. The local market was satisfied with cheap imported rice (because farmers in the exporting countries were receiving subsidies.) But, since 2004, import duties have raised the price of imported rice, securing a place in the Ugandan market for locally-grown rice.

Dr. Godfrey Asea, a team leader of cereals programs for the National Crops Resources Research Institute, says Ugandan farmers still don’t earn as much as Indian farmers. Ugandan farmers can receive advice on what crops to grow and how to get good yields, through the National Agricultural Advisory Services, but they do not receive subsidies. According to Dr. Asea, an Indian rice farmer can earn about 10,000 rupees – about 230 American dollars or 150 Euros – by cultivating an acre of rice. As we learned in the story, a Ugandan farmer can earn about 150,000 shillings – about 100 American dollars or 60 Euros – for the same amount of work. Still, now that duties are pushing imported rice out of the market, more and more Ugandan farmers have found a financial incentive to grow rice.

While farmers can lobby their governments to change national policies on subsidies or duties, they must also cope with the existing market environment. Even without government support, there are ways that farmers can increase their profit margins. The following Farm Radio International scripts describe how forming a farmers’ co-op and staying current on market prices can help:

“Forming an effective farmers’ cooperative” (Package 83, Script 7, March 2008)
“Women set up a marketing and purchasing cooperative” (Episode 3 of the script series “Women and Credit,” Package 57, Script 5, October 2000)
“Market news from MEGA FM” (Package 83, Script 3, March 2008)
“Farmers’ helpers – Radio and extension help farmers plan” (Episode 5 of the script series “To Market, To Market,” Package 66, Script 10, March 2003)

You may also wish to raise awareness of how national and international policies affect the production of, and market for, food in your country, by researching questions such as:
-Does your government subsidize agricultural production in your country (for example, by providing inputs like fertilizer at below market rate, or by purchasing food from farmers at above market rate)? When did this subsidy program begin and what was the government’s motivation for implementing it? What impact did this have on the number of farmers growing the subsidized crop and the total amount of the crop grown? What do farmers have to say about the subsidies and the impact they have had on their farming business?
-To what extent does your country rely on imported food? What can you find out about the extent to which this imported food is subsidized by exporting countries’ governments, and how this affects local food prices? Does your government impose duties on any imported foods? Do farmers feel that the sale of imported foods affects their ability to sell crops locally and obtain a good price?

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October 5-9, 2008: Banana 2008 conference to be held in Mombasa, Kenya

Small-scale farmers and farmers’ groups, banana researchers, and major industry players will gather in Mombasa, Kenya, from October 5-9, for a pan-African conference that will be the first of its kind. The theme of the conference, known simply as Banana 2008, is: “Banana and plantain in Africa: Harnessing international partnerships to increase research impact.”

The conference will explore the breadth of the banana industry in Africa, including disease control, seed improvement, and the development of local and regional markets. Of particular interest are farmers’ groups and cooperatives that provide loans to support banana production and new markets, and entrepreneurs involved in innovative income-generating banana activities. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is organizing the event. A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Initiative will support the participation of 50 small-scale farmers and regional entrepreneurs

For more information about Banana 2008, visit: http://www.banana2008.com/cms/details/index_details.aspx.

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Utilizing community media to fight poverty in a digital age

During the World Congress on Communication for Development two years ago, communications professionals gathered around a table to share their experiences with using community media to fight poverty. These examples of the interactive and participatory potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) within communication for development practices are now compiled in an online publication.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Division for Communication Development of UNESCO, in collaboration with the Communication for Social Change Consortium, recently published “Fighting Poverty: Utilizing Community Media in a Digital Age.”

The publication contains articles, audio and video documents by practitioners, decision makers, and scholars. It focuses on the role of community media in underpinning democratic transition in Nepal in 2006, on experiences in Latin America, in Kenya, in francophone West Africa, and on the role of new information and communication technologies in facilitating the growth, the impact and dynamism of community radio. To download the book, audio and video files, for comments, and to order hard copies, visit: http://www.amarc.org/wccd/.

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AFRRI stations participate in hands-on training

The African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI) – a Farm Radio International undertaking to determine and document best practices for using radio-based communications to enhance food security in Africa – is entering a new phase. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Farm Radio is working with radio partners in Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Starting this month, representatives from the 25 participating radio stations and other national partners will take part in a training program. The training will take place in each of the five countries, beginning with a six day intensive hands-on training focusing on developing good stories for radio and using digital audio production. Participants will work with national level radio and communication experts and rural community members to develop and evaluate radio programs on agriculture and food security. Following the six-day intensive program, participants will continue their learning through a four-month interactive distance education course. Opportunities to develop their own training activities, designed to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues and peers, will also be available at the end of the course. Participants will receive Certificates of Successful Completion from the course, and AFRRI will have its first set of training alumni!

To view updates on the progress of AFRRI, and eventually the full results of the initiative, please visit our website: http://www.farmradio.org/english/programs/affri.asp.

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Micro-doses of fertilizer increase yields in the Sahel

This week’s featured script is an additional resource on the topic of fertilizer micro-dosing. It features an interview between a radio host and Ousmane Hassane, from the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Niger. Mr. Hassane explains that, in Niger, farmer field schools were established to demonstrate the superior growth of crops treated with micro-dosing versus traditional practices. He also describes how word of micro-dosing quickly spread throughout villages, as farmers showed each other how to use the technique.

You can also view this script online at: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/79-4script_en.asp.

