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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 #198

Organic farmer doubles his income

In this week’s first story, Michael Gitau talks about his life as an organic farmer. One of 5,000 members of the Central Organic Farmers and Consumer Organization, Mr. Gitau has been growing organically for six years. He is happy that he now makes double the income he used to as a conventional farmer.

Our second story comes from South Africa. Selinah Mncwango is a farmer who treasures the seeds that have been handed down to her from generation to generation. But she worries that the South African government is taking steps which may deprive her and other South African farmers of their seed heritage.

Our final story shows how an innovative farmer is managing to thrive in a part of Cameroon where current rainfall is only a fraction of the usual amount. Olivier Forgha Koumbou conceived the bright idea of harvesting water at night, when the volume of water in a local stream is much higher. As a result, his vegetables are thriving. Yet, all around him, other farmers’ crops are withering and dying.

This week’s Action section profiles Michelle Zilio, a Canadian university student who is currently pursuing a six-week internship at Ghana’s Rite FM. This week’s piece details her activities with the station, and provides a link to her blog.

Finally, we will soon be publishing our 200th edition of Farm Radio Weekly. We are planning a special, celebratory issue, and would like to feature our readers! If you would like to introduce yourself and give us your thoughts on Farm Radio Weekly as we reach this milestone, please send a couple of paragraphs to: farmradioweekly@farmradio.org

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Kenya: Small-scale farmers satisfied with organic farming (by Sawa Pius for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

When Michael Gitau worked as an engineer in Nairobi, he had no interest in farming. After twenty years of employment, he thought he had enough money to feed his family and educate his children. But after retiring, the 70-year-old from Gatundu in central Kenya found that his pension could not sustain the whole family. He wanted to remain active after retiring, and thought farming would provide a good income.

He explains, “I grow bananas, pineapples, butternut, pumpkins, eggplant, and vegetables like green pepper, spinach and cabbage. I do this as my business because that is where I get my daily meal and expenses.”

But Mr. Gitau’s farm in Gatundu is a little different than many others. He practices organic farming and is certified by ENSET, an East African certifying body based in Nairobi. He has a one-hectare plot, which contains a small woodlot. Mr. Gitau says organic farming is better than conventional farming because he does not need to use chemicals. He can make his own compost manure. He also believes that organic products keep the body healthy and reduce sickness.

His major buyers include hotels and the catering facilities of international organizations like ICIPE that purchase organic produce for workshops and trainings. He says, “They are paying me well. That’s where I get money to educate my children and take care of my home problems.”

Samuel Ndungu is the National Market Development Advisor at the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network. He says the global rise in demand for organic products has created opportunities for Kenya’s small-scale farmers. An estimated 12,000 Kenyan farmers are involved in certified organic production and export, while a further 200,000 farmers grow for the domestic market.

According to Mr. Ndungu, more and more Kenyans want to buy organic products, and every greengrocer would like to start an organic section in their shop. The organic sector in Kenya is worth 10.5 million dollars annually, with most organic produce destined for Europe. The domestic market is worth about one million dollars annually.

It is close to six years since Mr. Gitau was certified as an organic farmer. He says he earns twice what he used to with conventional farming. He says, “If the price is good for the product, what else do you need? Why do you need employment?”

Mr. Gitau is also the chairman of the Central Organic Farmers and Consumer Organization. The organization has more than 5000 small-scale farmer members, divided into 28 groups. To maintain year-round supply, farmers grow at intervals. Thus, when some crops are being harvested, others are maturing, while others are being planted.

Farmers in the organization are happy to practice organic farming as a business. They have eliminated middlemen so that they can receive maximum profits. Mr. Gitau says that, previously, some farmers in the organization were looking for employment. But now, many of these farmers have returned to their small plots and rely on organic farming as their livelihood.

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South Africa: Small-scale farmers defend traditional seed systems (IPS)

Selinah Mncwango opens a big plastic bag and pulls out several smaller packets. Each contains a different type of seed: sorghum, bean, pumpkin, and maize. The seeds are her pride, her wealth, and the “pillar of my family,” says the farmer from eastern South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.

Sixty-five-year-old Mncwango comes from a family of small-scale farmers in the village of Ingwawuma. The crops she grows today come from seeds that were handed down from generation to generation. Other seeds come from exchanges with neighbouring farmers. She says, “My seeds are very important to me. I hope the day will never come when I have to buy seeds from a shop.” Her five children and eight grandchildren largely depend on her harvest.

