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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 #158

Solar power brightens lives

Over the next few weeks, we will run a series of stories on energy. Energy for cooking, lighting and powering small businesses can be hard to come by in rural areas. Only 2% of Africans have access to national electricity networks, and the majority of rural households still depend on natural resources such as firewood or charcoal for cooking. This week we present two stories about how solar energy has transformed lives.

Our third story brings news from a meeting in Uganda, where farmers’ groups voiced their concerns about the use of genetically modified seeds.

Don’t forget to vote for the name of the new broadcasters’ online community! Read more in the Action section below.

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Kenya: Solar energy brings opportunities to rural Kenya (AlertNet)

Producing electricity from the local waterfall was once just a dream for two farming communities on the fertile lower slopes of Mount Kenya. But thanks to a local initiative backed by U.N. cash and know-how, it is now a reality.

Kibae and Kiangombe are located 150 kilometres north of the capital Nairobi on opposite banks of the Mukengeria River. Farmers in the area grow fruit and vegetables on a small scale. Like many rural communities in Kenya, neither village has access to the national power grid.

Eager to harness power from the waterfall, villagers started the project by building a weir and powerhouse. But without a turbine, the work was in vain. The cost of a turbine put it beyond the villagers’ reach. On hearing the story from a local representative, the Kenyan government asked the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, or UNIDO, to help.

Alexander Varghese is UNIDO’s Kenya representative, and an expert in renewable energy. He says, “We were amazed with their innovation and the effort they put in place to set up the energy [supply].” UNIDO stepped in with two turbines, solar panels and technical expertise. The villages now run the energy project as a co-operative, in collaboration with UNIDO.

The community power centre was inaugurated in 2008. It is Kenya’s first hybrid zero-emission power centre, and uses a mix of hydropower and solar energy. The centre has brought cheap and climate-friendly power to the villages. Lives and incomes have improved.

An energy kiosk in Kibae stores and sells electricity produced by the project. It promotes the use of LED lamps to replace the smoky kerosene lamps that caused health problems, particularly among women and children.

Salome Njoka is a farmer and mother of six children. She says the kiosk and her energy-saving lamp have improved her life: “I use one lamp and I take it to the energy kiosk for charging once a week. I have saved a lot of money and the lamps are convenient to use.”

Mrs. Njoka used to buy 10 litres of kerosene each month, at a cost of about 700 Kenyan shillings or eight US dollars. Today she pays just 20 Kenyan shillings (around 25 cents) per charging session, or 300 shillings (three and a half dollars) per month.

Njoka’s children regularly suffered eye problems and respiratory illnesses with the kerosene lamps, resulting in frequent trips to the health centre 30 kilometres away. She says, “Since I started using the new lamps, the problems have disappeared and my hospital visits have reduced.”

Opportunities are multiplying now that the village has a power supply. Jeremiah Wangombe is a 60-year-old farmer in Kibae. He explains, “The energy project has offered employments to many youths in these two villages. They work in the maize mill, poultry hatchery, fruit extracting plant, and at the community centre where locals get market information.”

Kenya’s government, worried by worsening droughts and climate change, is now supporting a variety of renewable energy projects. UNIDO says that projects in rural areas, where only 10 percent of the population have access to electricity, could be particularly important. Mr. Varghese says that UNIDO hopes to fund further projects like the one in Kibae.

For more information on UNIDO’s Community Power Centres initiative in Kenya, visit: http://www.unido.org/index.php?id=4983

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Senegal: Women solar engineers brighten Senegal (AlertNet)

Screwdriver in hand, Doussou Konaté unscrews a broken solar lantern. She patiently cross-checks the cables. And within a few moments, it is fixed. Mrs. Konaté has never attended school. But two years ago she was one of seven Senegalese women who travelled to India to be trained as a solar power engineer at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan.

Power outages occur regularly in Senegal. They have even triggered street riots in cities.

But when darkness falls in the small village of Keur Simbara, 76 kilometres from Dakar, the lights come on. Mrs. Konaté, a 57-year-old mother of six, is known locally as the “light woman.” With a bright smile, she says, “When night falls, everybody lights up their lamp and you can go anywhere you wish because everything is clear. It is just wonderful.”

