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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 #241

Opportunities in farming and fishing – and GMOs to enter Uganda?

Welcome to Farm Radio Weekly issue #241. This edition contains two stories about new opportunities from Cameroon and Lesotho. We also present a news brief from Uganda, where lawmakers are debating the possibility of opening the country’s farms to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

New varieties of beans were introduced to farmers in Cameroon at the beginning of the 2012 planting season. Farmers are now harvesting their crops, and finding that the yield is better than their traditional seeds.

A dam in the highlands of Lesotho is providing food and work for local people. The fish farming industry is providing both an alternative to migrating to the South African mines, and a new dish for their menus.

And, as Uganda’s Parliament debates a new National Biotechnology and Bio Safety Bill, farmers and scientists offer their opinions on the introduction of GMOs to their country. We invite you to assess the situation in your country, and bring the debate to your listening communities.

Finally, African journalists working in print, electronic or broadcast media are invited to enter a continent-wide competition organized by CNN. The deadline is approaching fast, so read more in the event section.

Keep broadcasting!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Cameroon: Bean farmer increases production with new variety (by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Cameroon)

Bonaventure Nkemogne measures beans with a glass and then pours them into a plastic bag. Smiling broadly, he says, “I am trying to sell my excess harvest. I had three 25-kilogram bags of beans and more.”

Mr. Nkemogne grows beans and maize in Bafoussam, a city in western Cameroon. He says, “I wanted to stop because my bean crop plants became very susceptible to disease and attacks from caterpillars which gnawed leaves and seedlings.” He was spending too much on insecticides, so as soon as he heard about new disease-resistant varieties he decided to try them.

The Institute of Agricultural Research for Development, also called IRAD, is the agency responsible for conducting agricultural research in Cameroon. Last year, IRAD promoted seven new bean varieties across the country. Mr. Nkemogne attended training sessions and spoke to IRAD agents at the beginning of the 2012 planting season. He selected one of the varieties, Mac-33, because he liked the shape and colour of the beans. He says he owes his good harvest to the new variety.

Between 2006 and 2012, IRAD conducted field tests at their experimental stations and in farmers’ fields. Nguegim Martin is a researcher at IRAD who helped test the new beans. He says the first batches of new seeds were selected and officially released during the 2012-2013 cropping year.

Pierre Tenfouet also works at IRAD. He says: “The performance of these new varieties is doubled. The old seeds produce about one and a half tonnes per hectare while the new seeds produce up to three tonnes per hectare.” The new varieties have been bred to be more nutritious, richer in protein, iron and zinc. The plants are also less susceptible to attacks from pests and disease.

Pierrot Simo is a farmer in Bafoussam. He heard about the new bean varieties but was hesitant at first. He explains: “I’m a little afraid of ‘new.’ First, I want to see the results that others will get before I commit.” But his curiosity led him to try out the new variety. The results were good and his verdict was clear. He says, “The taste is the same as [is] the cooking time. I think the big difference could be in [the] level of productivity.”

Mr. Nkemogne confirms that he has experienced an increase in production. He says that, over the past several years, he harvested about 12 bags of beans. However, in recent years his harvest had declined until he was only harvesting nine sacks.

He says, “With the new variety, I had 15 bags. I’m happy because my goal was mainly not having to spend too much money for the purchase of insecticides.”

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Lesotho: Fishing for work in Lesotho (IRIN)

Tsotleho Befole is a 24-year-old man from Lesotho who travelled to South Africa twice in the past year to find work. But neither trip was successful.

Many migrate to neighbouring South Africa to search for work in the mines. Jobs are scarce in Lesotho, with an estimated third or more of the population unemployed. The peak of this migration was in the late 1980s, when about 125,000 Basotho worked in South African mines.

Mr. Befole points his finger towards a fish farm at the Katse Dam, part of the $16 billion US, 30-year Lesotho Highlands Water Project. He says, “The only work is down there.” The dam is beginning to offer an unexpected benefit: jobs.

