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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 #168

Using rice husks as fuel

Rice husks are often just thrown away. But a group of women in Burkina Faso are using them to fuel their business. With a specially adapted cookstove, they are saving money as well as trees. 

In Zimbabwe, a group of women are benefitting from an urban garden supported by the local city council. Read more below.

The famine in East Africa is still dominating headlines. Our third story this week looks at the Purchase for Progress initiative in Kenya, and how Kenyan farmers are supplying relief food to those in need. Not all farmers can contribute to this project, and future funding is a concern.

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team 

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Burkina Faso: Women solve fuel problem with rice husks (by Inoussa Maiga for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

Boiling rice is an energy intensive activity. For years, the women of the rice processors union in Bama, Burkina Faso, used wood as energy. But this was very expensive. Mariam Sawadogo is president of the union. She says, “To parboil two tons of rice, we used at least 5000 CFA [around ten US dollars] of wood.”

There are around 300 women in the Sinignassigui Union of Rice Processors (in French, Union des Groupements d’Etuveuses Sinignassigui). Each year, they parboil nearly 1000 tonnes of rice which they buy from farmers. The women first soak the rice, then cook it partially. It is then sun-dried and husked, ready to be sold on the local market.

As well as the cost of wood, another issue faced by the women was the waste rice husks.  Mrs. Sawadogo says, “We did not know what to do with the rice husks. Even the producers did not want them for composting, because the husks do not break down easily.” The rice husks began piling up, making the union’s premises look like a landfill site. 

In 2009, a group of Canadian students from the University of Sherbrooke visited the women. This visit changed everything. Mrs. Sawadogo said, “We shared our problems related to energy. The students designed an oven that uses rice husks as fuel.” The students worked with a local blacksmith who then began to produce the oven.

The oven is 30 centimetres tall. The cooking pot sits on the metal top. The husks burn in a funnel-shaped combustion chamber. It is designed so that the husks burn efficiently, not too fast and not too slowly. The oven is sold in the market at 1500 CFA, around three US dollars.

Using this oven has radically changed the lives of the women. They no longer need wood. Now they parboil rice using only husks as fuel. Around ten of these ovens are in use every day on the union’s premises.

As the rice husks are free, the financial impact is considerable. Mahamadi Ouédraogo is director of the union. He says, “For each bag of 100 kg of parboiled rice, we gain an additional 700 FCFA [one and a half dollars].”  

Now, blacksmiths manufacture the ovens and sell them locally. They are very popular, as most households produce enough husks to power the ovens. Mrs. Sawadogo says, “Virtually all households in Bama use this oven to cook their meals.”

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Zimbabwe: Women grow better lives near the city (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Zimbabwe)

A group of about fifteen women crowd around a borehole, waiting to collect water for their gardens. It is a noisy scene here in Gwabalanda. This low-income, high-density suburb is about 14 kilometres north-west of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. On the edge of the suburb there is a vegetable garden about 100 metres long and wide.

Mrs. Siboinisiwe Gumede is one of the co-operative members who run the gardening project. She joined the co-operative because her husband earns little and they always have financial problems. Her life has changed for the better since joining. She explains, “My life has improved because I can now afford to make some income by selling produce in the local market and customers around the suburb. Now I do not have to wait for my husband’s salary.”

The garden has about 45 plant beds. Members grow a variety of vegetables including rape, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots and spinach. Each member tends their own vegetable beds, the number depends on how many each person can manage to water and weed.

There is a small hut at the edge of the garden. The hut is used as a guard room because thieves are a problem here. Project members were forced to employ a security guard over night because they were losing a lot of vegetables to thieves. Mrs. Gumende says, “We have a serious problem of thieves. As you can see, our garden is not fenced and we are really losing a lot.”

Despite this challenge, Mrs. Gumende thanks the city council of Bulawayo for allowing the women to use the vacant land for agriculture. She explains, “Very few city councils would allow people to farm in the cities.”

The garden project was initiated by Bulawayo City council about seven years ago. Bulawayo is one of the few urban councils in Africa with an agriculture policy. The aim of the project was to alleviate hunger, targeting the unemployed and people with low-incomes. Bongiwe Ngwenya is the spokesperson for the city of Bulawayo. She said, “We realised that agriculture plays an important role to us African people – even when we live in cities we still want a piece of land to farm.”

Mrs. Ngwenya also recognised the role that farming can play in nutrition. She said, “There is also the issue of nutrition especially to people living with HIV and Aids. They need a balanced diet and it becomes easier when they can have a piece of land to cultivate their own vegetables.”

Today the garden benefits a number of people like Mrs. Gumende. She has been working on this garden for the past three years and she has no regrets.

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Kenya: How much relief can Purchase for Progress bring? (IPS)

Mourid Abdi Dolal and Wilson Rotich are both small-scale farmers who grow staple crops. But while Mr. Dolal sells his produce at the local village market, Mr. Rotich farms to feed the growing number of refugees in Kenya.

