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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 #40

Warm greetings to all!

Our recent subscriber survey confirmed that food security is a top concern among our readers, and the listeners you serve. As many of you know, this week holds symbolic significance for this issue. October 16 has been designated by the United Nations as World Food Day. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will hold a Committee on World Hunger to seek policy solutions to current food security threats. At the same time, the international peasants’ movement known as La Via Campesina will bring small-scale farmers together for its international conference to discuss farmer-led solutions.

To read what the FAO is doing to mark World Food Day, visit: http://www.fao.org/getinvolved/worldfoodday/en/. For information on La Via Campesina’s event, visit: http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=609&Itemid=. And to learn more about what community radio stations and civil society around the world are doing to mark the occasion, see the Upcoming Events section below.

This week’s FRW news stories focus on the everyday life of farmers who produce the world’s food. It’s harvest time in many African countries, a time when the seasonal harvest brings pride, joy, and reward to farmers. Our first story looks at a sampling of crop harvests, while our second reflects on how the growing trend of urban agriculture is changing the landscape of one of Africa’s largest cities. Finally, we have an update on the latest African outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza – a reminder that this disease remains a threat.

We would love to hear about any food security programs you broadcast to mark World Food Day, or as part of your regular schedule. Please share your radio organization’s approach to covering this issue by visiting the FRW website (http://weekly.farmradio.org/) and posting in the comments section. Or, you can write to 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. Africa: Harvest time is a celebration of farmers’ work (Wal Fadjri, Daily Trust, The Monitor)

2. Kenya: Urban agriculture greens metropolis (The East African, UN Integrated Regional Information Network)

3. Togo: 17,000 poultry killed in latest avian flu outbreak (UN Integrated Regional Information Network)

Upcoming Events

October 16, 2008: AMARC seeks community radio participants to celebrate World Food Day

October 16, 2008: World Foodless Day

Radio Resource Bank

Stories, photos, and videos of HungerFree Women campaign to be posted online

Farm Radio Action

Farm Radio audio productions available on-line

Farm Radio Script of the Week

“Manure the magic worker” and “Organic fertilizer within easy reach”

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1. Africa: Harvest time is a celebration of farmers’ work (Wal Fadjri, Daily Trust, The Monitor)

On the streets of Dakar, heaps of watermelons signal the beginning of harvest time. The sweet fruit enrobed in green rind is piled high in the market. On every street corner, it seems, someone is bargaining for a taste of the juicy fruit.

A Senegalese newspaper reporter stopped a man on his way to buy watermelon. The avid consumer summed up the feelings of many people. He says he loves watermelon – it’s juicy, nutritious, and it quenches your thirst.

It’s harvest time in many African countries – a busy time for farmers, as they gather their crops and prepare to sell or store them. It’s also a time when food is much appreciated – whether it’s a sweet and juicy watermelon, savoury onion, or essential grain.

In Sokoto State, northwestern Nigeria, farmers take pride in their latest onion harvest. Nigeria is one of the top onion producers in sub-Saharan Africa, growing more than 600,000 metric tonnes each year.

Sokoto onions are especially prized. Mallam Sani Hassan is one of thousands of onion growers in the state. He explains that Sokoto onions are known for being bright, red and purple Every Monday and Friday, the Kara Onion Market in Sokoto is a beehive of activity. Vehicles are stationed at strategic points in the market, ready to collect freshly-harvested onions and ship them across the country. Other onions are transported directly from the field into storage. Mr. Hassan explains that onions can be preserved for up to five months, if stacked and covered with a thatched roof.

Reaping, storing, marketing, and eating freshly harvested food are bi-annual rituals in most farming communities. But in those areas where farming was previously impossible, due to conflict or extreme weather, this harvest season has special meaning.

The Northern Uganda Agricultural Centre was established to restore rice production to the area in the wake of civil conflict. Johansen Kim is director of the centre. He said that the first crop of rice has been harvested, and has found a ready market. Some will be sold as seeds to other African countries, continuing the agricultural production cycle.