Mabusetsa Lenka is head of the water, justice and environment programs at a national NGO called Transformation Resource Centre. He says that when Katse Dam was built, longer-term employment opportunities were not considered. The potential economic benefits from tourism or improving farming practices with local irrigation were ignored.

However, says Mr. Lenka, “Right now, something that is being tried is fisheries. This could be a viable employment opportunity.”

Mpiko Ncholu is a 49-year-old man who makes his living catching yellowfish, a bony fish with little commercial value beyond local consumption. He says, “On my best day, I caught 60 fish and sold them for 700 maluti ($90 US).” On bad days, he catches nothing.

Mr. Ncholu’s meagre catch with hook-and-line fishing contrasts starkly with the output of Katse Fish Farms, also known as KFF. The company was the first to introduce aquaculture to Katse Dam. Employing more than 30 staff, KFF produces 300 tonnes of rainbow trout each year. The company aims to boost production to 1200 tonnes by 2017, and expects that higher production will mean more jobs.

Jobs are available for people without a fishing background. Jabari Kadafi is a former taxi driver who now works for KFF, earning a monthly salary of 1,500 maluti, or $164 US. This is a good income in Lesotho and allows him to support his three children.

A second fisheries company, Highlands Trout, has created 62 jobs. The company has established processing facilities to gut and fillet fish. There are plans to smoke and cure the trout, which would further increase job opportunities for local people.

Chief Mamphole Molapo presides over eight highland villages. She says the dam is a mixed blessing. There are some jobs and roads, but dam waters have drowned the trees on which the people relied for fuel and timber. Chief Molapo says, “When we want wood, we have to put our hand in our pockets. There are shops now and some benefits from tourism, but then there is a lot [of] crime.”

An agreement between KFF and the community stipulates that about one-half of one per cent of the value of KFF’s production be deposited in a community trust. The trust is managed by a steering committee, which includes representatives from the local community and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The first initiative the trust supported was the rehabilitation of the local drinking water system.

As well as jobs, local people have received another bonus from the fish farms: a new type of fish to eat. Through the agreement, the community receives fish after each bimonthly harvest. Chief Malapo says this is a benefit because the local people, especially the elderly, prefer eating trout to yellowfish. She says, “The elderly have no teeth, so they can’t eat yellowfish because they are too bony.”

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News brief: Ugandan farmers say no to GMOs (AllAfrica, with additional information from AATF)

Eland Muyambi is a potato farmer from Kabale, in southwest Uganda. Here is Mr. Myuambi’s opinion on the National Biotechnology and Bio Safety Bill 2013, which is currently being read by Uganda’s national parliament: “The country will be invaded with GMO products if this Bill is passed.”

Genetically modified organisms or GMOs are plants or animals which have been produced using laboratory-based genetic engineering, rather than through cross-breeding via pollination. Some GMOs are produced by introducing genetic material from the same species. This speeds the process of getting a variety on the market. Other GMOs, known as transgenics, receive genes from unrelated species: for example, genes from a common bacterium were introduced into maize to protect the crop against insect damage. Desirable qualities, like the ability to resist heat, drought, pests and diseases, can be introduced to plants and animals in a short period of time, as opposed to the years that traditional breeding requires.

Mr. Muyambi believes that GMOs will have negative effects on both humans and the environment. Like many small-scale farmers, he does not want Ugandan lawmakers to pass the Bill into law. The farmers argue that the law will promote a massive inflow of GMOs to the country, which will damage the farming economy.

Many farmers believe that the introduction of GMOs cannot solve food security issues. In fact, they think it will worsen the problem. Those in favour of the Bill believe that it will guarantee that GMOs are grown safely and with little impact on the environment. But many farmers think these proponents are being selective with the truth about GMOs in an effort to convince the public of their safety and introduce them.

Mr. Muyambi warns: “The government and parliament should think twice when passing this bill. The cost of food will go very high, out of reach of the common people.” He believes that the expense of GMOs will impact heavily on small-scale farmers. Many GMO crops require expensive fertilizers and pesticides.