Mr. Rotich is from Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. He has a one hectare farm in Transmara village where he practices crop rotation with maize, beans and a couple of other leguminous plants. He used to make very little profit. Then he heard of the World Food Programme’s Purchase for Progress, or P4P project.

These days, he can sell his yield to the World Food Programme, or WFP, at the national market rate. It’s about five times more than what he can earn selling it locally. For every successful harvest, Mr. Rotich puts aside a share of the yield, which he sells to WFP through smallholder-friendly tenders. According to WFP, this is a new approach which sources relief food from local farmers instead of importing it from overseas.

Mr. Rotich says, “WFP officers told us to form farmer organisations through which they would [buy] our farm yields. This has helped my family because I am able to pay school fees and even foot hospital bills when one of us falls sick.”

Rose Ogolla is the public information officer for WFP Kenya. She says, “The project is meant to shore up the relief food supply chain as well as make agriculture attractive by offering farmers a ready market.” She explains that this is done through a contract or tender with farmers. 

To be eligible, a farmer needs to be legally registered with a cooperative organisation. He or she must be able to generate 56 metric tonnes of food from their small-scale farm, have proper storage facilities and a bank account.

But P4P does not reach or benefit all farmers. Mourid Abdi Dolal is a pastoralist in the North Eastern Province. He says he has not benefited from the P4P project because it has not reached this Province. This region is home to a growing number of drought refugees in the country and from Somalia.

Mr. Dolal has recently begun practicing small-scale horticulture in his drought-stricken Dertu village. He is able to harvest reasonable quantities of kale, tomatoes and cowpeas. But they only provide him with a small income, since he sells his produce to villagers at throw-away prices.

He says, “I would be happy if WFP reached out to us with subsidies because my village is about 50 kilometres away from the Dadaab refugee camp.” Currently there are about 400,000 people at Dadaab, the majority of whom have fled the drought in Somalia. Mr. Dolal says, “Our village is feeling the pressure due to a surge in displaced people fleeing from the drought.”

Ann Maina is advocacy coordinator with Africa Biosafety Network. Referring to Purchase for Progress, she says, “This is a good initiative because it encourages a home grown solution to the food crisis in the country and could prevent the country from importing maize laced with GMOs.”

Dr. Alfred Mutua is Kenya’s Official Government Spokesman and Public Communications secretary. He is not sure whether the country has the ability to feed the growing number of displaced people, despite the success of the Purchase for Progress project.

Kenya is facing another threat. The United States government is preparing to pull out of the WFP relief programme, which may mean a 40 percent drop in funding for relief food.

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Notes to broadcasters on rice husks

Rice husks (or hulls) account for about 20 percent of rice by weight. In rice-growing regions, rice husks are abundantly available, to the extent that disposing of rice husks can become an environmental problem. They decompose slowly, and are often thrown away as waste. This story is a good example of how to reduce fuel costs while taking advantage of a resource that would otherwise be wasted.

Parboiling rice is a tradition in West Africa. This rice processing technique reduces the number of broken grains at milling. It creates physical and chemical changes in the grain that make it more nutritious and easier to sell and cook.

For more information on rice husks and their potential uses, visit:


Wikipedia has some general information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_hulls

Earlier this year, Farm Radio Weekly produced a short series on energy, with two stories on fuel-efficient cookstoves. Refer to the Notes to broadcasters on cookstoves here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/06/13/notes-to-broadcasters-on-cookstoves/

The stories on cookstoves can be accessed here:

Uganda: Stoves save fuel and forests (FRW 159, June 2011)

Southern Sudan: Fuel-efficient stoves bring benefits (FRW 159, June 2011)  

In July 2009, Farm Radio International produced a script from Benin about parboiling rice:

Parboiled rice is easy to mill, cook, and sell (Package 88, Script 11)

You may also be interested in adapting and using this script on rice:

Growing and processing top quality rice will get you top money (Package 89, Script 8 )

The topic of cookstoves would make an engaging rural radio program, as it touches so many people’s lives. As it is most often women who do the cooking, make sure you include women in the program, through interviews and features. The adoption of new and efficient cookstoves has been hindered in some regions because those responsible for cooking were not involved in decisions and information sharing.

Try to find women who use different types of cookstoves, whether they are fuelled by gas, charcoal or firewood, and ask why the women use that type. Find out if they have experimented with other types of stoves or fuels. Ask them what are the most important factors they consider when choosing a cookstove.  You could even set up an experiment by asking one or more women to try a more efficient cookstove for a week, and then report their impressions on your program.

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Notes to broadcasters on urban gardens

Urban farming can take many forms, from a few plant pots in a backyard, to a larger plot of unused land, as in this story. With city populations expanding quickly, urban agriculture has received increased attention in recent years from academics, funders and NGOs.