After six months in India, Mrs. Konaté returned to set up domestic lighting in Keur Simbara and the neighbouring village of Keur Daouda. Fifty households have now been equipped with solar panels, a fixed lamp, a solar lantern, an LED flashlight and a plug for charging cell phones. The system provides four hours of electricity per day. Neither village has ever been connected to the national power grid.

Mrs. Konaté explains the benefits of electricity: “This is very important for the children who go to school. Before, they had to hurry to do their homework while the sun was still up. or study using candles and torches. But now they can study at any time of the day, even at night.”

But the benefits of the light Mrs. Konaté has brought to her community go beyond the power of electricity. Villagers say her new skills have enlightened many about the importance of equal access to education for girls and boys, particularly in science and technology.

Demba Diawara is the chief of Keur Simbara. He says, “It shows that what is important is not whether a person is a man or woman; it is their motivation, dedication and confidence in achieving what they set out to obtain.” He adds, “That is why education is valuable for boys and for girls.”

Each household participating in the solar electrification scheme pays a monthly fee, half of which pays for maintenance of the solar panels and lanterns. Mrs. Konaté, who used to be a housewife and subsistence millet farmer, now has a regular monthly income of about $60.

Tostan is the non-governmental organization that is implementing the solar project in Senegal. Khalidou Sy is Tostan’s national coordinator. He says, “Five other women are getting set to travel to India to become solar power engineers. [They will] return to their communities to train other women, and there will be electricity everywhere.”

For more information on Tostan’s solar power project, visit:


To read more about Mrs. Konaté, visit:


The website of the Barefoot College in India:


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Uganda: Farmers’ groups reject genetically engineered seed (Daily Monitor)

Participants in a meeting of farmers’ groups in Mukono, Uganda strongly rejected the use of genetically modified seeds. The farmers stated that genetically modified seed is detrimental to indigenous seed stock. They noted that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are not the solution to the food challenges in Uganda or in Africa, but instead pose more problems.

In October last year, researchers in Uganda and Kenya were given the go ahead to plant trials of genetically modified maize. Ugandan researchers have been working to develop GM banana varieties which are resistant to bacterial wilt. Genetically modified cotton is also being tested in Serere and Kasese in Uganda, with plans underway for trials of cassava, rice and sweet potato.

The meeting of farmers’ groups in May was organized by PELUM Uganda, a network of Ugandan NGOs that work to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. The joint statement prepared by the farmers groups states, “The protection and preservation of indigenous/traditional seed is fundamental in ensuring food security.” Farmers are concerned that by growing GM crops, ownership of seed will be transferred from farmers’ hands to private companies. GM seeds make the small-scale farmers dependent on the seed producer by not allowing them to replant harvested seeds, which has been the traditional practice for generations. Farmers are also uncertain about the safety and potential environmental impacts of GM crops.

Mr. Robert Tumwesigye is the director of Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda. He said GMO trials in Uganda were done in a hurry and haphazardly. The absence of a law to regulate the technology did not make matters any better. He says, “GMOs have come, but they are a false hope [for] food security.”

Although farmers make up 80% of Uganda’s population, they face an uphill task to reverse the trend among scientists and government in favour of GMOs. Farmers also know that GMOs are promoted by multinational companies with commercial interests.

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher is a researcher with Econexus, a UK-based organization which analyzes the impact of scientific developments on environment and society. She said, “There is no need for GM in agriculture, as breeding combined with innovative and agricultural practices are better equipped to meet the challenges ahead.” She notes that conventional plant breeding has already produced drought-tolerant maize, vitamin A-rich millet and flood-tolerant rice. She adds, “And agro-ecological practices like organic practices with multiple cropping have shown that yield can be up to double without using any agrochemical inputs.”

Mr. Tumwesigye is concerned about the lack of regulations regarding use of GMOs, and the lack of protection for farmers, should any problems arise. He advises, “To avoid the impending catastrophe, the government should take caution before introducing GMOs.”