Back in Dakar, other seasonal crops such as maize and groundnuts join watermelons in the market. But watermelons remain the seasonal favourite. Badara Pouye is one of the farmers who keep markets teeming with watermelons. For his part, he’s grateful for the enthusiasm of consumers, which allows him to earn a return on his investment in the short time that the fruit is fresh.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on harvest season

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2. Kenya: Urban agriculture greens metropolis (The East African, UN Integrated Regional Information Network)

In an article for the East African newspaper, author Dagi Kimani describes the sights and sounds of urban agriculture in Nairobi:

Those riverbanks which are not clogged with shanties are teeming with a dazzling variety of vegetables at various stages of maturity. In the crowded shanties themselves, where space is at a premium, residents have come up with ingenious ways of growing greens, stuffing a sack full of soil and growing kales and spinach from multiple holes punched in its sides. Even in relatively upmarket suburbs, it is not uncommon to awake to the sound of a cock crowing. A resident hen can meet the family’s egg needs.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 800,000 people practice urban agriculture, producing about 15 per cent of the world’s food. This urban greening continues as more people flock to cities and food prices rise.

Kibera is an informal settlement within Nairobi, the largest in Africa. A new project in Kibera demonstrates the transformative effect of urban agriculture on both the landscape and the farmers.

Hussein Hassan tends to a crop of spinach. Earlier this year, his youth group was involved in riots that followed Kenya’s December 2007 election. But today, the youth have other things to occupy their time. They have planted a vegetable garden on a quarter-acre of land that used to serve as a garbage dump. Mr. Hassan says that, previously, no one could pass through this area. It was filled with refuse. Now, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, kale, pumpkin, and sunflowers thrive.

Recently, the group harvested their first cabbage crop. The harvest provides both food and income for the youth.

Augustine Oramisi is chairman of the Kibera Youth Initiative for Community Development, an umbrella body for self-help groups in Kibera. He says that disease, crime, and unemployment are rampant. A garden seemed like a good solution. It provides an outlet for youth who choose to reform, while cleaning and greening neglected land.

The garden has become a pilot project which teaches students how to carry our land reclamation. Mr. Oramisi hopes to duplicate this type of project in other parts of Kibera, replacing refuse dumps with vegetable patches.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on urban agriculture

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3. Togo: 17,000 poultry killed in latest avian flu outbreak (UN Integrated Regional Information Network)

Alphonse Tognizoun is a poultry farmer in Agbata, southern Togo. On September 9, the highly infectious strain of avian flu known as H5N1 was found in his village. Agbata was quarantined. By the end of the month, some 17,000 birds had either died from the flu or been culled. Mr. Tognizoun lost 1,000 birds.This was the latest in a series of avian flu outbreaks in western Africa. H5N1 first arrived in Africa in early 2006, when it was found in Nigeria. It has since been detected in Benin and Egypt, as well as Togo. This strain of avian flu is a serious concern because it can be passed from birds to humans. To date, over 240 people around the world have died from the disease.
Basic hygiene can help stop the spread of avian flu. Farmers should keep their poultry in fenced areas and wash their hands and boots after they visit the chicken coop. They should carefully control access to their poultry coops. Children should not be allowed to play with the birds and other poultry farmers should not visit the coop.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization provides plain-language advice on preventing the spread of avian flu in the following: http://www.fao.org/docs/eims/upload/207623/FAO_HPAI_messages.pdf.

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Notes to broadcasters on harvest season

It’s harvest time in many African countries – a time for farmers to reap the rewards of a season’s hard work. It may also be a good time to produce a radio program celebrating farmers and their harvest. Here are some questions to explore through a phone-in/text-in show or a news story:
-Which crops are produced in the greatest quantity in your area? Which crops do farmers in your area specialize in? Which crops are farmers known for, and which crops are farmers proud of? For how long have farmers in your area been producing these crops? What techniques have farmers in your area developed to help these crops flourish in the local soil and climate conditions?
-Are these crops consumed by the families who produce them, sold locally, or shipped abroad? What activities are farming families undertaking to store or sell their crops? Are there processing or storage techniques which are unique to farming families in your area?

You may also wish to review Farm Radio International’s script bank on Food Processing and Storage, to see if one or more scripts would be helpful to your audience. You will find information on processing and storing a range of crops, from fruits and vegetables, to grains, to fish: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/food.asp.