Further reading:

-Fighting poverty and hunger: What role for urban agriculture? http://www.fao.org/economic/es-policybriefs/briefs-detail/en/?no_cache=1&uid=45052

-DRC: Urban farming takes root http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=93089

You may also find the website of the Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF) useful: http://www.ruaf.org/

Find RUAF’s Urban Agriculture magazine here: http://www.ruaf.org/node/101

In  French: http://www.ruaf.org/node/825

You can read more about the growing trend of urban agriculture in these past FRW news stories:

-“Uganda: Finding space for urban farming” (FRW 164, July 2011)

-“Uganda: Urban farmers fight eviction” (FRW 72, June 2009)

“Kenya: Urban agriculture greens metropolis” (FRW 40, October 2008)
“Africa: Wastewater in urban agriculture is harmful to health, but it also ensures subsistence for urban poor” (FRW 34, August 2008)
“Africa: Urban agriculture provides relief from high food prices” (FRW 23, June 2008)

-Farm Radio International has also 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.

Urban gardens present various opportunities for improving income, health and nutrition. If you broadcast to an urban area, you could explore questions like these during a call-in/text-in show:

-What type of space do listeners use to grow food – for example, backyards, vacant land or a terrace/balcony?

-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 growing food possible in very small spaces?

-Do listeners have to spend a lot on equipment or inputs – or have they found innovative ways to grow food cheaply (for example by recycling containers or saving seed)?

-Which crops grow best with the limited space and resources they have available?

-What tips or innovations can they share?

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Notes to broadcasters on Purchase for Progress

Purchase for Progress is the World Food Programme’s (WFP’s) initiative to buy crops for food aid from small-scale farmers. It was launched in September 2008, and will run until September 2013. It operates in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as in Asia and Latin America. More details on the program can be found on the WFP’s website: http://www.wfp.org/purchase-progress.

The United States is considering cutting aid which may affect the WFP. They may also be facing pressure from big business interests at home. For example, some commentators are concerned about the effect that a successful Purchase for Progress project, which benefits African farmers and those affected by hunger and famine, could have on businesses in the US. Read for example:  http://www.tradenewswire.net/2011/african-farmers-challenge-adm-for-bigger-share-of-u-s-food-aid/ 

In 2009, Farm Radio Weekly reported that the first food purchased through the program in Kenya was delivered to Kenyans hit by drought:

Kenya: Rice from small-scale farmers sent to areas hit by drought (FRW 68, June 2009)

Liberia: World Food Programme gives rice farmers a reason to keep growing  (FRW 78, August 2009).

If you work in any of the countries where WFP and the Purchase for Progress project operates, you may consider investigating how local farmers can get involved with the program, and share this information with your listeners. If any of your audience sells their harvest to WFP this is a good interview opportunity. Have they benefitted from the project? Are the conditions fair? Have there been any drawbacks or challenges? How do they suggest the project could be expanded or continued beyond 2013? You could also ask them to comment on proposed international funding cuts.

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Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize

The 2011 Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize is open for entries!

Established in 1992 by the European Commission (EC), the Lorenzo Natali Prize is awarded to journalists for outstanding reporting on human rights, democracy and development issues. The Prize is open to print, online or broadcast reporters worldwide. A special Radio Prize will be awarded.

All Prize winners will be honoured at an Awards Ceremony organized by the EC in December 2011. The deadline for applications is August 31, 2011.

For more information and to apply, visit http://lorenzonataliprize.eu/the-prize/.

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Manual for investigative journalists

UNESCO has recently published an 87 page manual which provides a guide to basic methods and techniques of investigative journalism. The manual is entitled “Story-based inquiry: a manual for investigative journalists.” It does not focus only on where to find information, but takes the reader through every step of the process of writing an effective piece of investigative journalism. Case studies illustrate skills including research, writing and dissemination. 

Download the manual at no charge here.

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Radio helps African farm families survive

Regular readers of Farm Radio Weekly may be aware of Farm Radio International’s recent three-year study into the effectiveness of rural radio. We have analysed the data, written the reports and are now sharing our results.

The study demonstrates conclusively that when properly used, radio is an effective way to give large numbers of African farm families knowledge needed to improve their food security, nutrition and livelihoods; knowledge that is vital in preventing famine in times of drought.

A key finding is that more than one in five of all African farm families living within the broadcast range of a carefully executed farm radio program series will adopt the new farming practices they heard about on the radio.

Read details of the radio program model which we call a Participatory Radio Campaign here: http://www.farmradio.org/english/donors/publications/EightPager.pdf

For a summary of results: http://www.farmradio.org/english/donors/publications/PRCBrief_EN.pdf 

For the full press release: http://www.farmradio.org/english/donors/news/press%20release_aug10.pdf

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An alternative fuel source: Make charcoal briquettes from banana peels

One of our stories this week concerns using crop by-products as fuel. The story was about rice husks – but as this script shows, other crop by-products can also be used as fuel. This script describes how to make charcoal briquettes from banana peels. A women’s group in Uganda developed this alternative fuel, as they grow an abundance of plantain and bananas. This idea could save many trees.  

Read the full script: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/76-5script_en.asp

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