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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 #123

Dear all,

As we have been away for a week, we have a number of new subscribers to welcome: Enock Balakasi and Ester Nyanja from Joy Radio Ltd, in Malawi; Rohey Bittaye, from KWT, in The Gambia; Rachael Misan-Ruppee, from Ideal Women Advancement Initiative, in Nigeria; Thomas Zulu, from Petauke Explorers Radio, in Zambia; Joerg Henkel, from NURU FM, in Tanzania; Abbas Mutumba, from Bilal FM, in Uganda; Khalifou Keita, from SODEFITEX, in Senegal; Kory Bane, from Senegal; Sylvestre Moussa Sodea, from Sawtu Linjiila, in Cameroun; Babu Lusenge, from UCG, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo et Dominique Kei, from Radio Duekoue, in Côte d’Ivoire.

In our first news story this week, we hear from Kenya about the potential of cactus as livestock fodder. Kenyan researchers suggest cactus may be a good backup fodder in times of drought. But not all farmers are convinced. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic.
From Swaziland, we present a story about an infestation of rats. Many Swazi farmers were hoping for better yields this year, but now have to find effective ways to manage the rat problem.

In West Africa, smallholder agriculture receives a boost in Sierra Leone. The President recently outlined the details of a new program. The program will give farmers the support they need to develop and earn a good living through farming, and help rebuild Sierra Leone. We’d like to hear about and share farmers’ experiences of this program as it unfolds. Remember, we are always interested to hear subscribers’ stories. You can contact us at farmradioweekly@farmradio.org.

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly Team

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In this week’s Farm Radio Weekly:

African Farm News News in review

1. Kenya: Spineless cacti have potential as dry season animal feed (IPS, SciDev.Net)

2. Swaziland: Invasion of rats destroy crops (IPS)

3. Sierra Leone: President launches Smallholders Commercialization Programme (Sierra Express Media, Awoko)

Upcoming Events

-Gender and Media Summit and Awards 2010: submission deadline September 3, 2010

Radio Resource Bank

-Loop recorder

Farm Radio Action

-Script package 91 now available!

Farm Radio Script of the Week

-Making something with nothing: The rubbish garden

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1. Kenya: Spineless cacti have potential as dry season animal feed (IPS, SciDev.Net)

Joseph Ole Morijo lost his entire herd of 152 goats and sheep after he fed them spiny cactus. So he was baffled to hear researchers proclaim recently that cactus can be used as animal fodder during a drought.

Mr. Ole Morijo is from Laikipia in the northern drylands of Kenya. He says, “It is a dangerous plant. I know it well and I have seen it ruin our livestock. It has to be eradicated completely.”

Experts from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, or KARI, studied the potential of cacti with the scientific name of Opuntia as a fodder crop. In May, they released a report which shows that if the right species of spineless cacti are selected, they offer much needed nutrition for livestock during extreme dry seasons.

Mr. Ole Morijo is not convinced that the spineless species exists, and that it is safe as fodder for his animals. “I cannot believe it until I see it,” he says.
John Kang’ara is one of the lead researchers at KARI. “There are two main types of Opuntia: those with spiny fruits, and the spineless type. Though both of them have similar nutritional value, the spiny type poses a challenge to the farmers,” he explains. “It means that if the spiny types are to be used as animal fodder, then farmers must take their time to remove the spines by burning or scraping them with a machete before feeding them to animals.”

Interest in cactus as a potential fodder plant grew after the 2008-2009 drought. Farmers in the Central Province of Kenya fed their dairy cattle on spineless cactus paddles. “Paddles” is the name for the large, leaf-like parts of the plant. The farmers did not lose any of their animals. Their cattle produced milk and bred normally.

In contrast, residents of Laikipia North say that most of their livestock that fed on spiny cacti developed internal wounds, especially in the mouth, which caused them to starve to death.

Mr. Kang’ara said that during their study, “…we noted that most farmers in Central Kenya were practicing zero grazing, making it easier for them to select safe species of the cacti for their animals. But in Laikipia where the animals were herded on the rangeland, they fed on any cacti plants they came across, including the prickly ones.”

Both spineless and spiny cacti can survive harsh climatic conditions. They multiply naturally, but in some circumstances are viewed as an invasive weed.

The researchers suggest that farmers should embrace the spineless Opuntia species. But few spineless species remain in the country. And they are getting scarcer due to high demand.