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Notes to broadcasters on urban agriculture

There’s no doubt that the practice of urban agriculture is growing, encouraged by factors such as increased migration to cities and the rising cost of food. Studies consistently show that more and more people rely on food grown in cities. You can read more about this trend in these past FRW news stories:
-“Wastewater in urban agriculture is harmful to health, but it also ensures subsistence for urban poor,” (Issue #34, August 2008)
-“Urban agriculture provides relief from high food prices,” (Issue #23, June 2008)

Your listeners may appreciate more information on how to produce food in urban areas, or other locations where arable land is unavailable or very limited. More information can be found through the following:
-The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research provides an online course about urban agriculture: http://www.cipotato.org/urbanharvest/news_events/global/online_course.htm.
-Many techniques for producing maximum yields in a small area are described in the Wikipedia entry on biointensive agriculture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biointensive.
-The Canadian NGO Alternatives provides details on several soil-less gardening techniques: http://rooftopgardens.ca/?q=image/tid/66.
-Farm Radio International has produced a number of scripts on Urban Agriculture, many of which offer suggestions for growing food in small spaces: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/urban.asp.

Finally, here are some ideas for a call-in/text-in show to further explore this issue. These will be especially relevant if you broadcast to an urban area, but may also interest rural audiences who must make the best use of small plots:
-Have any members of your audience started growing food (or growing more food) in response to rising food prices? What materials did they use to get started? What difficulties did they face and how did they overcome them?
-Have members of your audience grown food in an urban area, or a very small plot in a rural area, for some time? How much food do they produce and what impact does this have on their family’s food security? What materials (such as organic fertilizer or planters) do they use to make food growing possible in very small spaces? Which crops grow best with the space and resources they have available? What tips or innovations can they share?

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October 16, 2008: AMARC seeks community radio participants to celebrate World Food Day

Since 1945, the United Nations has designated October 16 as World Food Day. The theme for this year is World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization chose this theme to highlight two pressing issuesthat pose difficulties for the estimated 923 million people around the world who are undernourished.

Members of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) will be covering World Food Day on October 16th, by emphasizing the struggle against poverty and accenting this year’s themes. Radio programs will be broadcast on local community radio stations and streamed live on the AMARC World Food Day page at: http://www.amarc.org/index.php?p=World_Food_Day_2008&l=EN&nosafe=0G8.

The World Food Day broadcast is a collaboration between community radio stations from five continents, with a common focus on the struggle against poverty and for food security in the context of rising food prices. The broadcast also highlights the opportunities for community radio to use new technologies such as the Internet to give voice to those who are excluded and suffer discrimination. To participate, please contact: secretariat@si.amarc.org.

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October 16, 2008: World Foodless Day

The Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) is organizing World Foodless Day activities to coincide with the UN-designated World Food Day on October 16.

The organizers of World Foodless Day say that, for decades, people’s movements have called for agrarian reform; local markets; the right to adequate, nutritious, safe and culturally appropriate food; greater access to land and productive resources for women; an agro-ecological approach to food production; and the right of communities and peoples to decide on the food and agriculture policies which affect them. But these voices have not been heard.

The objectives of World Foodless Day are: to create public awareness and raise media attention on the root causes of the food crisis; organize meetings with government officials, opinion makers and leaders and provide policy recommendations; organize activities to raise people’s voices against economic policies that are harmful to farmers and the poor; and highlight people’s recommendations to respond to the world food crisis.

PAN AP has posted background documents on the root causes of the food crisis on their website:
-The politics of hunger: When policies and markets fail the poor: http://www.panap-files.net/resources/wfd_resm_politics_contents.pdf
-The global food crisis: Hype and reality: http://www.panap-files.net/resources/wfd_resm_globalfoodcrisis.pdf

To find out more about World Foodless Day events in your region contact PAN AP at panap@panap.net, or PCFS at secretariat@foodsov.org

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Stories, photos, and videos of HungerFree Women campaign to be posted online

In the coming weeks and months, women from more than 15 countries will come together for groundbreaking activities as part of the HungerFree Women initiative. This initiative is part of a global campaign by the international anti-poverty organization Action Aid to pressure governments to meet their Millennium Development Goal commitment of halving world hunger by 2015. Participants will discuss, strategize, mobilize, and demand their rights and needs as women farmers in the face of the food crisis, and in the face of discrimination in terms of access to land, natural resources, and ways of earning a living. The website www.actionaid.org/hungerfree will be revamped as of October 15, and will carry stories, photos, video, and news about the campaign.

