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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 #125


We are happy to welcome the latest group of new subscribers: Steven Morris from Okapi consulting, in Kenya ; Damian Njoku, from Wacci Ghana & NRCRI Umudike Nigeria, in Nigeria ; Martin Mwape from Breeze FM, in Zambia Edouard Ake Nongbe from Precal, in Côte d’Ivoire, Lazare Tagro Gbehazaud from the NGO applomd, in Côte d’Ivoire as well as Mariam Daou and Oumou Coulibaly from Radio Fanaka, in Mali.

The second in our series of stories on soil health comes from Armel Gentien, a guest writer who works for the Food and Agricultural Organization in Madagascar. Slash and burn agriculture used to be common in the country, but practices are now changing. Farmers discuss their experiences planting shrubs across slopes to conserve soil. They are reaping the benefits of this practice.

Our second story this week was also written especially for Farm Radio Weekly. Emily Arayo works with Farm Radio International’s African Farm Radio Research Initiative in Uganda. She was in Kapchorwa District recently and was struck by how residents value their donkeys for the multiple tasks they perform.

In our final story we bring news that scientists have developed a biotechnological method to beat bacterial wilt in bananas. They have transferred genes from green peppers into bananas. The resulting plants have shown resistance to wilt in laboratory tests. However, field trials and further experimentation are needed. It will be some time before farmers can plant the wilt-resistant crops. As they are genetically modified, this has fuelled discussion about the appropriateness of such technology.

Our script of the week complements the soil health story, by looking in detail at how to make contour ridges. Entitled Do not bite the finger that feeds you: Protecting valuable upland soil, you can find the link by scrolling below.

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly Team

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In this week’s Farm Radio Weekly:

African Farm News in Review

1. Madagascar: Improving soil health and fertility with agroecology (by Armel Gentien, FAO, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Madagascar)

2. Uganda: Mountain dwellers value their donkeys (by Emily Arayo, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Uganda)

3. Global: Fighting banana wilt with green peppers (IITA, IPS, Syfia Great Lakes)

Upcoming Events

-Global Media Awards: Deadline September 7, 2010

Radio Resource Bank

-Top ten tips for using social media in radio

Farm Radio Action

-Farm Radio International’s scriptwriting course draws record number of participants!

Farm Radio Script of the Week

-Do not bite the finger that feeds you: Protecting valuable upland soil

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1. Madagascar: Improving soil health and fertility with agroecology (by Armel Gentien, FAO, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Madagascar)

The Moïse family in Nosibe, Madagascar, used to grow only rice and cassava. Mr. Moïse says, “We were tired of working without obtaining anything. Thanks to the new technique, the yield is higher, and we sell the surplus on the local market.”

As part of their new farming technique, the family plants flemingia on the contour lines which cross their sloping land. They grow a variety of crops between the lines of flemingia, a plant known in some regions as crotolaria. These hillsides are known as “agroecological sites,” or sites de production intégrés in French.

Mr. Moïse lives in the Fénérive region of eastern Madagascar. Since 2004, he and many other farmers have been working with the Program for Promotion of Rural Income. The program is run by IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The land here is hilly, with little flat land. Farmers cultivate their crops on the slopes. They typically practice slash and burn, known locally as tavy. A farmer in Anjahambe explains slash and burn, “We clear the land, then we sow the crops. When the soil doesn’t produce more, we will look for another piece of land. We will leave the land as set-aside for five to six years before coming back to cultivate it again.”

But habits are changing. One farmer from Namantoana says, “Slash and burn cultivation doesn’t bring anything. It is the tradition, but the soil becomes hard and uncultivable.” Another farmer, Mr. Bezoky Pierre, adds, “It’s a bad habit inherited from our ancestors.”

Governments have enacted laws against slash and burn over the last 50 years. But farmers change their practices slowly.

