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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 #160

FRW 160 – Cassava saves farmers during drought

The current drought in Kenya and the Horn of Africa is expected to affect millions. Our first story this week tells how affected families in a semi-arid region of Kenya are changing their opinions about cassava. Once stigmatized as a crop for the desperately poor, it is now feeding families in areas with insufficient rain to grow maize. 

The last story in our series on energy comes from Rwanda. We hear how biogas has benefited one farming family.

Last week, the winners of the 2011 Ashden Awards for sustainable energy were announced. Among the 12 shortlisted finalists was the Ugastove, featured in last week’s issue. The international winner is Toyola Energy Ltd., a clean cookstove manufacturer from Ghana. Many congratulations to all! To read more about all the Ashden Award winners, visit: http://www.ashdenawards.org/  

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Kenya: Re-discovering cassava during drought (IPS, Daily Nation)

 Now that she grows cassava instead of maize, Jemima Mueni has enough food to last until the end of the year. She also has enough money to pay school fees for her children, despite the current drought. But many of her neighbours in the village of Wolile in Makueni County, eastern Kenya, are not in the same position. Some people in this semi-arid region are already relying on food relief.

The drought was declared a national disaster in June. The long rains failed in most arid and semi-arid districts, with dry spells of up to three weeks after the onset of the rains. The government expects that more than 3.5 million Kenyans will require food relief until September.

Mrs. Mueni started increasing her cassava planting in 2010 when she learned of its benefits from her self- help group. Although cassava is not new to the region, the members of the Kituluni Farmers Self Help group have re-discovered its value. She says, “We have learnt how to cook and eat both cassava leaves and tubers, make flour from dried tubers for domestic and commercial consumption, [and make] snacks and crisps from the tubers.”

Mrs. Mueni has always known that cassava is a drought-resistant crop, but never bothered to grow it. She explains, “Until three years ago it was a stigmatized crop … local residents [believed] that it is a crop for extremely poor and desperate people.” As a result, people grew no more than 10 cassava plants on their farms.

But Mrs. Mueni and her husband, Samuel Mukonza, have stopped growing maize in order to concentrate on cassava, which grows all year round. Mr. Mukonza says, “So far, we have just one acre [about half a hectare] under cassava, with 540 stems.” The couple decided to plant cassava after they failed to harvest a single grain of maize from a two hectare piece of land following a drought in 2010.

In 2006, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) launched a project to promote cassava as a food security and commercial crop. The project is called Kenya Arid and Semi Arid Land management.

John Wambua is the project’s principal investigator. He says, “We selected nine improved cassava varieties from the KARI root and tuber research program for multiplication, after which more than two million improved cassava planting materials were distributed to the farmers through commercial villages.”  “Commercial villages” is a concept initiated by the project. They are composed of several existing self-help groups whose members have expressed an interest in cassava farming.

Members are given access to processing equipment such as milling machines. The groups sell a kilogram of cassava flour for just over one dollar, and demand is growing. One self-help group operates a food kiosk at Mbuvi market in Makueni County. They sell foods made from cassava, including chapattis, ugali (a dough-like meal made with water and flour) and crisps. Some meals are served with cassava leaves. Rose Matheka is the group’s production supervisor. She says, “Selling it as ready-made food gives us three to four times more money.”

With its success in eastern Kenya, the commercialization of cassava is now being promoted in other semi-arid parts of the country.

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Rwanda: Powering homes with cow dung (AlertNet)

Mix three buckets of cow dung with an equal amount of water. That’s the recipe Francine Musanabera follows every day to produce the energy she needs to run her home in Gasabo, 30 kilometres south of the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Mrs. Musanabera is a schoolteacher as well as a farmer. She says, “It gives me two hours of gaslight and six hours of cooking gas every day.” She was one of the first Rwandans to equip her property with a biogas installation. The installation converts methane from decomposing animal waste into power.

Only 10 per cent of Rwanda’s population of over 10 million is connected to the national electricity grid. Power cables run directly over Mrs. Musanabera’s modest house and garden. In this village, no one is connected to the grid. “Too expensive,” she says.

Over 90 per cent of Rwandans cook with wood, charcoal or kerosene. These fuels pollute the environment and deplete the country’s forests. The government had hoped to help 15,000 households set up biogas systems by 2012, but has extended that ambitious timeline to 2015. Today, almost 1,000 homes have a biogas installation. 

