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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 #243

Farmers face the future

Welcome to issue #243 of Farm Radio Weekly, in which we again highlight stories from Burkina Faso and Uganda. We also bring news of difficulties faced by farmers in Madagascar, following floods caused by a cyclone.

Cotton growers in Burkina Faso have been growing genetically modified cotton for several years. But are they reaping the promised rewards?

A businessman in Uganda has become a flourishing farmer, after realizing that his grocery was leading him into bankruptcy. After taking advice from farmers and extension workers, his blooming business is benefiting his family and his neighbours alike.

Southern Madagascar was devastated by high winds and flooding in February. Now farmers are facing a new disaster: swarms of locusts are ravaging their remaining crops. Thousands face hunger as clean-up operations attempt to quell a growing crisis. Read more in our news brief.

And Africans are rediscovering their horticultural heritage. This week’s script tells of Kenyans who are growing, and making money from, once-forgotten indigenous food plants.

Keep broadcasting!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Burkina Faso: Mixed returns for GM cotton farmers (by Nourou-Dhine Salouka, for Farm Radio Weekly)

Under a blazing sun, Thiao Bonkoho picks precious cotton bolls with his bare hands. His family and hired labourers help. His field is over 12 hectares, the work is tedious, and the harvest poor, yielding less than one tonne per hectare. Visibly disappointed, he says: “I will get little more than 11 tonnes. This is not a good season for me.”

Mr. Bonkoho lives in Bouéré, a village 280 kilometres west of the capital city of Ougadougou. The economy of this area has revolved around cotton for decades. Whole families are involved in the production of “white gold.” This year, local farmers planted ​​over 300 hectares of cotton. But, like Mr. Bonkoho, many are disappointed at harvest time.

Tiny Boni is one of them. For the fourth time in eight years he will not make a profit. He switched to genetically modified, or GM, cotton in 2009, hoping for higher yields and profits.

During the mid-2000s, cotton farmers in Burkina Faso were desperate. The selling price was steadily declining, the rains were irregular and profits virtually non-existent. The government, along with bio-tech companies Monsanto and Syngenta, promoted the benefits of new GM cotton varieties. Mr. Boni remembers: “The GM cotton was presented as resistant to pests and drought. These reasons convinced us.” Mr. Bonkoho says, “Many farmers were heavily indebted after harvest. Conventional cotton was no longer a solution for us.”

But four years later, GM cotton farmers are still waiting for the rewards. Some say production costs have increased significantly, contrary to what was advertised.

Mr. Bonkoho says: “The main advantage of GMOs is the reduction in our workload. I can grow cereals with the time saved. But the expense? It is a different story … The GM cotton costs more to grow. I spend on average 125,000 Francs ($250 US) per hectare.” He spent only 90,000 Francs ($180 US) per hectare for conventional cotton.

The farmer is also disappointed that GM cotton is not as heavy as conventional cotton. GM cotton bolls have a smaller seed than conventional varieties, so they weigh less. The heavier the bolls, the more the farmer is paid at the weighing station.

Bamba Adama is the technical officer at SOFITEX, a state-controlled agro-industrial and commercial agency involved in the entire cotton production cycle. He dismisses the farmers’ claims, arguing that they are not growing GM cotton properly. He argues: “Producers are not playing fair. They use fertilizer to produce grain. But GM cotton requires an equally rigorous application of technical standards.”

Many farmers continue to grow conventional cotton. Mahamady Dabo lives in Samandéni, 160 kilometres west of Bouère. He has grown cotton for twenty years and makes a profit of more than one million francs ($ 2,625 US) every year. He says his secret is simple: “For good cotton harvests, it must be produced on large areas. This minimizes the cost of production.” Mr. Dabo plants an average of 20 hectares.

But the farmers who have switched to GM cotton see it as their future. Tiny Boni says he will not abandon GM cotton, and blames last season’s poor harvest on erratic rainfall. Thiao Bonkoho agrees, and says: “I do not regret switching to GM. If I had sown conventional seeds, last year’s pest attacks would have cost me everything. It is thanks to GM cotton that I have a harvest at all.”

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Uganda: Vegetables and bananas mean prosperity for farmer (By Charles Okalebo, for Farm Radio Weekly)

Near the source of the Nile in central Uganda, even little children can find the home of Muhammed Hassan Magumba. The thirty-six-year-old is one of the leading farmers in Jinja district. But ten years ago, it was a different story.

Mr. Magumba was a grocer in the village of Butiki-Kyekidde, but realized that his business was failing. Although he worked hard, too many people took advantage of him. He remembers, “People who came to buy from the grocery took goods on credit … I could not resist.”

In 2004, Mr. Magumba decided that his business was not working. He visited Charles Ebong, a farmer in neighbouring Kayunga district. There he learned new farming methods, including how to use animal wastes. He took a risk and started growing vegetables.