The agroecological sites are an alternative. They improve both soil fertility and farmers’ quality of life. Mr. Raherilalao is an agronomist. He explains, “These sites are set up on the slopes. We control erosion by planting a strip of flemingia along the contour lines.”

The flemingia is pruned twice a year. The prunings are applied to the soil as mulch. This adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Flemingia also contributes to better soil structure through the action of its roots. Mr. Raherilalao continues, “We rotate vegetable crops, like bean, cucumber and onions. On lower and upper slopes we plant clove and coffee.” Farmers grow eucalyptus or acacia at the top of the slopes to keep the soil in place. These trees can also be used for firewood and construction.

A farmer in nearby Anjahambe states that his yield is ten times higher than before. He uses guano, an organic fertilizer which comes from bat droppings. He says, “A traditional cassava plant usually produced between three to five kilograms on this land. Now with the advice of the project, the organic fertilizer, and better fertility and grafting, the yield of this plant has reached up to 50 kilograms!”

Now that farmers protect their soils and add organic matter and nutrients, soil fertility has increased. Farmers can settle in one area. Many have stopped practicing slash and burn.

With a greater variety of food and higher yields, families eat well and sell their surplus on the local market. Mr. Bezoky says, “The difference is huge!” He explains that his annual income was around 200,000 Ariary (about 80 Euros or 95 American dollars). But today he earns two million Ariary a year (800 Euros or 950 American dollars). He acknowledges that without advice from the program, his income would never reach this figure.

However, some problems remain. The Moïse family indicates that, “Fertilizers are expensive. Without the project funding, we could never buy it.” In addition, Mr. Moïse says, “These techniques require more work, even though they bring a higher income.”

The project ends in 2012. It is not clear what farmers will do then. They are dependent on the project to buy improved seeds and fertilizer for them. There are no input suppliers nearby. But the project is planning to establish a seed and fertilizer supplier in the area. It will also connect farmers to microfinance institutions. Then the system of farming agroecological sites can continue.

The farmers believe in the future. An Anjahambe farmer says, “When you see the yield difference thanks to the agroecological site, you can be totally impressed. I’m satisfied with the project and I will continue this technique for the rest of my life!”

For more information and resources on compost and soil fertility, please refer to the Soil Health Issue Pack, July 2010: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/91-9script_en.asp.

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2. Uganda: Mountain dwellers value their donkeys (by Emily Arayo, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Uganda)

Life in Kapchorwa District, Uganda is incomplete without donkeys. Donkeys have become a prime asset for many families. Farmers rely on them for transport, security and farming. The animals can even predict changes in the weather.

Tiyoy Solomon is a 65-year-old smallholder farmer and donkey trainer. Donkeys have been part of his life since he was a child. Mr. Solomon lives in Kwosir village, Binyiny sub-county. The village borders the conservation area around Mount Elgon. This is a hilly and rocky area. Its fertile soils make it the food basket of Uganda.

Mr. Solomon explains some of the tasks donkeys perform in Kapchorwa. “Without a donkey we cannot carry luggage downhill. We use the donkeys to carry as much firewood as we can because we can only go to the forest once a week. Our women use the donkeys a lot for domestic chores.” A donkey can carry up to one third of its own weight and can walk uphill for 15 kilometres.

But donkeys are not only used to carry things. They have become items in the bride wealth used for traditional marriage ceremonies. Jafari Kamwaina, a local resident, confirms the importance of a donkey to the community. “My father-in-law asked me to offer him a donkey as part of the bride wealth,” he recounts.

Chepkrui Immaculate owns a herd of seven donkeys. She watches her donkeys carefully for signs that the weather is changing. She notices that when a donkey drinks lots of water and passes little urine, the dry season is approaching. When donkeys raise their ears in the direction of the wind, “This is a sign that the rains are near,” says Ms. Immaculate.

Donkeys plough fields just like oxen. Ms. Immaculate says, “In fact, the donkeys are faster and swifter than bull oxen, which sometimes drag themselves because of the heavy body weight.”