Each system costs nearly 1,300 US dollars, with the government providing a subsidy of approximately 500 dollars. Households can save money by supplying sand and stones to build the underground receptacle, and by helping to construct it themselves. They can also negotiate special low-interest bank loans.

Mrs. Musanabera had to think twice before investing in biogas on her small plot. She says, “It involved a lot of money. But now three years later, I am so glad I did it. It changed our lives.”

She explains, “My children can study at night and do not have to inhale the bad fumes of kerosene lamps. I save money because I hardly need to buy kerosene and charcoal for cooking. And biogas makes cooking so much faster.”

The easy part for most Rwandans is supplying the animal waste needed to produce the biogas. Under a government scheme, each poor family receives one cow, whose first calf must be donated to another poor neighbour.

Since it became known that livestock produce the greenhouse gas methane through their digestive processes, the government has been trying to limit the country’s cattle population. One solution is to channel the methane they emit into biogas installations to produce much-needed energy. 

Another benefit of the biogas system is the liquid fertilizer left over at the end of the biogas generation process. Mrs. Musanabera applies it to her small vegetable garden, where she grows beans, bananas and tomatoes.

She says, “The yield of my garden has almost doubled since I’ve been using the fertilizer. So I also save because I have to buy less food in the market.”

The government has launched an advertising campaign to raise awareness about the possibilities of biogas. Though Rwanda is a small country, most people in remote areas have not heard about this green source of energy, nor the financial help the government is offering to encourage citizens to use it.

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Democratic Republic of Congo: Cooler houses with bamboo roofs (Syfia Grands Lacs)

Lemba is a small town in the west part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One part of the town has earned the name madiadiMadiadi means bamboo in the local dialect. Many houses in this part of town have bamboo roofs. 

Bamboo roofs began appearing in Lemba and other villages in Bas-Congo province in the last few years.

Roger Buanga is from the village of Patu, near Boma, the second largest city in the province. He describes these houses as “A breath of fresh air.” Bamboo roofs are less expensive than the metal sheets commonly used for roofing. It can be suffocatingly hot inside a house with a metal roof. But houses with bamboo roofs stay cool inside.

Bamboo is common in this forested region, and provides an inexpensive alternative to hot and stuffy houses. Noella Poba lives in a house with a bamboo roof. She says, “Nature gives us everything. People who buy tin roofs are just losing their money.”

But environmentalists fear that bamboo’s growing popularity will result in huge quantities being cut. They urge people to use bamboo responsibly. Bamboo roots hold the soil and help prevent soil erosion. Anderson Mavungu represents the provincial Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism. He advises, “We have to stop the unregulated and uncontrolled cutting [of bamboo] if we are to avoid a catastrophe later.”

Despite these warnings, bamboo roofs are replacing straw roofs. Straw roofs provide cool housing, but often leak unless well-maintained or replaced. It is now possible to find small brick houses with bamboo roofs. These are effective at keeping inhabitants cool and dry. Barnabé Pembele lives in the village of Mvululu, near Kasangulu. He says, “Since I discovered this idea, I got rid of my straw house that leaked when it rained. Now I sleep peacefully.”

Building a bamboo roof is similar to building a tiled roof. Edmond Kimpioka built a large house with a bamboo roof. He says, “We start by cutting bamboo from the forest. The poles are then dried in the sun until they lose their green colour.”

Once the poles are dry, each pole is cut in half lengthwise. One row of bamboo poles is laid with the hollow part facing upwards. Other poles are placed lengthwise on top, hollow side down, so that the top poles rest in the hollows of the bottom poles. The poles thus interlink to make the roof waterproof. The whole construction is bound together with ropes, and is very solid.

Villagers who live in houses built in this fashion say they do not need ceilings, unlike houses with tin roofs. They are happy with the cool bamboo roofs provided by nature.

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Notes to broadcasters on drought in Kenya

This year’s drought in Kenya was first reported in January 2011, but the situation has since worsened. In June, the Kenyan government declared a national disaster. Other countries in the region are also affected. Different parts of Kenya have suffered periodic droughts over the last few years. One way that farmers are coping is by changing the crops they plant, for example by shifting from water-hungry maize to the more drought-resistant cassava.  Such forward-looking planning can help farmers reduce their vulnerability to drought and improve their chances of producing enough food for their families, even when rain is scarce.