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Notes to broadcasters on solar energy

Access to electricity can provide significant socio-economic, health and environmental benefits, such as new income-generating opportunities, better illumination for school-related studying, extended productive hours in the home, and reduced indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Yet only 2% of rural Africans have access to the grid. The sun is a source of free, clean and renewable energy, and solar power is plentiful in Africa. Many businesses and aid organizations promote solar power, and some governments are also embracing and supporting the technology. But solar panels can be expensive to install. The challenge is to find forms of solar power which are both useful and affordable for rural people. Examples might include solar-powered radios, solar-powered battery chargers, and solar-powered lamps. The stories featured this week provide two answers to the challenge of solar power for rural communities.

Organizations working on solar power include:

Lighting Africa – a joint World Bank and International Finance Program initiative aiming to bring modern off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africa by 2012. Read how they intend to do it here: http://www.lightingafrica.org/

SolarAid is an NGO working in rural areas across East and Southern Africa: http://solar-aid.org/

Practical Action’s webpage on solar power has links to further resources: http://www.practicalaction.org/solar_power

This diagram contains some interesting facts and figures about electricity supply and use in Africa: http://www.good.is/post/african-electricity-and-renewable-energy/

Here are some recent features and stories from Kenya and Senegal about solar power in rural areas:

Senegalese Villages Turn to Solar Power http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Senegalese-Villages-Turning-to-Solar-Power-121635729.html

-Kenya: African Huts Far From the Grid Glow With Renewable Power


And finally, here are some discussion pieces about the future of solar power in Africa: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/01/a-solar-strategy-for-africa



Farm Radio International has produced one script on solar power:

-SolarAid’s micro solar project in rural Tanzania: Tremendous solar energy potential. Package 87, Script 6, April 2009. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/87-6script_en.asp

These stories may inspire you to research the use and potential of solar power in your region. You could start by finding out how far the electrical grid penetrates into rural areas in your region. Find out whether this electrical supply is reliable. Which areas have little or no electricity? Ask residents what difference electricity would make in their lives. Contact local NGOs and talk to local businesses that use solar power or sell solar-powered devices. Investigate the different needs of urban and rural populations, and seek suggestions on how these needs are being or could be met.

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Notes to broadcasters on genetically modified crops

Genetically modified crops are slowly making their way into Africa. Kenya, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt have biotechnology laws that allow the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops.

But the debate is still deeply divided. While those in favour of biotechnology are convinced that GM crops will help guarantee food supplies, even in times of drought, many people argue against their use, maintaining that the impact of GM crops on human health and the environment is still unknown. Also, farmers may lose control over seed with the introduction of GM crops, which many see as a threat to food security in general.

For more information on PELUM Uganda, visit: http://www.pelumuganda.org/index.php
Here are some recent news stories from East Africa on the rise of GM crops:
-Uganda, Tanzania for GM crops http://busiweek.com/11/news/uganda/879-uganda-tanzania-for-gm-crops
-Uganda starts ’historic’ trials on GM staple crops http://www.rss.scidev.net/en/news/uganda-starts-historic-trials-on-gm-staple-crops.html

-Kenya: Consider access to seeds before embracing GMOs http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/agriculture/InsidePage.php?id=2000034513&cid=465&story=Consider+access+to+seeds+before+embracing+GMOs

-Kenyan Farmers Root for Organic http://www.africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2832&Itemid=2

Here are some recent stories about GM crops from Farm Radio Weekly:
-Burkina Faso: Organic cotton under threat from GM cotton (FRW 152, April 2011)http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/04/11/burkina-faso-organic-cotton-under-threat-from-gm-cotton-by-inoussa-maiga-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-burkina-faso/
-East Africa: Field trials of GM maize to begin (FRW 132, October 2010) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/10/25/east-africa-field-trials-of-gm-maize-to-begin-reuters-peace-fm-online-new-agriculturist/
-Kenya: Groups protest import of GM maize (FRW 109, May 2010) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/05/03/3-kenya-farmers%E2%80%99-groups-protest-import-of-gm-maize-business-daily-daily-nation-kenya-biodiversity-coalition-food-first/
-Kenya: Kibaki gives seal of approval on biosafety law for the production and use of genetically modified crops (FRW 56, February 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/02/23/2-kenya-kibaki-gives-seal-of-approval-on-biosafety-law-for-the-production-and-use-of-genetically-modified-crops-scidevnet-the-nation-africa-science-news-service/