Donkeys also alert villagers to strange movements or unwelcome visitors. They stamp the ground or make shrill braying noises. Mr. Solomon finds this useful: “At night they can alert [us that] strangers are coming to a homestead.”

Useful as they are, donkeys require good treatment, just like any livestock. Simon Nyangas is an agricultural extension officer in Kapchorwa District. He says, “They require de-worming just like goats, spraying against ticks, loading with appropriate weight and good feeding. They do well with shrubs and ample drinking water.”

Above all, a donkey needs to be trained. “Donkeys that are not well trained … get angry and kick their victims,” says Mr. Nyangas. He explains that once a donkey has been loaded with luggage and directed down a specific track, it does not need to be directed for the second time.

In this hilly region of Uganda, donkeys are invaluable. Says Ms. Immaculate: “There is no household that does not use a donkey. If they do not have one, they borrow from their neighbours.

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3. Global: Fighting banana wilt with green peppers (IITA, IPS, Syfia Great Lakes)

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, also known as IITA, recently announced that it has made a “significant step” towards engineering resistance to bacterial wilt in bananas.

Scientists transferred genes from green peppers into bananas. The transformed bananas have shown strong resistance to bacterial wilt in the laboratory and in screenhouses.

Dr. Leena Tripathi, a biotechnologist with IITA, warns that while this is a breakthrough in the fight against bacterial wilt, there is still a long way to go before farmers can plant the transgenic bananas.

Bacterial wilt was first reported in Uganda in 2001, then spread to East and Central Africa. The disease causes the plant to wither and rot. In North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, banana production has dropped by 90%, according to Action Against Hunger, an international aid organization. Millions of farmers in the Great Lakes region depend on bananas as their staple food and as a significant part of their livelihoods. Since 2001, scientists have been trying to find a variety of banana which is resistant to wilt.

The Ugandan National Biosafety Committee has granted approval for field trials of the transformed banana in Uganda. Scientists from IITA, the National Agricultural Research Organization of Uganda, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation will soon begin confined field trials.

There is, however, some opposition to the development and use of such genetically modified crops. Friends of the Earth Nigeria takes a strong stance against genetically modified organisms in Africa. Mariann Bassey coordinates the organization’s Food Sovereignty and Agrofuels program. She says that ecological agriculture has fed mankind for thousands of years, and improvements have been achieved through knowledgeable handling of seeds. The organization believes that seed diversity and sustainable farming are key to meeting food needs. They maintain that genetically modified organisms are a direct threat to the environment and run contrary to the goal of African food sovereignty. Ms. Bassey states, “We do not want GMOs under any form or guise. Africa can feed itself.”

Dr. Tripathi says that there are presently no commercial chemicals, biocontrol agents, or resistant varieties that could control the spread of wilt. She emphasizes that developing a resistant banana through conventional breeding would be extremely difficult. It would take years, even decades, given the sterile nature and long gestation period of the crop.

Farmers can take steps themselves to help control the spread of bacterial wilt. They can sterilize their tools with bleach or fire. They can also remove the male bud, known as de-budding. Farmers should uproot and destroy infected plants and their suckers. Any new infections should be reported. These practices have also been found effective in preventing the disease.

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Notes to broadcasters on donkey:

Donkeys are a common sight in many parts of Africa, and are most often used for carrying loads. This story, however, shows they have many more uses. They are valuable assets to a farming family, and not only in mountainous areas.

The donkey is a herbivorous animal and the smallest member of the horse family. Young donkeys are called foals. A young male is a colt and a young female a filly. Adult female donkeys are known as jennies and adult males as jacks.

Donkeys can be affectionate animals. They enjoy company, and need companions or they will become depressed. Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn, but this can be changed with good training. If they sense danger or become afraid, they may refuse to move.