Read some recent news items:

-From UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization: Drought in Horn of Africa threatens millions


-From Kenya’s Daily Nation: Kenya: 3.5 Million People in Urgent Need of Relief Food As Drought Worsens http://allafrica.com/stories/201106130656.html

-From the UN News Centre: Drought-hit Kenyan herders appeal for help to salvage emaciated livestock http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=38661&Cr=drought&Cr1=  

Here are two recent stories from Farm Radio Weekly on drought:

East Africa: Pastoralists survive drought by adapting (FRW 110, May 2010). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/05/10/2-east-africa-pastoralists-survive-drought-by-adapting-daily-nation-irin/

Mali and Niger: Dealing with drought (FRW 117, June 2010). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/06/28/1-mali-and-niger-dealing-with-drought-irin-afp/

Farm Radio International has produced some very informative scripts about farmers adapting to the climate in drought-prone areas:
Changing farming production in Africa to adapt to climate change (Package 84, Script 14, August 2008)
Farmers have important knowledge about weather and environmental change – Part I: Learning about local signs of drought (Package 75, Script 5, June 2005)
Farmers have important knowledge about weather and environmental change – Part II: Preparing for drought (Package 75, Script 6, June 2005)
These Crops will Help you Through the Drought (Package 54, Script 9, January 2000)
Choosing Crops for Drought-Prone Areas (Package 73, Script 3, January 2005)
Sekedo, a drought resistant sorghum for Karamoja (Package 84, Script 1, August 2008)

Perhaps farmers’ groups or other organizations in your community are involved in interesting drought resilience work. If your radio station broadcasts to an area that is currently facing drought-related food shortages, seek out stories of communities or local organizations (such as farmers’ groups) that are working together to adapt to drought. Find out what they have done to improve their food security, including adopting alternative livelihoods, and share these stories to inspire others.

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Notes to broadcasters on biogas

Biogas refers to the gas, made up mostly of methane, produced when animal manure breaks down in anaerobic conditions – in other words, when oxygen is not present. Biogas can be used as energy for light and cooking in rural domestic settings. It is a renewable energy and makes good use of locally available resources. Biogas burns more cleanly than firewood or charcoal, and lessens dependence on these resources. However, a sufficient supply of raw materials, usually animal manure, is needed. It is therefore usually only suitable for households with a minimum of two cattle or seven pigs. The initial cost of installing a biogas system can be too high for many small-scale farmers. Biogas systems come in many designs and sizes.

 For more detailed explanations of how biogas systems work, visit:  http://www.snvworld.org/en/ourwork/Pages/Potential_of_domestic_biogas.aspx  and http://www.biogasafrica.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12&Itemid=10&lang=en

Two recent news stories about biogas and energy from Rwanda:

-Rwanda: Minister Promotes Use of Energy-Efficient Stoves http://allafrica.com/stories/201105030175.html

-Rwanda: Local Companies Win Entrepreneurial Awards http://allafrica.com/stories/201103180043.html See also: http://www.seedinit.org/en/awards/winners-database/2010-awards/production-and-distribution-of-pressurized-biogas-in-gas-cylinders.html

Tanzania has its own biogas website: http://www.biogas-tanzania.org/  and many other countries have shown an interest, for example, Ghana: http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/ghana-must-embrace-biogas

We hope this story inspires you to look at the potential of biogas in your broadcast region. You could begin to research the topic by finding out if there are any organizations or government departments that promote biogas locally. They may be able to direct you to farmers who have installed and are using biogas systems. Here are some questions you could ask farmers or support organizations:

-What are the technical requirements for a domestic biogas system? For example, how much space is needed and what quantity of raw materials is needed each day? What type of materials can be used?

-What is the total cost of installation? How does this cost break down? Is there any way of reducing the cost by using alternative materials or family labour? Are any subsidies or grants available?

-How has the biogas system changed the family’s life? Have there been any negative impacts?

-Briefly outline the advantages and challenges of a domestic biogas system.