You may wish to produce a program looking at the issues surrounding genetic modification of seeds and use of GM crops in your country. Be sure to present the information in clear and simple language. Try to get a wide range of opinions and use call-ins and text-ins to include farmers. If you are interested in researching a story, you may wish to consider the following questions:
-What laws has your country enacted to regulate biosafety and biosecurity?
-What information about GM seeds is available in your area? Who provides this information?
-How much do farmers know about GM seeds? Where do they get their information from?
-Would farmers consider planting genetically modified seeds? Would they prefer this to experimenting with conventionally-bred improved varieties?
-Which NGOs, industry groups, or other organizations in your area advocate for or against GMOs?

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Upcoming course: Writing and Reporting News

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is offering bursaries to journalists from the developing world to attend a five-day course called “Writing and Reporting News.” The course will take place on October 10-14, 2011, in London, U.K.

Applicants must currently be working as journalists or regular contributors to broadcast media organizations. They must be able to demonstrate a commitment to careers in journalism in their countries, have at least two years’ professional experience and have a good level of spoken and written English.

The deadline for applications is June 23. For more information and to apply online, visit: http://www.reuterslink.org/courses/WRN_London_Oct11.htm

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‘Growing a better future’ report and campaign

Oxfam, a major international NGO, has released a new report called “Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world.” The report is based on new research and contains many interesting facts and figures about the global food system. It describes why the current food system is failing and suggests how the world can attain a “new prosperity.” The sections on “The sustainable production challenge” and “A new agricultural future” in the full report are of particular interest for those involved in agriculture or broadcasting to farmers.

The report marks the launch of a major new four-year campaign entitled GROW. According to the Oxfam website, the campaign’s message is “Another future is possible, and we can build it together.”

For more details on the campaign: http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/

Access specific chapters of the report here: http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/reports/growing-better-future

Download the full report here (3.7 MB): http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/growing-a-better-future-010611-en.pdf

Download a summary report here (573 KB): http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/growing-a-better-future-010611-summ-en.pdf

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The names are in! Now it’s time to vote for your favourite.

Last week, we asked you to suggest names for our new online community of rural radio broadcasters, now being developed. We’d like to thank those of you that responded to the call. Many interesting names were suggested. We have picked six of the most creative suggestions. Now, we are asking you to choose your favourite one from this list of six.

The six names are:

1 – Barza: A Kiswahili word which means “the place where eminent persons in a village met under a tree to talk and sort out questions concerning the community.” Barza is a symbol of unity and reconciliation. Without discrimination, members of the online community are now part of one worldwide barza.

2 – The Granary: In many African communities, this is where food was or is kept. The online community will be like a granary for farm-related stories. These stories will be kept over a long time to be used by broadcasters.

3 – Radio Producers’ Village: A forum where you will have people from diverse backgrounds coming together as one family with common goals. This will be a village for radio producers fostering development through communication in rural communities.

4 – Farmer’s Echo: The name combines both rural radio and the agricultural community.

5 – Radiosource: “Source” is understood both in French and in English. For example, “Source of information and exchange. The source is vital to farmers. The source comes from the earth. The source as origin.”

6 – Nirudi: A swahili word which means “I come back” or “Come back.”

Go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8J3PB6W to read the reasons why readers chose these names and to vote for your favourite one.

You have until June 12 to vote. The name with the most votes will be announced in the next edition of Farm Radio Weekly.

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Florence saves girls from human trafficking

This script comes from our latest script package, and is written by Ugonma Cokey in Nigeria. It is one of ten prize-winning scripts in Farm Radio’s scriptwriting competition on healthy communities. It tackles the issue of human trafficking, in which people are recruited on false pretences and often forced into labour or prostitution. In this story, a father finds an advert for what looks like a job in Europe for his daughter. He tries to persuade her to apply as the family needs the money.

Read what happens next: http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/93-8script_en.asp

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