For more information on activities taking place in various countries, visit: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/wgender/51108.

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Farm Radio audio productions available on-line

We invite you to listen to two entertaining audio productions on climate change adaptation strategies, written and produced by African radio organizations.

In October 2007, Farm Radio International, in collaboration with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), launched African Farmers’ Strategies for Coping with Climate Change, a radio scriptwriting competition for African radio organizations. Participants were encouraged to seek input from local farmers in developing their entries. Fifteen winners were selected earlier this year.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – Environment, Climate Change and Bioenergy Division – supported audio productions of two of the best scripts submitted to the competition. Farm Radio International coordinated the production of these audio recordings, and provided them to FAO for distribution to its network for World Food Day (October 16) 2008.

The two scripts are:

1. “Manure the magic worker”, written by Gladson Makowa of the Story Workshop in Malawi. This script illustrates the advantages of composted manure over synthetic fertilizer during dry seasons, as it helps retain soil moisture, leading to better yields and decreased erosion.

To read the script, go to: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/84-9script_en.asp, or scroll down to the Script of the Week section.

To listen to the audio production of the script, produced by The Story Workshop, go to: ftp://ext-ftp.fao.org/Radio/MP3/2008/WFD/MWANA SPECIAL.mp3.

2. “Organic fertilizer within easy reach”, written by Adama Zongo of Radio Rurale in Burkina Faso. This script details the steps involved in building a compost ditch, and explains how the resulting compost can improve soil fertility and crop yields.

To read the script (in English), go to: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/84-10script_en.asp, or scroll down to the Script of the Week section.

To listen to the audio production of the script (in French only), produced by Radio Rurale in Burkina Faso, go to: ftp://ext-ftp.fao.org/Radio/MP3/2008/WFD/compost.mp3.

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“Manure the magic worker” and “Organic fertilizer within easy reach”

This week, we devote this section to the award-winning Farm Radio scripts that were produced as audio recordings and distributed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for World Food Day. As mentioned above, the scripts are: “Manure the magic worker,” written by Gladson Makowa of the Story Workshop in Malawi, and “Organic fertilizer within easy reach,” written by Adama Zongo of Radio Rurale in Burkina Faso. You can listen to the audio recordings by clicking on the links above, and read the full text of the scripts below. Although “Manure the magic worker” is recorded in English only and “Organic fertilizer within easy reach” is recorded in French only, the text versions of both scripts are available in both languages. Follow along. You may get some great ideas on transforming scripts into entertaining audio productions!

Manure the magic worker
Notes to Broadcaster
Floods and drought are becoming the order of the day. These are significant signs of climate change. Farmers are finding it difficult to choose good varieties of crops to suit these climatic changes. This script gives a general solution for adapting to climatic changes. Manure works for both early-maturing and late-maturing crops. It retains water in the soil when there is drought and removes excess water when there is too much water in the soil, since it makes soil permeable. This script, therefore, can be used in any country and for every crop to reduce the effect of climatic change.


Signature tune

Presenter: Welcome, dear listeners, to Farmers Parade. In this program, we document some of the marvellous discoveries and achievements of smallholder farmers in Africa. Today as usual, you are with me, Gladson Makowa, your presenter.

Signature tune up and out under presenter

Presenter: Do you know that farmers are good researchers? Imagine how useful it can be to you to discover a thing on your own, on your farm. Why don’t you start researching one of the issues you hear on the radio?

Pause. Signature tune up, then fade up under presenter.

Presenter: The Story Workshop, a non governmental media organization in Malawi, in its European Union-funded Project from 2002 to 2006, worked in six villages which were called Radio Research Gardens. Each village chose one research issue to verify what they heard on the radio in the program called Mwana Alirenji (self-sufficiency). This research was broadcast once every month. Today we will hear some of the findings from one of these Radio Research Gardens. Stay tuned to hear all about the magic of manure!