The researchers say that using plants that grow naturally in dryland areas is one of the best methods to adapt to the changing climatic conditions. Mr. Kang’ara says, “Having cacti for animal feeds will save our animals from starving to death during droughts. Sheep, for example, can survive on cacti for 500 days without supplementation of any other pasture or even water.”

KARI is funding training for farmers and extension officers on the benefits of cacti as fodder. Mr. Kang’ara says, “We need to educate communities that have already given up on cacti after the bad experience with the spiny species.”

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2. Swaziland: Invasion of rats destroy crops (IPS)

When good rains finally fell, Catherine Mngomezulu was hopeful that she would reap a bumper harvest this year. Then the rats appeared. “I don’t even have maize meal because the rats ate all the maize,” she says.

Like many others in Swaziland’s arid Lavumisa region, Mngomezulu and her family have survived on food aid since a prolonged drought hit in 1992.

At the start of the rains in September 2009, Mngomezulu and her family planted more than two hectares of maize, beans, groundnuts, sweet potatoes and cotton.

But instead of the expected 500 kilos of maize, the family harvested just 50. An invasion of rats devoured the rest.
Dr. George Ndlangamandla is the national director of agriculture. He says the government is willing to assist the people of Lavumisa to get rid of the rats. But there is no budget. “We sent officials to inspect the situation and we do appreciate that we have a problem in the affected areas,” he says. He advised the community to use traps to kill the pests.

Philip Mntshali grows vegetables nearby. He says that Dr. Ndlangamandla’s advice is like prescribing a cough mixture to a TB patient. “We’ve tried setting up traps but these rats are so many it makes no difference.” He is now placing poisonous pellets around his garden to kill the rats. But he knows that the poison might kill the birds of prey which feed on the dead rats.

“There is nothing I can do,” says Mr. Mntshali. “Government is not helping us even with technical advice on how to deal with this problem, let alone money.”

According to Nimrod Dlamini, an environmental health officer, free poisonous pellets are available at a local health centre. Mr. Dlamini says the pellets are sufficient to kill a rat. Chickens would have to eat several rats to be poisoned.

Judging by the volume of crops, clothes and other materials eaten by the rats, farmers are not exaggerating the seriousness of the problem. The many rat holes in homesteads and fields give a clear picture that rat populations are higher than usual.

Sarah Sihlongonyane is a traditional healer. “I tried to poison them using weevil tablets and while I was able to kill a few of them, the chickens ate the dead rats and died,” she says. “I stopped killing the rats and now they do as they please in my home.”

Mrs. Sihlongonyane has decided that even her indigenous knowledge cannot overcome the rats. Having a cat in the family is one method to chase them away, but Sihlongonyane said even cats are now “tired of these pests and just ignore them.”

Dr. Themba Mahlaba is with the University of Swaziland. He says that the rats may have been attracted to the area because good rains resulted in abundant food. “Rats also reproduce very fast, which is why now they are eating everything ? because they are competing for food.”

Dr. Mahlaba advised the community against the use of pesticides. He said people could end up killing other creatures and damaging the environment. “The people need to be trained on how to make community traps so that they can kill as many rats as possible,” he says.

Catherine Mngomezulu can’t quantify her loss in dollars, but said she had planted enough to sustain her family. She and her community are locking their valuables in metal trunks and gloomily anticipating another year relying on food aid.

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3. Sierra Leone: President launches Smallholders Commercialization Programme (Sierra Express Media, Awoko)

President Ernest Bai Koroma has launched the Smallholders Commercialization Programme, or SCP, in Sierra Leone. The SCP is a nationwide initiative to increase the productivity of Sierra Leone’s agricultural sector. “We want agriculture to take the lead in development in Sierra Leone; thus we must move agriculture forward because most of our people are farmers,” he stated.

The Smallholders Commercialization Programme will run from 2011 until 2014. President Koroma said that under the SCP, farmers will be fully empowered. He wants farmers in Sierra Leone to be able to live a “very comfortable life.”

The SCP will provide good road networks, fertilizer, markets, training and extension services to farmers. The Farmer Field School extension approach will be adopted, in which farmer’s knowledge and experience are used as the basis for learning.

The government will support the formation of 2,750 farmer-based organizations. They will also set up 150 Agricultural Business Centres across the country. The Centres will be equipped with cassava graters, rice mills, drying floors and telephones. Farmers will be able to use these services, and access market information.