But other Ugandans think that introducing some GMOs will be beneficial. Dr. Andrew Kiggundu is the acting director of NARO, the National Agricultural Research Organization. He has spent seven years working on a GM banana with six times the normal level of vitamin A, in a bid to help solve the country’s nutritional problems.

GM bananas could be widely available in Uganda in five years’ time, if the Bill is passed into law. Matooke, made from bananas, is a major staple and source of carbohydrates in Uganda. Ugandans eat up to a kilogram of matooke every day.

Dr. Kiggundu says: “There will be considerable debate both pro and against the technology, but we are very optimistic that the law will be eventually passed.”

NARO has been lobbying at the top levels of government. The organization believes that the government will probably support their projects and that genetically modified bananas will be released to farmers.

Dr. Giregon Olupot is a Senior Lecturer at the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science at Makerere University, Kampala. He warns that farmers risk falling foul of the law. Because GMOs are new life forms, biotechnology companies have obtained patents which restrict their use. Dr. Olupot warns that companies which produce GMOs will have the power to sue farmers whose crops contain genes from GMOs. Traditional, non-GMO crops can become contaminated by genes from GMO crops through cross-pollination from neighbouring fields.

Dr. Olupot says: “GMOs therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country like Uganda.”

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Notes to broadcasters: New varieties

Since the dawn of time, humans have consciously and unconsciously improved the plants they grow for food and the animals they raise. The concept is simple: breed from plants and animals which have desirable characteristics, and produce an offspring which combines the best qualities of its parents. Selecting plants with larger seeds, stronger stems and a healthier appearance has come naturally to farmers since they first domesticated food crops. Equally, animals have been bred for qualities which the farmer requires: wool length and quality in sheep, muscle growth or udder size in cows, and strength or speed in horses.

The Austrian monk Gregor Mendel is recognized as the pioneer of genetic science. He demonstrated, through pollinating different types of peas with each other, that genetic characteristics are inherited and that new varieties can be produced that share the traits of both parents. For a more detailed description of Mendelian genetics, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregor_Mendel and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendelian_inheritance

Hybridization is the process in agriculture of breeding new, hardy and disease-resistant crops. It involves crossing two genetically different individuals to result in a third individual with a different and often preferred set of characteristics. A full explanation can be found here: http://lifeofplant.blogspot.com/2011/03/hybridization.html

Farm Radio Weekly has covered variety choice several times. Two stories in this vein come from Kenya,  including last issue’s (#240) article about upland rice: (http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/03/24/kenya-upland-rice-gives-hope-to-small-scale-maize-farmers-by-sawa-pius-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-kenya/) and this one about new wheat varieties: http://www.barzaradio.com/content/kenya-farmers-optimistic-about-new-wheat-varieties-irin-0

A Notes to broadcasters on new varieties of cassava which can be found here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/02/04/notes-to-broadcasters-on-new-cassava-varieties-2/

A script from July 2001 suggests one way of introducing, on radio, the subject of selective breeding for favourable characteristics: http://www.farmradio.org/radio-resource-packs/package-60-local-knowledge-for-local-radio/indigenous-knowledge-and-livestock-raising/

This story may inspire you to produce a program on the advantages and disadvantages of growing new varieties. Here are some general questions to get your research started. You could interview farmers, seed merchants, researchers or NGO staff.

-Under what circumstances are new varieties beneficial?

-What benefits have farmers seen with new varieties?

-Why do farmers choose newly bred varieties?

-What are the main drawbacks – for example, do farmers need to buy seed each year?

-Are any farmers returning to traditional varieties instead of seeking seeds of new varieties?