Traditional music recorded in villages

Presenter: For rains to stop when crops like maize still need rain is not a rare scenario these days. Msanjama village, one of the Radio Research Gardens, discovered some wonderful magic to solve this dry spell problem. Msanjama village is located on the western side of Mulanje district in Traditional Authority Juma. Like many villages in Malawi, many villagers are poor. Very few farmers can afford a bag of expensive inorganic fertilizer. To make matters worse, Msanjama lies in the rain shadow of Mulanje Mountain. This is the highest mountain in Malawi and the third highest in Africa. Often, the rains stop early, just when the maize is developing cobs but not yet mature. As if that was not enough, their soils are sandy and lose moisture quickly. But a light appeared at the end of the tunnel when the villagers heard on the radio about a magic substance called manure. A fellow farmer was giving a testimony on how much he yields using only manure. The villagers did not hesitate to start their research comparing manure to inorganic fertilizer. But in the first year of research, manure could not beat fertilizer in yield. It was a flop. (Pause) What went wrong? Do you think manure can beat inorganic fertilizer in the way it helps crops?

Traditional music recorded in villages

FX: Village ambience (sound of goats and chickens in distance)

Village headman: (Angrily, while another man is saying “yes” in the background) Mr. Chairman… it is clear that manure is a useless burden to us farmers. Give me back the plot I rented you to conduct research. I want to use it for other purposes.

Chairman: Wait, wait chief…

Headman: Wait! Wait! Wait for what? Isn’t the difficulty we have gone through enough, Mr. Chairman? Mrs. Jumbe, you wanted to comment. What do you want to say?

Mrs. Jumbe: Yes, chief, that was…

Chairman: (Interrupts her) People, please give me the benefit of the doubt. Let us try manure once more. We need solutions that can help us cope with the changing climate, which dries our crops and hurts our soil! (Protests) Mr. Jumbe, why are you supporting the village headman’s idea of stopping the research? Aren’t you the one who brought this idea?

Mr. Jumbe: Yes, I am the one. I was blinded by the sweet talk of that farmer on the radio.

Mrs. Jumbe: (Calmly and sarcastically) Ehee, manure is very deceiving. At first, we had a very healthy crop, but later it lost energy. But remember how inorganic fertilizer did. After we used the second application, it was just fine until we harvested.

Headman: Mrs. Jumbe, you are right. At first, manure was indeed deceptive, as if it would work. But unfortunately, it gave up on the way.

Chairman: Listen to me first. We applied fertilizer twice, right?

All: Yes.

Chairman: Why can’t we also apply manure twice to level the playing field?

Total silence from the group

Mr. Jumbe: What have you just said, Mr. Chairman?

Mr. Chairman: (Calm and emphatic. People are now interested in what he is saying.) Remember we applied fertilizer twice for maize to do well. Can’t we try to apply manure twice too?

Mrs. Jumbe: I think Mr. Chairman has a good idea. There was indeed a very good crop with manure before it started losing energy. Why can’t we try applying manure twice, the same way we applied fertilizer?

People: (Many agree) Yes, let’s try it twice.

Headman: Well, if it’s everyone’s idea to try once more, then I will leave the garden to the group for this season again.

All: (Some laugh, some clap hands, and some comment) That is our courageous chair…. Make sure it will not fail this time.

Traditional music recorded in villages

Presenter: The villagers agreed to apply manure twice during the next growing season. They made enough composted manure for two applications, like the fertilizer. They divided their land into two plots – the fertilizer side and the manure side. They applied manure and fertilizer for the second time on the same day. People could hardly tell which side had manure and which one had fertilizer.

Then the unthinkable happened. When the maize had just produced tassels and was developing cobs, the rains stopped. The fertilizer side started showing moisture deficiency. It withered and then died. What happened to the manure side? Stay tuned.

Traditional music recorded in villages

FX: Sound of shelled maize being winnowed and put in a pail

Chairman: (Loudly) Come closer everyone. Let’s compare manure and inorganic fertilizer at the end of a fair competition.

FX: Sound of shelled maize under sounds of people admiring one type of maize as compared to the other. Some blame the rains.

Chairman: Let’s count these pails of shelled maize from the area on which we applied fertilizer. Mrs. Jumbe, can you lead us?

All: (FX of maize pouring into pails) One…two…three …four …five.

