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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 #195

Combining traditional and modern weather forecasts to better serve farmers

Our first story this week comes from western Kenya. The Kenyan Meteorological Department is working with a family which is renowned for the accuracy of its traditional weather forecasts. Weather forecasts from traditional and modern scientific techniques are combined and synthesized, then broadcast to the local area.

Cassava is a crop with a bit of an image problem. But, as our story from Tanzania shows, growing and processing cassava is not old news, but a lucrative business. A 25-member farmer group is growing a new disease-tolerant variety of cassava and collaborating with an extension worker and university researchers. The result is increased food security and improved incomes all around.

Finally, we travel to Rwanda for a story on LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. A company is selling tiny, very bright LED lights to rural people who lack access to electricity. Fisher Daniel Ntibaziyandemye has seen his profit margin rise substantially by switching from battery-operated torches to LED lights. The firm is also giving LED generators to business people. In turn, the entrepreneurs charge a small fee to re-charge LED lights. With this income, the business people quickly repay the company.

Don’t forget to check out our other sections this week. Our Resource section features a seven-page step-by-step online guide to recording good quality audio on your mobile phone and publishing it on the web.

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Kenya: Traditional weather predictions used in official weather forecasts (AlertNet)

Japheth Olukune Akhati and his neighbours are busy tilling their land in preparation for planting. It hasn’t rained for a few months in their village of Essong’olo, about 30 kilometres from Kisumu. But thanks to traditional knowledge, the farmers know it might rain in a few weeks, and they want to be ready.

Mr. Akhati grows maize and other crops on a little more than a hectare. He says, “From last week, the wind has been blowing from west to east, and that is a real sign it is going to rain in the next three or four weeks.”

Kenyan farmers have relied on traditional weather forecasting for generations. Some fear these methods will be discarded as climate change brings more extreme and unpredictable weather. Others say that indigenous knowledge and methods remain valuable – especially when used together with modern science.

The Kenya Meteorological Department thinks that traditional practices have something to offer. The Department now blends these forecasts with science-based predictions. The result is more accurate – and better-received – local weather forecasts in western Kenya.

The Department  uses satellite technology and other modern methods to produce forecasts. Rainmakers from Emuhaya County’s Nganyi family provide predictions based on indigenous knowledge.

The results are combined and analyzed, then translated into the local language and broadcast on a local radio station. Social gatherings, word of mouth and chief’s meetings spread the forecasts further.

Farmers say the combined forecasts, added to their own observations, give them added confidence about what to do in the face of the changing climate.

As the rain approaches, local farmers become very precise with  their predictions − down to a matter of hours. They say the colour of the clouds tells them if rainfall will be accompanied by hailstones.

Mr. Akhati adds: “When we wake up in the morning and find no dew on the grass, then it is an indication it will rain on that very day. It is also important to note that, on the night before a rainy day, the temperatures usually rise beyond normal.” Other natural indicators include the call of the laughing dove bird, the behaviour of ants, the croaking of frogs and toads, and bee migration.

The Nganyi family are highly respected by local people for the power of their predictions. The family has shrines that contain large, rare indigenous trees that are regarded as sacred. These small patches of forested land attract reptiles, birds and insects whose behaviour is monitored to predict upcoming weather.

Josephat Atieli is a small-scale farmer from Mumhoba village in Emuhaya. She explains, “We respect their word. When they predict something, it usually comes to pass. We actually depend on their word, especially at the beginning of the planting season.”

In return, the villagers provide the Nganyi family with produce from their farms.

Gilbert Ouma heads the Kenya Meteorological Department’s project to integrate traditional knowledge with scientific forecasts. He says, “We have been able to study these shrines, and we can authoritatively say that they provide realistic information that can assist in predicting weather conditions in the local environment.”

In return for the rainmaking clan’s participation in the project, Nganyi women and youth receive training and micro-credit opportunities, aimed at conserving indigenous trees and diversifying livelihoods.

Perhaps mindful of the power of their knowledge, the Nganyi family is not keen to disclose all their techniques. They prefer that some things remain a mystery to the men with the machines.

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Tanzania: From crisis to opportunity with cassava (by Farm Radio Weekly in Tanzania)

Mary Mtoi smiles as she talks about her farm in Tongwe, a village in eastern Tanzania. Mrs. Mtoi has two hectares of cassava, and also grows black pepper, cardamom and oranges. She has been growing cassava for twenty years. In 2000, cassava brown streak disease wiped out all the cassava in her village. But now she and the members of the village farmers’ group are prospering.  She says, “I used to grow just to feed my family. But now I grow to sell.”

In 1997, an agricultural extension worker advised the villagers to form a group so they could receive help from the government or NGOs.  Mrs. Mtoi needed money to pay school fees and buy things for her house. She realized that joining a farmers’ group would improve her living standards.