Ms. Mncwango is keenly aware that seed saving, storage and exchange promote crop diversity, save money and provide small-scale farmers with a safety net in case of harvest failures. But she feels that the policies of her government will mean the end of traditional farming and seed-saving. She explains, “The government keeps forcing seeds on us. We’d rather have support with fencing, farming equipment and better access to markets.” Farmers like her tell the government they don’t want seeds. But, she adds, “… they just don’t listen.”

Rachel Wynberg is a policy analyst at the Environmental Evaluation Unit of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She says, “The sector is dominated by commercial seed companies and industrial agricultural production.” She believes that small-scale farmers have been systematically pushed out of the system by those who put profits before food security and biodiversity. She adds, “There is a poor understanding of small farmers’ rights. Traditional agricultural practices have thus been eroded over decades.”

In 2006, the United Nations developed an international treaty to protect farmers’ indigenous knowledge. The treaty demanded rewards for farmers’ contribution to maintaining crop diversity, ensured their participation in decision-making about genetic resources, and guaranteed their right to save, use, exchange and sell seeds. Yet South Africa and many other African U.N. member states have not signed the treaty.

Rachel Wynberg continues, “South Africa’s policy framework on farmers’ rights is unclear. Commercial programs are promoted that contradict and undermine traditional farming practices.” According to Ms. Wynberg, government support of small-scale farmers lacks funding, lacks capacity and often ignores farmers’ needs.

Small-scale farmers agree. Mncwango is appalled at the South African government’s drive to sideline them. She laments, “The Department of Agriculture regularly comes to give workshops. They hand out GM and hybrid seeds and tell us to throw away our traditional seeds.”

According to Mncwango, farmers often realize too late that GM seeds cannot be saved for the next season, and that they contaminate traditional seeds. Farmers have had to learn the hard way that hybrid seeds are of inferior quality. She says, “They don’t store well and they rot easily and have less nutritional value.”

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture denies these accusations. Julian Jaftha is the department’s director of genetic resources. He says, “Replacing traditional seeds with commercial varieties is not an official government policy.” He says that the Department supports both traditional and commercial farming methods.

Mr. Jaftha acknowledges, however, that national policy has not always been implemented correctly. He says, “Unfortunately, it does happen at provincial level that farmers are not given a choice. We know that there is still a lot of work that needs to be undertaken.”

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Cameroon: Farmer won’t let low rainfall defeat him (IPS)

Olivier Forgha Koumbou washes some freshly picked carrots in a small brook and eats them with relish. His thriving farm in Cameroon’s North West region looks like a miracle in an area where vegetables have withered and died on surrounding farms.

Rains fell lightly here in early March, but it was not enough to prevent crops from dying. Traditional methods of irrigation failed. This year, the region has received only a fraction of its normal precipitation.

Forty-three-year-old farmer Tembene Tangwan says his farm failed him this year. Because of the low rainfall, he cannot use his usual method of irrigating his crops. He explains, “We used to pipe water from a higher altitude to our farms, and used sprinklers for irrigation. But now, the water sources are drying up, and the low pressure in the system cannot carry water through the pipes. We can only pray that the rains will come back.”

But his neighbour, 32-year-old Mr. Koumbou, is doing more than praying. Instead, Mr. Koumbou began harvesting water. He explains, “I discovered that during the night, the volume of water in the nearby stream increases. So I bought containers to store water in, and at night I take my farm workers to collect it. The water is then used during the day to irrigate the crops.”

Other farmers are now starting to follow his methods. Christopher Neba is one. “It’s the only way out,” he says.

Mr. Koumbou has been growing vegetable crops for 25 years. His mother introduced him to farming at a tender age. He remembers, “When I turned seven, I began accompanying my parents to the farm. I have remained a farmer ever since.”

Today, he makes an average annual profit of just under $5,000 U.S. He expects to do even better this year.  He explains, “The fact that many farmers lost hope and abandoned their farms means that prices will rise significantly this year, and that means more profit for me. I do sympathize with my neighbours, but that is how things stand for now.”

Cletus Awah is the North West regional delegate for agriculture. He blames the water shortages on reckless agricultural practices. He explains, “We have told farmers to limit their farmlands to at least 15 metres away from water sources. But very often, they farm right on the riverbeds, destroying the vegetation that protects these water sources … therefore, water levels are bound to drop.”

Mr. Awah believes that solutions to the dwindling water supply will come when farmers begin to protect water sources. He adds, “Farmers must immediately stop farming too close to streams, brooks or wetlands.”