In addition, the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute has been reformed and expanded. Research is now conducted with the involvement of farmers. This ensures that innovations are developed and made available in line with farmer’s needs.

President Koroma disclosed that his government is investing almost 10% of the national budget in the agricultural sector. He urged farmers, especially the youth, to take full advantage of the opportunity to turn around their situation. ”The provision is a real motivation to help ourselves as individuals and our country,” he added.

The full government press release on the launch of the SCP can be read here: http://www.statehouse.gov.sl/test2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=698&Itemid=1.

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Notes to broadcasters on cactus as fodder:

Different species of cactus have been used as animal fodder in dry regions around the world, from Latin America to Australia. But not all researchers agree on its usefulness. Most state that it has potential only under certain circumstances, such as drought.

The report from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) suggests that farmers should focus on using spineless cactus (Opuntia) species. These include Opuntia ficus-indica, O. vulgaris and O. leucotricha.

Cactus plants are famed for surviving in harsh conditions. They need very little moisture to survive, and often produce large plants. But Ben Lukuyu, an animal nutritionist at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, says the cactus’s low protein and dry matter content limit its use as a source of fodder to periods of extreme drought.

John Kang’ara, the lead researcher of the KARI report, says, “A cow consuming 40 kilograms of fresh cactus per day actually consumes 35 litres of water contained in the plant.” Though cactus is not a nutritionally well-balanced feed, the scientists say that this amount of water can keep an animal alive through a drought. “Under normal circumstances, a well-fed lactating cow consumes between 80 and 120 litres of water per day – depending on the size of the animal,” says Mr. Kang’ara.

Concerns have been raised that the plant will become an invasive weed. In Mexico for example, Opuntia took over wide areas of rangeland. It spreads easily and grows rapidly. Farmers need to be careful when using or planting cactus for fodder, so that it does not become unmanageable. KARI is planning to do more research on cultivation and management practices for farmers.

The full paper from KARI, which includes paragraphs on why cactus is an appropriate fodder in a changing climate, and highlights farmers’ experience with cactus in Kenya, can be read at: http://www.visbdev.net/visbdev/fe/Docs/Cactus.pdf.

Here is another article that discusses the potential of cactus as fodder: http://www.new-ag.info/focus/focusItem.php?a=340.

Background information on Opuntia, plus photos and a long species reference list, can be viewed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opuntia.

Farm Radio International has produced one script on the versatility of cactus:
The many uses of the prickly pear cactus, Package 44, Script 8, April 1997
Here is another relevant script:
Livestock management practices to cope with climate change (Package 84, Script 7, August 2008)

This news item raises the issue of using locally available resources to cope with periods of stress. During drought, animals often suffer as fodder becomes scarce. For livestock keepers as well as pastoralists, having sufficient fodder is of vital concern. If you broadcast to a dry region where cactus is common, this topic would make a good call-in or discussion program:

-What experiences do farmers have with cactus as animal fodder?
-Is it common where they live? Do they know which type or species grow locally?
-Under what circumstances would they use it as animal fodder?
-Would farmers consider growing it to use as a backup option during drought? Or is it seen as an ornamental plant, or a weed?
-Can farmers access information locally about the benefits and drawbacks of using cactus as fodder?

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Notes to broadcasters on rat outbreaks

Rats are commonly regarded as pests throughout the world. Rats and other rodents such as mice eat crops, contaminate stored food, damage buildings and possessions, and spread dangerous diseases to people and livestock.

Rats will quickly populate an area if they find food and shelter. Thus, prevention is better than cure. It is important to keep houses, gardens, storage and community areas clean and rubbish-free. Remove any materials or equipment such as boxes or containers that rats can use as shelter. Food scraps or peelings should not be left lying around, and storage areas should be checked regularly for signs of rats.

Rodents are often controlled with poisons, but this has many drawbacks. Poison can enter the food chain, killing other animals. It also poses a threat to human health, with accidental poisonings common. Rat traps are often the most effective method for controlling rats. Traps can be bought or made.