For three years, the group learned about processing as part of the government’s root and tuber project. Then in 2000, cassava brown streak disease appeared in the fields. All the cassava in the village was affected, and the farmers had to abandon that year’s crop. They had to give up local varieties which were affected by the disease.

Soon afterwards, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security distributed a new variety of cassava, called Kiroba, which is tolerant of cassava brown streak disease. Kiroba thrived under good growing conditions and Mrs. Mtoi’s expertise. It grew so well that, very soon, there was so much cassava in the village that it was going to waste.

Researchers at Sokoine University heard about the success of the new variety. They offered to donate a cassava grater and a chipping machine to the farmers’ group. The group arranged the water supply, and constructed the building that houses the machines. The university provided training on cassava processing and marketing.

Now, the farmers group has 25 members. Anyone from the village can sell cassava to the group. The group members take care of processing − peeling, grating and drying the cassava. Four kilograms of fresh cassava make one kilogram of flour, which sells for 500 shillings or 30 U.S. cents in the village. Outside of the village, it fetches 1000 shillings or more. Everyone in the village now grows the Kiroba variety.

Mrs. Mtoi says she has benefited from being in the group. “I used to live in a thatched house. Now I have progressed and I have built a house with iron roofing. I have an oven for making bread, and I can pay school fees.”

In 2009, the group was contacted by a project called “Unleashing the power of cassava in Africa,” operated by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, or IITA. Project staff had heard of the success of the group’s processing business, and wanted to buy planting material from the village to distribute to other farmers.

John Msemo is Senior Agricultural Research Officer at Kibaha Agricultural Research Institute. He used to work with the IITA project and Mrs. Mtoi’s group. He explains that after receiving various trainings, Mrs. Mtoi’s group decided to produce cassava planting material. They now set aside one field just for growing  planting material. The group is contracted to sell this material for the whole of Tanzania’s eastern region, as there is high demand for clean planting material.

Mr. Msemo says, “The planting material can only be sold after it has been inspected by us. There must be a gap of 200 metres between the cassava field and other cassava crops.” Twenty-five pieces sell for 3000 shillings, a little less than $2 U.S. Last year, the group sold 500,000 shillings or more than $300 US worth of planting material. Mr. Msemo says the group works well together and is very unified. Farmer groups from other districts now visit the village to learn how to produce clean planting material.

According to Mrs. Mtoi, it is a hard-working group. She says this is why they have been successful. But she also says they benefitted from having a committed extension officer and linking up with external institutions.

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Rwanda: Pedal power brings cheap energy to rural Rwanda (AFP)

Daniel Ntibaziyandemye is a 28-year-old Rwandan who catches catfish at night on the remote and crocodile-infested Akanyaru River. He lays his traps just before dusk in the river’s vegetation, waving away mosquitoes and listening for crocodiles. Then he waits until night falls and, with the aid of a headlamp, ventures into the water to collect his catch.

Mr. Ntibaziyandemye explains, “Previously we used flashlights [torches] to find our traps at night. But the batteries were so expensive that it left us with little profit.”

But now he is enjoying a new source of light − LED lamps that are charged by a pedal-powered generator. Mr. Ntibaziyandemye says, “With the new LED lights, we can fish for a week for less money than it used to cost for one night.”

The small generator that charges the lights stands knee-high inside a wooden frame, and is operated by pedaling a stationary bicycle. It’s much cheaper to install and more efficient than solar power.

Twenty minutes of pedalling fully charges the batteries of five small but bright LED lights. Each light costs about 13 US cents. Once charged, a light shines for more than 25 hours.

The Rwandan company Nuru Energy is behind the innovation, which earned it a $200,000 U.S. award in the 2008 World Bank Lighting Africa Prize.

The company gives the generators and lights to small traders, allowing them to pay in instalments. Villagers such as Mr. Ntibaziyandemye pay traders a small fee to charge their lights every week.

Local businessman Martin Uwayezu is benefitting from the business. He explains, “The company gave me six months to repay the loan for my first lights. But with the money I made from recharging the lights, I was able to repay my loan in two months.”

To reach its customers, Nuru uses the local mobile phone system for transferring money. Traders send text messages to buy credit. They receive a code to unlock the generators and charge the lamps.

Much of Rwanda’s countryside has no electricity. More than 90 per cent of households use kerosene for lighting and cooking. But exposure to kerosene fumes is reported to be as bad as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Sloan Holazman is Nuru’s marketing director. He adds, “In addition to being dangerous, it’s inefficient and costly. Households spend 10 to 25 per cent of their income on kerosene for light alone.”