Mrs. Jumbe: Now let’s count from the area on which we applied manure. One…All: (FX of maize pouring into pails) … two…three…four…five … six … seven … eight. (All laugh and chant) Manure! Manure! (And sing) You have shaken buffalo beans; it is going to irritate you. (Editor’s note: This is a Malawian song about a variety of buffalo beans which irritates people’s skin. It’s a very well known song in Malawi. Please replace with any traditional song which is sung when your football team which was being rated as an underdog has won the match.)

Chairman: (Tries to silence them) Quiet! Quiet!

Mrs. Jumbe: Mr. Jumbe, my husband, look how fat and good looking the maize grains from the manure side are.

All: Laugh and make noise again

Mr. Jumbe: (Shouting at the top of his voice) You are lucky that the rains stopped before the maize had matured. There would have been no difference in harvest between the two sides.

All: (Laugh and shout) Haa, you!

Chairman: (Shouts too) The rains did not stop on the fertilizer side only. It stopped on the manure side too. Isn’t it true?

All people: Yes! (Chant again) Manure! Manure!

Chairman: It means that, although you called manure a burden, it makes better quality soil.

All: (Murmur)

Chairman: Wait, does the village headman have anything to say?

FX: As the chief comes, the people clap hands to honour him.

Headman: (They chant “yes” in the background, agreeing with what he says) I do not have much to say…. Everyone has seen that, as well as improving yield, manure retains moisture too. Do you remember how we applied manure? The first application we just spread in between the ridges before ridging? A gallon-sized pail full of manure spread along the fallow in between the ridges. Then the second application two hands full at the base of the plants and covered with soil after the second weeding. Go do it in your gardens. Chase hunger out of my village!

All: Yeaaaaaa!


Presenter: Manure adds fertility to the soil and keeps moisture. If you have dry spells, manure keeps the crop strong. Beat the side effects of climatic changes by using manure. Remember the side that had manure did not wilt in the same way the other side did. Do not forget that you need to compost the animal manure by mixing it with grass residues. Well-decomposed composted manure does not burn the crops, but releases all the necessary nutrients to our crops and keeps moisture in the soil. Try it. Farmers need to be clever and determined. Remember our friends failed to achieve what they wanted in the first year. They did not give up, but thought of modifying the method. They decided to apply manure twice. Don’t give up.

The facts to remember are that some kinds of manure have more nutrients than others. Composted manure made from a mixture of nitrogen-fixing plants, legumes such as cowpeas, or bean leaves, groundnut leaves, leaves and animal dung is richer in nutrients. Chicken, pig and rabbit dung have higher nitrogen content than dung from cattle and goats. Do not store manure too long uncovered and exposed to rain and sun – like more than two months – before using it, because manure loses some nutrients as time goes by. For more information, ask any agricultural worker or your fellow farmer who uses manure to teach you.

Signature tune

Presenter: We have come to the end of today’s program, Farmers Parade. Until next week at 6:30 pm on Tuesday on your lovely radio station MBC, I Gladson Makowa say … endurance pays! Try manure! Beat climate change.

Signature tune up and out


Contributed by: Gladson Makowa, Story Workshop, Blantyre, Malawi.
Reviewed by: John FitzSimons, Associate Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Canada.

Organic fertilizer within easy reach

Notes to Broadcaster
Tinga is a farmer who has just been trained in the construction of a compost ditch. Bila, his cousin who likes to joke around, comes to pay him a visit while he is digging the ditch with a few members of his family. The two farmers from the village of Godin, where soil fertility has become a real concern for the inhabitants, start up a dialogue.

The phenomenon of desertification has been exacerbated by drought during the past three decades. In Sahelian countries, land is considerably degraded and rainfall has decreased. Heat and evaporation are increasingly strong. Indeed, crop yields have noticeably decreased, year after year. Today, to cope with this situation, farmers have developed new techniques. The compost ditch is one of those methods that can help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.


Words and the noise of picks and shovels

Bila: Good morning! (Joking) Don’t tell me you’re digging your grandfather’s grave? When did he leave you?

Tinga: (Joking as well) It’s really for your grandmother who’s a real old fogey. This “grave” as you call it, is going to let me nourish my land and have good harvests. Today, an offering of some chicken and dolo beer (Editor’s note: millet beer) isn’t enough for our ancestors to answer our prayers.