Mr. Koumbou has heeded the call, and admits that farmers are to blame  for the dry water sources. He says, “We discovered that the marshy lands here were so fertile that we cultivated them without thinking of the consequences. Gradually, the water receded, and now we are paying the price. This year, I did not cultivate the marshy land on my farm. And that is why I still have some water.”

The regional department for agriculture supports water harvesting as a short-term solution. Mr. Awah continues, “As a matter of urgency, we plan to construct water storage facilities so that the little available water can be harvested and stored for eventual use by farmers to irrigate their crops.” He adds that a longer-term strategy is to plant trees that can help protect water sources.

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Notes to broadcasters on organic farming

Organic production is widely-known for not using inputs such as chemical fertilizer or pesticides. In addition, organic farmers use practices which respect animal health and dignity, and maximize the use of on-farm resources to maintain soil fertility and natural pest control.

Many farmers in Africa grow their food organically, simply because they either have no access to or cannot afford non-organic inputs. However, some farmers produce organically as a clear choice – they do not want to use chemicals on their soils and plants, and believe that organic farming does less harm to the natural environment. Many believe the resulting produce tastes better and is healthier.

Alternatives to chemicals exist, and many are cheap and easy to produce from materials readily available in the house or on the farm. Examples include pest repellant sprays made from soap or chili, and animal manure or compost as an alternative to chemical fertilizer. When these materials are used in combination with other organic practices, many farmers find they no longer need chemical inputs to achieve good yields.

For more information on organic agriculture in Africa, visit the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement’s (IFOAM) site: http://www.ifoam.org/about_ifoam/around_world/aosc_pages/Key_statistics_on_OA_in_Africa.html

This pdf booklet provides information for farmers’ organizations interested in entering the organic export market: http://www.anancy.net/documents/file_en/Agrodok-48-Entering_the_organic_export_market.pdf


Some countries in Southern and Eastern Africa have organic farming organizations and networks where you can get more information and contacts:

Southern Africa: http://www.africanorganics.org/progsum.html

Kenya: http://www.koan.co.ke/

Tanzania: http://www.kilimohai.org/

Zambia: http://www.oppaz.org.zm/

Uganda: http://www.nogamu.org.ug/

Namibia: http://www.noa.org.na/

For a list of organizations affiliated with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, categorized by country, see: http://www.ifoam.org/organic_world/directory/index.html

You may want to refer to these Farm Radio International scripts on organic farming and related practices:

Using compost as fertilizer gives good yields and conserves soil: A Participatory Radio Campaign in Ghana (Package 94, Script 5, December 2011) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/94-5script_en.asp

-Tea for the soil: How manure tea feeds the soil (Package 91, Script 3, July 2010) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/91-3script_en.asp

-Improve manure to make better fertilizer (Package 91, Script 7, July 2010) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/91-7script_en.asp

-Farmers can earn income producing compost (Package 80, Script 3, March 2007) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/80-3script_en.asp

-Kenyan farmer uses organic farming practices (Package 75, Script 7, June 2005) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/75-7script_en.asp

Organic farming is a hotly debated topic among farmers, researchers and consumers. You could bring some of this debate to a radio show, perhaps as a roundtable discussion or as a question and answer show. Invite people who represent a variety of viewpoints, for example, an organic farmer, a “conventional” farmer, an agro-input salesman, or an NGO worker or agricultural researcher. Ask about the benefits of being certified as an organic farmer, but be sure to explain any challenges too. Ask whether there is a local or national market for organic food, and, if so, whether higher prices are available and justified. Try to ascertain what proportion of organic farming in your region is organic by default or by choice, and ask what difference these two approaches make to marketing, price and profit. Be prepared for a lively discussion!

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Notes to broadcasters on seeds

The farmer in this week’s story says that seeds are the pillar of her family. Seeds bind families together and provide continuity and security. Seeds are the first link in the food chain, and therefore in community and household food security. The quality, the accessibility and the variety of seed to be planted are vital elements which help determine the success of a farmer’s crop.

Some commentators believe genetically modified organisms provide an answer. For others, conventionally-bred high-yielding seeds and planting materials are the best solution. But with factors such as climate change, many believe that research efforts, investment and value need to be devoted to locally-developed seed materials, local crop diversity, and the knowledge that accompanies it.

Most small-scale African farmers rely on their own seed, especially for non-staple crops. In some African countries, it is estimated that only 5% of farmers purchase seed produced by formal institutions. But for crops such as maize, up to 80% buy hybrid seed. These figures hint at the potential market for seed companies. Seed companies regularly patent crop varieties, and promote their seed in rural areas, aiming to increase the percentage of bought seed which is planted by farmers. International seed companies are increasingly involved in the African seed industry.