In addition to charging LED lights, the firm plans to expand the use of its generators to charge mobile phones and other devices in rural areas with no electricity.

This is good news for villagers like Daniel Ntibaziyandemye. Now that his costs have dropped with the new LED lights, he has been able to buy a house and can even think about marrying.

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Notes to broadcasters on combining traditional and scientific weather forecasts

Research has shown that traditional forecasting methods have been and continue to be successful in predicting future weather and helping farmers prepare. In our Kenyan story, the value of traditional weather forecasting has been acknowledged by the national meteorological department. On the other hand, some recent news stories suggest that traditional weather forecasts might not be as accurate in this time of extreme weather events and climate change. This debate will surely continue to develop. In the meantime, as broadcasters, we can serve our audience by airing many perspectives on this issue.

Here are four other news stories on this topic, see:

Kenya: Successful Weather Prediction Uses Old and New: http://allafrica.com/stories/201004300008.html

Predicting Weather with Science and Spider Webs: http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=44202

Kenya: Drought Puts Traditional Weather Forecasters On The Defensive: http://allafrica.com/stories/201202060189.html

Traditional weather prediction incorporated into Kenyan forecasts:  http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/traditional-weather-prediction-incorporated-into-kenyan-forecasts

The following two–part Farm Radio International script talks about traditional weather forecasting:

-Farmers have important knowledge about weather and environmental change – Part I: Learning about local signs of drought (Package 75, Script 5, June 2005) http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/75-5script_en.asp

-Farmers have important knowledge about weather and environmental change – Part II: Preparing for drought (Package 75, Script 6, June 2005) http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/75-6script_en.asp

This script also touches on traditional weather forecasting techniques:

-Changing farming production in Africa to adapt to climate change (Package 84, Script 14, April 2008) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/84-14script_en.asp

Also, check out the lead article in Farm Radio International’s Voices newsletter #75, from June 2005: Tapping Into Farmers’ Traditional Systems of Forecasting Drought and Other Environmental Change http://farmradio.org/english/partners/voices/v2005jun.asp

Here is a story from Farm Radio Weekly related to weather forecasting:

Mali: Sali Samaké’s journey from literacy class to weather reports (FRW 147, March 2011)


Are there traditional weather forecasters in your area? Have they been collaborating with scientific weather forecasters? Ask local “rainmakers” or traditional weather experts their opinions on the changing climate, and the challenges this brings for their methods. What kind of signs do they look for to tell them about upcoming weather? Has this changed? Talk to farmers in your area and find out the situation – do they turn to national broadcasts based on modern methods, or do they have confidence in traditional weather forecasts?

You might want to set up a roundtable discussion between traditional and modern scientific forecasters. Perhaps they could collaborate in your area, just as they do in western Kenya.

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Notes to broadcasters on cassava

Cassava is easy to grow and tolerates drought and heat well. Yet in recent years, its popularity has waned as many people, especially urban dwellers, think of cassava as a crop to be eaten only in desperate times. In short, it has an image problem. But recent research may change that. Scientists predict that, if temperatures in Africa rise as predicted, cassava will outperform other staples. If diseases such as wilt and cassava brown streak disease can be successfully tackled, cassava will become one of the best “climate change resilient” crops, researchers say. For more information, see: http://allafrica.com/stories/201202281289.html

For more information about the projects mentioned in this story, see:



New disease-resistant varieties have recently been released in Tanzania: http://in2eastafrica.net/tanzania-new-disease-resistant-cassava-varieties-released/

Cassava can be processed into many products − cakes, pancakes, bread, pastry products and doughnuts. Read more here: http://practicalaction.org/cassava-processing

On the AgFax site, you can hear and download a recent audio file called “Cassava the drought beater”: http://www.agfax.net/radio/detail.php?i=445

The following Farm Radio International scripts talk about growing, storing, and processing cassava:
-Farmers experiment and discover: You can store cassava (Package 58, Script 9, January 2001) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/58-9script_en.asp

-Woman farmer invents a cassava grinder (Package 49, Script 9, June 1998) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/49-9script_en.asp
-Plant high quality cassava cuttings (Package 37, Script 1, July 1995) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/37-1script_en.asp

You might also like to browse recent stories from Farm Radio Weekly on cassava:

-Uganda: Cassava Brown Streak Disease threatens yields (FRW 113, May 2010)  http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/05/31/1-uganda-cassava-brown-streak-disease-threatens-yields-irin-new-vision/

Nigeria: Cassava “waste” is good food for goats (FRW 54, Feb 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/02/02/nigeria-cassava-%E2%80%9Cwaste%E2%80%9D-is-good-food-for-goats-voa-news/

-Democratic Republic of the Congo: Province suffers outbreak of konzo, a preventable disease (FRW 104, March 2010) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/03/22/1democratic-republic-of-the-congo-province-suffers-outbreak-of-konzo-a-preventable-disease-irin-ccdnn-acp/

If you broadcast to a cassava growing area, you might want to produce a program focusing on one or two aspects of the crop. You could examine how farmers cope with disease, or whether cassava is a good cash crop. Or you could look at whether cassava has an “image problem” that causes people to prefer other staples like maize or rice. Try to talk to farmers and consumers as well as market traders and NGO or extension staff.