Bila: This looks like a crazy idea. You haven’t even finished feeding your children and you’re busy worrying about the land. Can you tell me how you intend to nourish it?

Tinga: Which one of the two of us is crazy? Our land is worn out after years of production. It has become poor. The crops are getting smaller from year to year. Access to farm inputs is more and more difficult. It rains less and less. Can’t you see what I see? The land is hungry and thirsty and can’t satisfy our needs. It is grateful to us when it is well-nourished. The land needs as much food as we can give it. Do you understand that? The compost can help the soil to better retain water and help crops to resist the droughts that are increasingly frequent.

Bila: Yes, I understand that, but I still want an answer to my question.

Noise of picks and shovels in the background

Tinga: What you think is a grave is actually a compost ditch that I am in the process of building. This ditch is going to provide me with organic fertilizer for the crops in my fields.

Bila: Tinga, I’ve always blamed you for your selfishness. If I hadn’t come by just now, I wouldn’t know anything about this ditch. Why don’t you like to share what you know with others?

Tinga: Come on, be serious. I’m talking to you about it now. And I’m very happy to be doing just that. So, to answer your question, I’m going to repeat the instructions we got from the agricultural technician who trained us. There were 25 farmers who received this training, and we are supposed to share what we learned in our villages. I am going to get everyone in the village together in the next little while and teach the technique to those who want to learn it.

Bila: Go straight to the point. Until now, you have not told me what I expect to hear.

Tinga: So, to get back to your question. To get nutrients for the soil, you dig a hole like the one you see. It has to be three metres long by three metres wide. It should be no more than one and a half metres deep. In other words, the length and width of the ditch is equal to at least three times the length of a long arm and the depth is about one and a half times the length of an arm.

You put millet stems in the hole to form the first layer. Then you add ash, household waste, and animal dung, and water. You repeat the same process until you fill the ditch. The compost must remain moist but not wet. Don’t put material such as plastic that won’t decompose into the ditch. Keep children away from the ditch to keep them safe.

Bila: What does this garbage provide for the earth?

Tinga: This garbage is going to create food for the earth. The millet stems, the household garbage, the animal dung and ash are going to decompose to become nutrients for the soil. This waste material becomes what we call organic compost, and is going to make the soil easy to till. It will allow the soil to recapture the fertility it has lost and to hold lots of water. This way we are going to nourish the earth.

Bila: So what do I get for doing all this work?

Tinga: That’s a foolish question.

Bila: You don’t have to insult me!

Tinga: (Laughter) How can you ask me what you can expect from all this work after the speech I just made? Prick up your ears and listen to me. You will have organic fertilizer in large quantities – 10 tons of it when the ditch is full – and within easy reach. Your farmlands will be more fertile, plants will flourish, and your field will provide you with large ears of maize and good seeds. You will have products with good taste and quality. Your yields will be improved. The organic fertilizer is going to considerably reduce your dependence on chemical fertilizers. It will save you money that can be used for something else. The compost ditch provides us with priceless advantages. Do you understand that?

Bila: I would surely be a fool if I said no. In my opinion, it’s a technique which can save us from a situation that is becoming more and more worrisome: the depletion of our soils. And it isn’t complicated. Tell me, when will you start the training sessions in the village? I’ll be one of the first to sign up.

Tinga: I know you will. May God watch over us!

Bila: Now that you have explained everything to me, you can get back to digging your grave. I’m on my way.

Tinga: Say hello to your grandmother, the old bag. Have a good day.

Bicycle horn


Contributed by: Adama G. Zongo, Head of Editorial Services, Head Office, Radio Rurale du Burkina.
Reviewed by: John FitzSimons, Associate Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Canada.
Proofreading: Alexis Télesphore Bagre, retired journalist.
Information sources
Toula Dialla, Head of the 50,000 compost ditches project (Ministère de l’agriculture, de l’hydraulique et des ressources halieutiques, Burkina Faso)
Serge Alfred Sedogo, Executive Secretary of the MARP/BURKINA Network
Bobodo Blaise Sawadogo, Communication on national policies with regard to climate change, January 30, 2008, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

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