Here is some general background reading on seed systems in Africa:

Understanding Seed Systems Used by Small Farmers in Africa: Focus on Markets.  http://webapp.ciat.cgiar.org/africa/pdf/seed_pb6.pdf

Seed systems: Off to a good start. http://spore.cta.int/index.php?option=com_content&task=view=en&id=1130&catid=9

Website of SeedMap.org: http://www.seedmap.org/

The website of The African Seed Trade Association: http://afsta.org/

“Peasant seeds, the foundation of food sovereignty in Africa.” Booklet downloadable in French and English: http://pubs.iied.org/14565IIED.html

A number of international organizations campaign around seed and food sovereignty issues:

In February and March 2011, Farm Radio Weekly ran a series on seed sovereignty, which included original stories from Burkina Faso, South Africa and Zambia. Browse issues FRW 146, 148 and 149: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/03/

Farm Radio International has produced a number of scripts related to seeds:
-Two women rice farmers discuss their best seed saving practices. Package 85, Script 5, September 2008. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/85-5script_en.asp
-Starting a community seed bank. Package 56, Script 6, July 2000.

-Collecting seeds for a community seed bank. Package 56, Script 7, July 2000.
-Save your Own Seeds, Part One: Seed Selection. Package 42, Script 1, October 1996. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/42-1script_en.asp
-Save your Own Seeds, Part Two: Seed Storage. Package 42, Script 2, October 1996. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/42-2script_en.asp

We hope you are inspired to produce your own programs on seeds and seed ownership. Because it is such a broad topic, you may want to choose one specific angle and invite people to discuss opposing sides in a debate. Here are some questions as a start:

-What traditional seed varieties do you use on your farm?
-How did you obtain these seeds?
-How do these seeds help ensure your family’s food security?
-What made farmers decide to try improved seed varieties? Were they struggling with a pest or disease? Did they hope to achieve higher yields?
-How do farmers in your area obtain improved seeds? Is it difficult to reach sellers? Are the improved seeds more expensive than traditional seeds?
-How did they decide which seed variety was best for their farm? Did they carry out field tests, consult local extension officers, etc.?
-What was the result of using improved varieties in terms of yield, percentage of loss, return relative to cost of seed and other inputs, etc.?
-Did the farmers experience any unexpected problems with the improved seeds? What did they do to ensure family food security while trying the improved seeds?

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Notes to broadcasters on water harvesting

Water scarcity already affects more than a third of the world’s population. With climate change, this number will undoubtedly increase. But there are many practical solutions to water shortages. One solution is water harvesting. Rainwater harvesting – often with a roof to catch water and a storage tank – is used extensively, while there are many traditional and modern systems for harvesting surface water and ground water. In this week’s story, a farmer simply uses his powers of observation to note that a nearby stream carries more water at night. By taking advantage of this observation, he harvests enough water to get good harvests while his neighbour’s crops are suffering from drought.

Other strategies to adapt to water scarcity include recycling water, enacting and enforcing laws to protect streams and rivers, and using drought-tolerant crops and crop varieties.

While many water harvesting systems involve harvesting rainwater via roofs and gutters, harvesting surface water involves collecting runoff water after a rainstorm, or obtaining water from intermittent streams, rivers or wetlands in open ponds or reservoirs. This stored surface water is typically used for irrigation, livestock and aquaculture. For domestic use, this kind of water would require treatment.

Surface water can be collected indirectly by diverting it to ponds and / or spreading it over a large surface area. This type of surface water spreading increases soil moisture and crop yields, and is called spate irrigation. Surface water harvesting – at a small or large scale – revives and improves the productivity of the soil and allows for crop cultivation, tree planting and raising livestock.

Typical surface water harvesting techniques include:

  • stone or earth embankments used as contour bunds,
  • terracing,
  • traditional systems such as the Sudan trus system,
  • semi-circular bunds such as demi-lunes, and
  • pits, including zai and tassa in West Africa or chololo and ngoro in East Africa.