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Notes to broadcasters on bamboo

Bamboo grows in many parts of Africa. The plant is a woody grass which can produce stems many metres high. Some types of bamboo can grow very fast, up to a metre per day. The stems, often known as poles, are very light, strong and durable when dried. These properties make bamboo a suitable raw material for many goods, including building materials, handicrafts, furniture, flooring and cooking implements.

For more general information on bamboo, visit: http://www.kew.org/plants/bamboos/index.html

You may find useful information and contacts on the website of the International Bamboo and Rattan Network: http://www.inbar.int

Bamboo recently received the backing of Wangari Maathai in Kenya, as an alternative to eucalyptus. Bamboo uses little water, can prevent soil erosion and has many uses: http://allafrica.com/stories/201104280123.html

Here is a short article and audio piece on bamboo in Africa: http://www.agfax.net/radio/detail.php?i=99

Here are two recent stories from Farm Radio Weekly related to bamboo:

Kenya: Farmers replace water-hungry eucalyptus with bamboo (FRW 107, April 2010). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/04/19/2-kenya-farmers-replace-water-hungry-eucalyptus-with-bamboo-scidevnet-daily-nation/ 

Mozambique: A farmer builds a silo with local materials to reduce post-harvest losses (FRW 120, July 2010). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/07/19/1-mozambique-a-farmer-builds-a-silo-with-local-materials-to-reduce-post-harvest-losses-helvetas-mozambique-farm-radio-weekly/

Farm Radio International produced this resource on bamboo:

Fact Sheet on Bamboo. Package 80, Script 4, March 2007. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/80-4script_en.asp

Is bamboo commonly found in your listening communities? If so, what is it used for? You may wish to research this plant and find local or national organizations that promote it. If it is not common in your country, which types of trees are commonly found and used in ways similar to bamboo? You may wish to host a call-in/text-in show inviting listeners to answer such questions as:

-Which types of trees are common in your area?  What role do these trees play (e.g., fuelwood, shade/shelter, social/cultural significance, environmental, etc.)? Are they mostly grown for a specific purpose, or do they appear naturally?

-How common is bamboo in your area? Is it cultivated or does it grow naturally?
-What is it used for? Are there any restrictions to its cutting or use?

-How can it be used for income-generating purposes?

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Daniel Pearl Awards

Entries are sought for the Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.Daniel Pearl was the Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed in 2002 in Pakistan.

Individuals or teams of journalists of any nationality can enter. Entries must involve on-the-ground reporting in at least two countries on a topic of global significance, and must have been first published or broadcast between January 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. Entries submitted in the original language must be accompanied by a comprehensive story summary in English. Two US$5,000 first-place prizes and five US$1,000 finalist prizes will be awarded. 

Deadline: July 1, 2011. For full details, visit: http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/icij/awards/

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Energy for Radio − A Guide for Practitioners

In keeping with our series on energy, this week’s resource is a guide to energy management for community radio stations. The guide is produced by CAMECO (the Catholic Media Council) and can be downloaded as a 4MB pdf.

It will help radio managers and operators tackle the energy issue and understand the various energy options, such as gensets, wind and hydro turbines, solar and hybrid systems.

Downloadable worksheets accompany the guide. They are useful for assessing the energy needs of the stations, and the cost effectiveness of different energy sources.

For more information visit: http://www.cameco.org/english/publications/CAMECO-Practice-Series

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Farm Radio International at eLearning Africa conference

Mark Leclair, Farm Radio International’s ICT for Development Officer, was interviewed in advance of the recent eLearning Africa 2011 conference in Dar es Salaam. In this six-and-a-half minute audio file, you will hear clips from a farm radio program from Malawi, and hear Mark describing Farm Radio International’s work. We hope to report on Mark’s impressions from the conference soon.     


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Breeding cows in a zero-grazing system can be a dual environmental solution

Households in Rwanda that own cattle, such as the one in this week’s story on biogas, are required by law to practice zero grazing. Zero grazing is the practice of keeping animals in stalls and feeding them cut fodder. The Rwandan government fines owners if any animal is found wandering freely.

The script of the week, from Farm Radio International senior writer Jean-Paul Ntezimana in Rwanda, addresses the environmental impacts of the methane which cows produce. This script will help farmers understand that cattle do contribute to global warming and climate change. It will also help Rwandan farmers understand that intensive farming with improved breeds is one way to address climate change as well as fight against overgrazing.


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