The Food and Agriculture Organization provides brief guidelines on rodent control: http://www.fao.org/docrep/t1838e/T1838E1l.htm

A new design for rat traps has been researched in South Africa: http://www.researchintouse.com/nrk/RIUinfo/PF/CPP62.htm

Here is a magazine article about managing rodents ecologically in Bangladesh: http://ileia.leisa.info/index.php?url=getblob.php&o_id=200564&a_id=211&a_seq=0

Farm Radio International has produced a number of scripts on rats and on pest control in general. Here are three which look more specifically at rats:
Dealing with Rats (Package 61, Script 11, October 2001)
When Rats Gain, Farmers Lose: How to Store Grain Properly (Package 66, Script 3, March 2003)
A farmer uses jatropha to protect his young oil palm seedlings from rodents (Package 90, Script 6, April 2010)

Perhaps you would like to develop a radio program about rodent infestation and control. Here are some questions you could raise:

-Which rodents are common in the region?

-Do they cause damage to houses and crops throughout the year? Or are they worse in a particular season? If so, why?
-How are rat and mice populations controlled at the moment? Are current methods adequate? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the methods used?
-What is done to prevent infestation? Could more be done? Do farmers or communities see current preventive measures as effective in controlling rat populations?

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Gender and Media Summit and Awards 2010: submission deadline September 3, 2010

The fourth Gender and Media Summit will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 2010. The summit will share best practices in creating a media that is more responsive to gender and diversity concerns. The main theme of the summit is Media, Diversity and Change: Taking Stock. The meeting takes place against the backdrop of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development that calls for gender parity within the media, as well as equal voice and fair treatment of women and men in editorial content by 2015.

The summit features the Southern African Gender and Media Awards. Journalists can submit work on the theme of the summit until 1700h, September 3. There are eight main categories, including community radio, radio, print and investigative journalism.

The criteria for the awards include:
• Gender balance of sources (voices)
• Awareness of differential impact on women and men
• Fairness in approach to issue
• Challenges stereotypes
• Simple, accessible, gender-sensitive language
• Use of gender-disaggregated data

Criteria for submissions:
• All work submitted must have been produced between 1 June 2008 and 31 July 2010
• Only individual submissions are allowed
• Each individual can make a maximum of three submissions in any category
• All submissions must be original
• Submissions may be in English, French, or Portuguese
• Only community media may submit in indigenous languages.

Winners in all categories will receive prize money and a trophy. They will also be invited to attend the Gender and Media Summit and Awards.
For more details about the Summit, the Awards, and for application forms, see:

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Loop recorder

The Loop Recorder is a piece of software which can be downloaded to a PC. With it, broadcasters and other users can record songs from the internet or conventional radio, microphone or other sound sources. It is easy and simple to use, and does not slow down the PC.

Users can download a free trial version. Registering for a full version costs Euros 24.95, or US$ 29.95 outside the EU.

The Loop Recorder incorporates Windows Media runtimes to allow users to save recordings in Windows Media™ format. This is not necessary if Windows Media Player 9 (or better) is already installed. The Loop Recorder is compatible with many common PCs.

There is also a “small version” of Loop Recorder, for users with a slow internet connection.

For more details and to download a free trial version, go to: http://www.looprecorder.de/download.php.

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Script package 91 now available!

We would like to announce that script package 91 is now available online. This package focuses on soil health.

Soil is the foundation of farming. When farmers take care of the soil and ensure that it’s healthy, the farm will be more likely to provide the food and income that is needed. Two central ways to support soil health are to ensure that soil is fertile, and to ensure that soil is protected from erosion. This script package contains seven scripts that explore these two critical aspects of soil health. It also features an issue pack on soil health and a script on malaria during pregnancy.

The newsletter, Voices, continues our focus on soil health in its feature article, then moves on to offer profiles of individuals involved in AFRRI and the Ghana Community Radio Network. As well as our regular highlight on useful resources for broadcasters, this edition of Voices summarizes a range of agricultural programs broadcast by several of our broadcasting partners.

The scripts and the newsletter can be viewed and downloaded online here: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/.

We hope that you use all the materials in this package to create interesting, informative, participatory and entertaining radio programs!

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Making something with nothing: The rubbish garden

Our news story from Swaziland this week looks at what can happen when a community suffers from an infestation of rats. One way to prevent this from happening is to keep gardens and houses free from all rubbish. But what you may think of as rubbish could be seen by others as a useful resource!

In a script from our latest script package on soil health, we hear how household and kitchen waste can be put to good use. Burying certain types of rubbish keeps it away from rats, and can also improve soil fertility. Women in a community in South Africa found out how burying rubbish helped improve their food security.

The script is available at the following address: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/91-6script_en.asp

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