Donkeys can live to 35 years of age or more. However, in Africa it is more common for donkeys to have a lifespan of around 10 years. The donkey’s favorite pastime is rolling in earth.

Some basic facts on donkeys can be found here: http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agap/frg/Draught/chap122/chap122.pdf

More information on using donkeys as pack animals is available here: http://practicalaction.org/practicalanswers/product_info.php?products_id=213

For using donkeys as animal traction, this is useful information: http://www.atnesa.org/donkeyworkshop.htm

And here is an interesting story of how donkeys are used as mobile libraries: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/a-13-2008-07-30-voa13-66672542.html

Farm Radio International has produced a number of scripts related to livestock and draught power. Here is a selection:

-Appropriate farming tools for African women farmers. (Package 82, Script 7, November 2007)


-Protect your Livestock in Times of Emergency. (Package 64, Script 3, July 2002)


-Radio Spots About Livestock Health. (Package 63, Script 2, April 2002)


This Farm Radio Weekly news story reported on the increase in use of draught animals:

Africa: High food, fuel costs make draught power more appealing (Issue 29, July 2008)

Donkeys are often overlooked or undervalued. You may wish to run a feature show that explores how they are used and their value to a family. You could look at:

-Have farmers in this region used donkeys for plowing? What experiences with this can farmers share? What local resources are available to help farmers interested in experimenting with donkeys as draught animals?
-Is raising a donkey costly? Are they easy to look after?

-How has using a donkey increased a family’s income? For example, are farmers able to get more produce to market? What other benefits or uses do they have?

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Notes to broadcasters on bacterial wilt :

Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), also referred to as bacterial wilt or banana wilt, was first identified 40 years ago in Ethiopia. It is now common in key banana-growing countries, including Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. The disease kills banana plants and spreads easily via insects, infected tools and through planting infected suckers. Infected plants and plant parts should be destroyed. BXW is a real threat to banana production.

Scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, or IITA, have successfully transferred proteins from the green pepper plant into banana in a search for resistance to bacterial wilt. Dr. Leena Tripathi is research head at IITA. She says, “The Hrap and Pflp genes work by rapidly killing the cells that come into contact with the disease-spreading bacteria, essentially blocking it from spreading any further.” Transformed bananas, infused with Pflp or Hrap proteins, have shown strong resistance to BXW in the laboratory and in screenhouses, according to IITA.

This kind of genetic modification is a controversial topic. Those in favour claim it is a vital tool to secure food for future populations, and that there is little risk to human health. Those against genetic modification of plants state that the risks are unknown, that modified plants are a threat to the environment, that viable alternatives exist, and that research funds should be used in other ways.  Opponents of genetically modified crops often see the biotechnology industry as a threat to food sovereignty.  For more information on genetic modification, refer to Notes to broadcasters on GMOs from 2009 at http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/02/23/notes-to-broadcasters-on-gmos-2/.

Extensive information on Banana Xanthomonas wilt can be accessed here: http://platforms.inibap.org/xanthomonaswilt/

This poster gives brief, clear information on bacterial wilt, together with photos and advice to farmers on how to control it: http://www.cialca.org/files/files/extension_materials/bxw_english.pdf

Farm Radio Weekly has reported on banana diseases before. From Uganda, this story relates Mary Kibutayi’s experience in controlling the disease:

Cassava stems are a simple solution to devastating banana diseases. Issue 81, September 2009.

This story relates how farmers have used mobile phones to access information about banana diseases:

Text messages are new weapon in fight against banana disease. Issue 62, April 2009.

These Farm Radio International scripts describe what farmers can do to avoid the disease:

Farmers Try to Beat a Virulent Disease.Package 81, Script 6, August 2007

Recommendations for managing bacterial wilt in bananas for Eastern Africa. Package 71, Script 2, June 2004

If you broadcast to an area where banana diseases are common, you might consider preparing a call-in or text-in show to get reactions to the claim that a genetically modified banana may be the solution to banana Xanthomonas wilt disease. Here are some suggested questions to get the discussion going:

-To what degree have farmers been affected by wilt? How have they coped with it? Have they managed to control it? How?