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Notes to broadcasters: Fish farming

Fish farming, also called aquaculture, aims to raise edible fish in easily manageable areas – from small ponds to cages in the sea. Wikipedia has a good overview of the aquaculture industry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_farming

Farm Radio Weekly has covered this subject several times before. From issue #234 comes a story about a Masaai farmer who took up fish farming after settling on land on a river bank: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/02/04/kenya-masaai-herder-turns-from-cattle-to-fish-by-sawa-pius-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-kenya/

A story in issue #34 describes attempts to rebuild the fish farming sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/08/25/3-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-a-country-that-loves-fish-rebuilds-its-fish-industry-toronto-star-world-bank/ The accompanying Notes to broadcasters can be found here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/08/25/notes-to-broadcasters-on-rebuilding-fish-industry/

Aquaculture is a vital economic activity for youth in Séby Ponty, Senegal. You can read how their activities benefit the community, and how fish, vegetable and animal farmers compete for vital water supplies here: http://www.barzaradio.com/fr/content/senegal-youth-find-opportunities-fish-farming-ips

Fish farming has its opponents. The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has its own views on the processes involved in the aquaculture business. Their website is available at this link: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/aquafarming.aspx

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization produced a handbook with instructions on how to set up a fish farm. It was written specifically for Zambian conditions, but the broad principles are universally applicable. It can be found here: http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/003/AC079E/AC079E00.htm

Issues related to creating dams are controversial, especially when projects are commissioned without consulting people who will lose their homes and land to the rising waters. Are any of your listening communities affected by these issues?

Fish is an excellent source of protein. But is it commonly eaten in your community? Talk with people who raise fish and ask them about their markets. Find out if there is competition amongst different kinds of farmers for water sources, and air a discussion program on which farmers and consumers can debate these issues.

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Notes to broadcasters: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered by genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research, and to produce goods other than food. For a briefing on the subject, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism

The purpose of this News brief is to inspire a discussion on the subject of GMOs. For more details on the passage of the Bill in Uganda go to: http://allafrica.com/stories/201303151188.html

An article on the current situation in Kenya can be found at: http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/OpEd/comment/Lost-in-translation-The-Kenyan-GMO-debate-/-/434750/1658160/-/6bukxwz/-/index.html

The use of genetically modified crops in Africa is hotly debated. Opponents claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have not been proven to be safe, and that the long-term effects on the environment and health are unknown. Supporters believe they are a key tool to provide long-term food security.

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project aims to develop drought-tolerant African maize using conventional breeding and genetic engineering techniques. The benefits and safety of the maize varieties will be assessed by national authorities according to their regulatory requirements. A long-term goal is to make drought-tolerant maize available royalty-free to small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

At this link you will find a useful frequently asked questions document on the WEMA initiative: http://www.aatf-africa.org/userfiles/WEMA-FAQ.pdf.

The project has appeared in local press. Here is an article in the New Vision newspaper, Uganda, in late 2009: http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/9/756/704455.

A recent presentation by one of the project scientists can be viewed here:  http://www.ofabafrica.org/meeting_presentations/OFAB_presentaion_29Sept10.pdf

Reporters from the New Agriculturist recently interviewed Dr. Godfrey Asea, the senior maize breeder at the National Crop Resources Research Institute, Uganda. The transcript can be read here:  http://www.agfax.net/radio/detail.php?i=330.

The Biosafety Clearing-House website offers a searchable database of laws and regulations on GMOs in various countries: http://bch.cbd.int/database/laws/.

GMO news, articles and information can be found here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/

The stories on which this News brief was based can be found here: http://allafrica.com/stories/201304020466.html and here: http://banana.aatf-africa.org/news/media/new-gm-banana-could-help-tackle-uganda%E2%80%99s-nutrition-challenges

You may wish to review the following Farm Radio Weekly stories, which highlight some milestones in the GMO debate in Africa over the past few years:

Kenya: Groups protest import of GM maize (Issue 109, May 2010)


Malawi: Farmers succeed with new varieties of drought tolerant maize (Issue 128, September 2010)


Kenya: Kibaki gives seal of approval on biosafety law for the production and use of genetically modified crops (Issue 56, February 2009)


Zimbabwe: Farmers protest imported GM produce (Issue 95, January 2010)

South Africa: Farmers reject GM potato (Issue 38, September 2008)

Benin: A cautious approach in the midst of the heated debate on GMOs (Issue 16, March 2008) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/03/31/1-benin-a-cautious-approach-in-the-midst-of-the-heated-debate-on-gmos-inter-press-service-allafricacom/

South Africa: GM crop problems called failure of biotechnology (Issue 63, April 2009)


If you are interested in researching a story about GMOs in your area, you may wish to consider the following questions:

-What laws has your country enacted to regulate biosafety and biosecurity?
-What information about GMOs is available in your area? Who provides this information?