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Notes to broadcasters on LED generator

Recent reports estimate that only 10-15% of rural Africans have access to electricity; nearly 600 million Africans lack access. In the absence of electricity, firewood and kerosene are the most common sources of light and heat. But many other sources of power are being explored. These include biogas, micro-hydro power, small-scale wind power, and solar power. In addition, energy-saving devices such as improved cook stoves are another kind of solution to energy poverty.

Illumination from light-emitting diode (LED) lights represents a new opportunity. LED lighting is many times cheaper than battery-operated lighting, and less expensive and safer than kerosene. It also solves the problem of how to dispose of used batteries. For more information on the LED lights and generator described in the story, see: http://www.mmtimes.com/2012/tech/620/tech62002.html, and the video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jksNlkq2WO4

For more information on Nuru Energy and their products, visit their website at: http://nurulight.com/

Here is a one-page summary of a report on access to energy in developing countries, published by the World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/indoorair/publications/Energy_Access_Report_Brief.pdf

The international NGO Practical Action has many documents about energy on its website at:  http://practicalaction.org/energy-document-library-all

The following Farm Radio International scripts talk about renewable energy:

-Biodiesel production: Generating income for small-scale farmers in Kenya (Package 87, Script 7, April 2009) http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/87-7script_en.asp

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

You might also like to browse recent stories from Farm Radio Weekly on renewable energy:

-Cameroon: Livestock farmers turn dung into power (#185, January 2012) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/01/16/cameroon-livestock-farmers-turn-dung-into-power-alertnet/

-Uganda: The fruits of innovation – Ugandan company wins green energy award (#125, June 2008) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/06/16/2-uganda-the-fruits-of-innovation-%E2%80%93-ugandan-company-wins-green-energy-award-by-joshua-kyalimpa-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-kampala-uganda/

Do some research and find out what energy sources are being used in your listening area. Are any villagers generating biogas with biodigesters, or using solar energy? Are they using biomass such as dung or crop residues as energy sources? Are they growing biofuel crops?

Perhaps villagers are using creative ways to generate energy that you have never heard of. Talk to local or regional NGOs, and to local and regional governments, about energy policies and energy sources. You might want to conduct a roundtable discussion about energy in your region. Invite politicians, traditional leaders, progressive farmers, and NGOs. Invite listeners to call in with questions and comments.

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Prize for women’s creativity in rural life

The Women’s World Summit Foundation is soliciting nominations for its annual “Prize for women’s creativity in rural life.” The Prize honours women and women’s groups around the world who display exceptional creativity, courage and commitment to improving the quality of life in rural communities. Nominees should be women or women’s groups whose work has not yet been recognized by other awards. Nominees may not nominate themselves.

The prize for the winning African women’s organization is U.S. $3000, while the prize for individual women is U.S. $1000.

The deadline for nominations is April 30, 2012. For full details, visit:


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Creating audio on your mobile phone

Mobile Media Toolkit offers a step-by-step guide to creating audio on your mobile phone for journalists on the go. An online article describes how to record good quality sound with your mobile, and also how to edit and publish audio. It provides links to innovative applications and software that allow you to record phone calls on a smart phone and then publish on the web.

The capacity to report from the field is becoming ever more important in a connected world. Click through the seven pages of the article to pick up tips for recording on your mobile:


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Social media support community radio in crisis

Bush Radio is one of the oldest community radio stations in Africa. It is based in Cape Town and serves an urban community. It is also one of Farm Radio International’s broadcasting partners. The station recently underwent a financial crisis, as community radio stations often do. Bush Radio harnessed the support of their listeners to publicize the crisis through an intensive social media campaign in February this year. Some offers of support have since been received, though the station’s future remains uncertain.

Read more here:


Access and listen to Bush Radio through these links:



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Farmers have important knowledge about weather and environmental change

Our two-part script of the week is a mini-drama that follows a family challenged by drought. Part one introduces some of the traditional signs that drought is on its way. As the Notes to broadcaster for part two indicate, part of our role and opportunity as radio broadcasters is to share information about traditional weather indicators with our farmer-listeners. The more we can share about traditional weather predictors – as well as modern scientific methods of predicting weather – the better chance our listeners have to respond to changing weather in time to ensure food security.



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