Farm Radio International has produced a number of radio scripts on water harvesting, including these two:

-Catch rain from your roof (Package 89, Script 6, December 2009) http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/89-6script_en.asp

-Malawian farmers catches water for crops in trenches and pits (Package 75, Script 2, June 2005) http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/75-2script_en.asp

There is a wealth of information and lists of further resources on water harvesting in this issue pack:

Water harvesting: an issue pack (Package 89, Script 3, December 2009) http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/89-3script_en.asp

Farm Radio Weekly has published some stories on water harvesting, including:

-Sahel: Fighting malnutrition with local food security and water management initiatives (FRW 122 August 2010) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/08/02/sahel-fighting-malnutrition-with-local-food-security-and-water-management-initiatives-irin-rfi-reuters-bbc-icrisat/

Zimbabwe: Collecting rainfall in the city (FRW 141, January 2011) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/01/17/zimbabwe-collecting-rainfall-in-the-city-ips/

-Kenya: Rainwater harvesting improves rural livelihoods (FRW 15, March 2008)  http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/03/17/1-kenya-rainwater-harvesting-improves-rural-livelihoods-various-sources/.

If you want to create programs on water harvesting, you could talk to progressive farmers, older traditional farmers, organic farmers, NGOs with an interest in water or in adapting to climate change, and governments or companies with an interest in water.

Find out whether any farmers harvest rainwater or surface water in your listening area.

What methods do they use? Are these methods effective when there is an extended period of low rainfall? What other changes do they make to their farming and domestic life to adapt to low rainfall?

Do farmers plant drought-tolerant crops? Or perhaps drought-tolerant varieties of staple crops? Do farmers make collective efforts to harvest rainwater? Has the government or NGOs helped these efforts? What are the results of efforts to harvest rainwater or surface water?

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Africa-wide Women and Young Professionals in Science competitions

CTA (The Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation) and consortium partners invite abstracts for their 2012-2013 Africa-wide competitions on women and young professionals in science. The competitions recognize and reward the contributions of women and young professionals involved in research, communications or advocacy for policy change. The overall theme is “Feeding 1 billion in Africa in a changing world.”

There are two separate competitions: one for young professionals (25-40 years of age) and the other for women scientists, researchers, educators, extension workers, agro-entrepreneurs or farmers. For both competitions, entries are accepted from individual s or groups anywhere in Africa.

Eligible submissions include any science, technology and innovation-related research and development activity linked to the topic “Feeding 1 billion in Africa in a changing world” which has been undertaken within the last five years and shows measurable impact on agricultural development or rural livelihoods in Africa.

Submit an extended abstract (1000-2000 words) to scicom2012@cta.int and a copy to agsci_award@fara-africa.org.  All semi-finalists will be invited to the 6th Africa Science Week and FARA General Assembly scheduled for June 2013 in Accra, Ghana. Cash awards will be presented to the winners.  Deadline: 14 May 2012.

For full details on both competitions:

Find the Women in Science competition announcement here:


Find the Young Professional in Science competition announcement here:


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Climate Development Mechanism Radio Club for Africa

This is an online radio club open to radio journalists and radio stations in Africa. It aims to raise awareness about the Climate Development Mechanism (CDM) in Africa. Journalists and stations can join the club by entering their details on the website.

Radio journalists can promote their work and enter various contests. Members can listen to and download a wide variety of broadcast-ready radio packages which are distributed for free.

Visit the site at: http://cdm.unfccc.int/about/multimedia/africanradioclub/

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Rite FM hosts intern from Canada

Rite FM is a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner based in Somanya, in the Yilo Krobo District of the Eastern Region of Ghana. RITE FM calls itself, “The station for agric and social development.” The station recently welcomed Michelle Zilio for a six-week internship. Just days before heading off to Ghana, Michelle completed a double major in journalism and human rights from Carleton University’s Journalism program. Michelle comes from Cambridge, Ontario in Canada.

She says, “My duties at the station are varied − I use my skills to act as general support for news production and reporting. I write scripts, edit clips, produce documentaries, conduct interviews, conduct live desk reports and shadow reporters in the field as they speak to sources in [the] Twi [language]. I am very happy with my choice to join the staff at Rite FM. It has allowed me to experience how journalism works in a different country, all while constantly challenging the cultural norms I am used to from home.”

She is writing a blog during her time in Ghana. You can follow her experiences and thoughts during what she calls “the biggest adventure of my life” here: http://michellezilio.wordpress.com/ghana/

When she returns to Ottawa at the end of May, Michelle will begin an internship with the Ottawa Citizen, the capital city’s largest daily newspaper. We hope she shares her experiences in Ghana with her new colleagues.

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Kenyan farmer uses organic farming practices

This week’s script tells the story of Mr. George Opondo, an organic farmer in western Kenya. Mr. Opondo talks about some of the organic practices he uses: natural pest control, herbal medicines and organic feeds for his animals, and a trench compost pit. He is satisfied that organic farming brings him good health and good yields. When asked why he practices organic agriculture, he replies:  It’s healthy, it’s sustainable, and it’s affordable.


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