Notes to Broadcaster
Desertification is a major problem facing many African countries. Land degradation due to desertification results in poor yields and grazing capacity, loss of farmland and rangeland, reduction or disappearance of forests, and serious economic difficulties for producers, herders, and the general population.

The Desert Margins Program (DMP) is a collaboration among nine African countries: Burkina Faso, Botswana, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, assisted by five International Agricultural Research Centers and three Advanced Research Institutes. Its objectives are: 1) To understand land degradation; 2) To assess dryland management practices; 3) To improve natural resource management; 4) To design policies, programs and institutional options; 5) To formulate drought management strategies; 6) To enhance institutional capacities; and 7) To exchange technologies and information. The key goal is to enhance the food security of poor rural populations and alleviate poverty by halting or reversing desertification. The 120 million inhabitants of these nine countries depend mainly on rainfed agriculture and natural rangelands for their survival. But their livelihoods are at risk due to land degradation. The problem of biodiversity loss is particularly critical in very dry areas where ecosystems are less likely to recover once they are seriously damaged. This script focuses on a DMP project which uses ‘micro-doses’ of fertilizer to increase crop yields in the Sahel region.


Characters: Host, Hassane Ousmane

Host: This broadcast brings good news about one of African agriculture’s success stories. The semi-arid zone of the Sahel in Western and Central Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world. The climate is extremely harsh and the variability in annual rainfall causes drought. The soils are infertile. These conditions make it more difficult to grow the main food crops in the area – millet and sorghum – and farmers remain poor.

The International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Niger has found a way to improve the yield of both millet and sorghum with a combination of chemical and natural fertilizers. Years of tests in Niger have shown that small applications of fertilizer, or what is called ‘micro-doses’, can increase crop yields.

Today we welcome to our program Mr. Ousmane Hassane, from the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Niger. Hello, Mr. Ousmane.

Ousmane Hassane: I’m very happy to be given this opportunity.

Host: What is a micro-dose fertilizer application?

Ousmane Hassane: Micro-dosing is applying only small quantities of fertilizer in a planting hole. Micro-dosing uses fertilizer more efficiently and improves yields.

Host: Can you explain a bit more about this technology?

Ousmane Hassane: Farmers have long been told that they need to use a great deal of fertilizer. But our research has shown that, even when rainfall is low, if a farmer uses two grams of Diammonium Phosphate or six grams of NPK with the formula 15:15:15 in planting hills, millet yields are doubled. So farmers can increase their yields by using only 20 kilograms of Diammonium Phosphate with the formula 18-46-0 or 60 kilograms of NPK with a 15-15-15 formula per hectare. The project has also been helping farmers form groups to purchase inputs together at the beginning of the growing season, when input prices are lower.

Host: Where was this micro-dosing technique tested?

Ousmane Hassane: Some successful studies were conducted on farms in Niger. Building on this success, the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics conducted a fertilizer micro-dosing project in three West African countries: Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Host: And what were the results in these three countries?

Ousmane Hassane: Micro-dosing raised yields in sorghum and millet by almost 50% to more than double. Also, farmers received higher incomes; from 50% more to almost double. More than 12,000 households were involved in the two years of the project.

We’ll be back in a moment to talk more with Mr. Ousmane Hassane of the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

Musical pause

Host: Welcome back. Mr. Hassane, I understand that you spread the good news about micro-dosing to other farmers in these three countries.

Ousmane Hassane:
Yes. We used farmer field schools to publicize the micro-dosing technique. In Niger, farmer field schools were established at four villages. Each field school was one hectare in size. Micro-dosing was used on one half of the area and traditional methods on the other half.

Host: So other farmers in the village and neighbouring villages learned about this technique?

Ousmane Hassane: Yes, we held open house or demonstration days for other farmers. These were very popular. The number of participants varied from 100 to 500, with more than half being women.

Host: Were the participants impressed by what they saw?

Ousmane Hassane: Yes, I would say so. Farmers guided the field visits as well as visits to a grain storage facility. They explained the micro-dosing technology to other farmers. They also demonstrated other innovations for water and soil conservation, including how to use barriers, dikes and stone lines and improved varieties. The farmers did a wonderful job of mastering and explaining the different techniques, and there was a lot of good interaction. The farmers also explained the system of ‘warrantage’.

Host: What is ‘warrantage’?

Ousmane Hassane: In the warrantage system, farmer groups receive post-harvest credit in exchange for storing their grain. Their grain is treated as collateral. This allows farmers to sell crops later in the season for higher prices and higher profits. Having cash early in the season means that they can afford to purchase crop inputs earlier, which increases yields and helps them sell their grain. Hundreds of farmers’ organizations are now using the warrantage system.

Host: In your opinion, has the farmer field school and open house approach been effective?

Ousmane Hassane: Yes, the techniques have been spread to villages that had not been part of the original project, and links were made between farmer organizations at the different demonstration sites. Open houses allow farmers to see promising technologies in action, and quickens the adoption of these practices. Another benefit is that producers take ownership of methods such as micro-dosing and they sell the ideas themselves. The farmers become the technical experts at open house days.

Host: Thanks so much for telling us about this exciting project. And good luck with it!

Ousmane Hassane: Thank you for inviting me.


Contributed by: Idiwel Moussa Ibrahim, Program Assistant, Desert Margins Program (DMP), ICRISAT-Niamey.
Reviewed by: Jens B. Aune, Agro-ecologist, Department for International Environment and Development Studies Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) P.O. Box 5003, N-1432 Aas, Norway.

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