-Do farmers and/or extension staff welcome a genetically modified crop as the answer to this disease? Are they aware of the discussions surrounding genetically modified plants? Where do they get their information on genetically modified plants?

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Global Media Awards: Deadline September 7, 2010

The Population Institute is running its annual Global Media Awards program, and the deadline for entries is September 7th. The program is a global competition that encourages participation from individuals and organizations in all continents and regions.

The aim of the awards is to encourage high standards of journalism on issues related to population. The awards serve to educate policymakers and opinion leaders about the impacts of population growth, and the benefits of ensuring that all women have access to family planning and reproductive health services.

The Global Media Awards are awarded in a range of categories, including Best Radio Show, Best Article and Best Broadcast Commentary. Eligible works must have been published or aired between September 1, 2009 and August 31, 2010. Winners will receive their awards at a dinner in San Francisco, United States, with all expenses paid.

Entries will be evaluated on their potential to educate and inform on issues related to population growth. The jury will score entries on several criteria. Is the program reporting:

  • Accurate and fair?
  • Easily understood by the targeted audience?
  • Offering a new or enhanced perspective on the subject of population?
  • Relevant to the public policy debate on population or public understanding of issues related to population?
  • Well-presented?

For more guidelines on entries and categories, and for details on how to submit, please visit: http://www.populationinstitute.org/newsroom/news/view/33/.

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Farm Radio International’s scriptwriting course draws record number of participants

Farm Radio International’s online scriptwriting course is now well underway. The free, 10-week course on writing scripts about healthy communities commenced on August 16th. This year, we are pleased to announce that the number of participants has almost doubled to 419 people! They are already busy with their assignments, and active in online forums discussing their work, sharing ideas and even recipes!

One participant, Gilbert Kedia, from Mount Cameroon FM Radio Station, Buea, Cameroon, described his feelings as he began the course: “I had this fear of not braving it to the end. When everyone started introducing themselves, I started dreaming of a situation where new friends will be made and kept. I also will like [to] see how much experience I can gain in writing acceptable scripts. I’m dreaming, and I’m loving it.”

Everyone who completes the training course will receive a Sansa MP3-player. Broadcasters can use this little device in the field to record interviews with farmers and other community members.

The free distance training course was first offered last year as part of the radio scriptwriting competition on smallholder farmer innovation. Last year’s course was applauded by African broadcasters across the continent:

“Bravo to the hard-working facilitators. Your work was highly exceptional to me because of your personal time you devoted to this training for the past two months. I am now extending what I have learned to other colleagues at our community.”

– Jefferson Massah from Radio Gbarnga in central Liberia

“I am writing to confirm that I have received a Certificate and a Sansa Player from Farm Radio International. I am so grateful about your keeping to your word. It is indeed a confirmation of your kind dedication to our welfare and smallholders as whole. I shall particularly continue working in the same line for the betterment of this very important population.”

-Robinson Wikana Mukangayi, Shinyalu Community Telecentre, Kakamega, Kenya.

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Do not bite the finger that feeds you: Protecting valuable upland soil

This week’s story on soil health describes how farmers plant trees across slopes to protect their soil. The lines of shrubs must be level; that is, they must be planted at the same height on the contour. The lines are therefore known as contour lines. Making sure you plant trees in this way is not as complicated as it might sound.

The script of the week is from Malawi, and contains a lot of detail on how to make contour lines. Simple equipment will suffice. By taking a few straightforward steps, and following the characters in the script, farmers can soon mark contour lines on their land. The time taken to make a contour line, and plant trees or shrubs along it, is a valuable investment, as the farmers from Madagascar discover. We hope you find the script useful!

You can read the script here: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/91-4script_en.asp.

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