-How much do farmers know about GMOs? Where do they get their information?

-Would farmers consider planting genetically modified varieties of maize?

-Do farmers think GM maize is a good option in drought-prone areas? Or can they suggest other options for maintaining yields when rains are poor?
-Which NGOs, industry groups, or other organizations in your area advocate for or against GMOs?

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CNN African Journalist Awards, 2013

Journalists are invited to apply for these annual prizes. Entries will be accepted from African nationals who work on the continent for African-owned, or Africa-headquartered, media organizations.

Submitted work must have appeared in print publications or electronic media that are primarily targeted at and received by an African audience.

The judges will be looking for entries which were broadcast or published in English, French or Portuguese between January and December 2012. The pieces must tell their story in a balanced, comprehensive and objective manner, and display organized research and insight.

Each finalist will receive a cash prize, with each category winner also receiving a laptop computer and printer. Categories are listed at http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/africanawards/categories.html

Entries can be submitted through the CNN website. Links to entry forms in English, French and Portuguese can be found here: http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/africanawards/submit.html along with details of how to submit your completed forms. Time is short, so hurry!

Get your entry to the collection point nearest you by 17th April 2013. No extensions are possible.

See http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/africanawards/submit.html for links to English, French and Portuguese collection points.

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Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index for 2013

Every year, Reporters Without Borders compiles and publishes its Press Freedom Index report, which ranks press freedom in 179 countries. Rankings reflect the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and citizen journalists enjoy in each country. It also takes into account measures taken by authorities to respect freedom of the press.

According to this year’s report, “Although many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions.”

To access a summary of the 2013 report along with a table that ranks all 179 countries, click here: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html

To access the full report: http://fr.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/classement_2013_gb-bd.pdf

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Meeting Farm Radio Weekly writers!

At the beginning of February this year, Karen Hampson, an FRI staff member based in Arusha, Tanzania, attended a symposium presented by a local NGO called ECHO.

After her presentation on FRI and its projects in Tanzania, several members of the audience approached Karen with questions. One of them hung back, waiting patiently for an opportunity to talk with her. When she was free, he said, “My name is Hendry Mziray, and you published my story in Farm Radio Weekly.”

Karen says, “It was a nice surprise to meet Mziray. I remember talking to him on the phone from Ottawa and developing the story.” Mziray and Karen talked for a while. Mziray said he was happy to have written the story, as it helped him get a promotion!

His bosses were so delighted with the exposure for their organization, ACT TAP, that they promoted him. He now works as Assistant National Coordinator.

You can read his story here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/09/06/2-tanzania-a-renovated-warehouse-brings-new-opportunities-new-agriculturist-with-additional-information-from-hendry-mziray-in-tanzania/ . Why not contribute to Farm Radio Weekly? You never know what might happen …

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Comparing crop varieties: Start small, go slowly

In this week’s story from Cameroon, a farmer improves his yield and reduces his expenses by growing a new variety of beans. Our script of the week features a farmer who carefully compares a new variety of rice with the variety he currently grows.

To learn more about its qualities, the farmer grows the new variety on small test plots for four years and keeps detailed records. As the script notes, it often takes several years to find out whether a new variety is well suited to your growing conditions. New varieties can yield well at first, but yields may drop over time or during poor weather. They might need expensive fertilizers to keep yields high, or may yield well but be less tasty or easy to cook. There are many things to consider.

The message of the script is: When you’re thinking about planting a new variety, start small, go slowly, and keep detailed records.


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