He bought a cow and used the manure for his crops and the urine to replace pesticides. Mr. Magumba says that urine was particularly successful in countering bacterial wilt disease in bananas. His yields increased until he was making a profit of 40,000 Ugandan shillings ($15 US) per day.

Within a year, he had saved seven and a half million Ugandan shillings ($2,900 US). Mr. Magumba used the money to enlarge his farm to almost three hectares, and diversified into growing bananas and raising goats. With this increased capacity, he started to supply hotels in Jinja and Kampala. He also sells to traders from Juba, in South Sudan. Mr. Magumba provides several of his neighbours with both planting materials and business advice.

Hajji Suliman Bagalana is the agricultural officer for Jinja District. Mr. Magumba often questions him on new or improved technologies. Mr. Bagalana says, “Magumba is an enterprising farmer who is always consulting experts.”

Mr. Magumba has three and a half hectares of bananas, one hectare of horticultural crops and two hectares of cassava and potatoes. He also grows maize on two hectares rented from neighbours.

He employs nine people on the farm. His wife is in charge of records and accounts, and keeps the books up to date. Mr. Magumba says: “The problem many upcoming farmers face is that they are not good at bookkeeping. They consume both capital and profit, leaving nothing to keep the business running.”

Daudi Migereko is the local Member of Parliament and the Ugandan Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development. In February 2013, he directed community leaders in Jinja District to promote Mr. Magumba as a role model in horticulture.

The farmer says that growing vegetables is a very sensitive enterprise which requires a lot of care and commitment. He believes that farmers often do not spend enough time on their gardens. Without due care, he says, it is possible to lose half your investment before the plants even make it to the fields.

He says, “I do not think that I would have been able to pay school fees without farming.” The farm allows him to provide for his family’s needs, support his neighbours’ businesses, and meet market demand.

Once a failing grocer, Mr. Magumba is now a successful farmer. His diligence has proved to be his fortune. Mr. Magumba was wise enough to know when to stop throwing good money after bad, and where to get the knowledge to re-start his career.

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News brief: Consecutive catastrophes hit Madagascan farmers (IRIN)

In February of this year, farmers in Madagascar’s southwestern province of Tulear were hit hard by a natural disaster. A cyclone caused major flooding, destroying forty per cent of their crops. Now, swarms of locusts have arrived, threatening food security in a region already among the poorest in the country.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO, the cyclone not only damaged crops and homes; it also provided favourable conditions for locusts to breed. About half of Madagascar is now infested by billions of the plant-devouring insects. FAO estimates that about two-thirds of the island will be invaded by locusts by September if no action is taken.

The National Anti-Locust Centre has not been able to carry out necessary prevention work for several years, mainly due to a lack of funds. FAO is trying to raise US$41 million to respond to the current emergency and to implement a three-year campaign to prevent future infestations.

Mr. Tsitindry is a 52-year-old farmer in Fenoarivo, a community about 100 kilometres south of Tulear city. He usually earns a reasonable living from his seven hectares of land. He says, “When the rains were good, I could produce 100 bags of rice and 70 bags of beans.” He sold his crops and bought what his family needed. He also managed to save enough money to buy four cows.

But the cyclone flooded and completely destroyed Mr. Tsitindry’s rice and maize fields. He had to sell two of his cows to raise money. He lost the other two to thieves. Mr. Tsitindry planted vegetables once the water receded, but now these plants are at risk from locusts. He says: “Every morning we all go into the fields and clap to frighten the insects away … we all stay to make sure the locusts don’t come back and eat the leftover crops.”

Dieu Donne Hajasoa is a technical adviser at an information centre for farmers and fishermen in St. Augustin, a fishing village 35 kilometres from Tulear city. He says, “In the last weeks we’ve had many farmers from the remote villages coming here to ask for help.” The authorities in Tulear do not have the resources to help. Farmers need advice on how to clean up their fields, and pesticides to treat the locusts.

The World Food Programme, also known as WFP, says that over 50,000 people in the region were affected by the cyclone. WFP reached 32,000 people with emergency aid, and more than 13,000 are now enrolled in food-for-work projects.

CARE International and WFP set up one such food-for-work project which enables people to earn food for their families by cleaning up Tulear city. But the program will last only one month.

Clementine Claudette and her eight children are among the 3,500 beneficiaries of the CARE project. While her husband tries to replant maize, she receives food in return for work. The project will end soon, but it will be four months before her family can harvest a crop. Mrs. Clementine says, “We’ll try to live off little jobs, like transporting wood to the city and making charcoal.”

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Notes to broadcasters: Genetically modified cotton

Cotton is a soft, fluffy fibre that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants. For more information about the plant, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton

The story in this issue talks about farmers who have chosen to grow a genetically modified variety of the plant. Farm Radio Weekly recently published Notes to broadcasters on the subject of GMOs. You can find the Notes here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/04/08/notes-to-broadcasters-genetically-modified-organisms-gmos/.

This story from Burkina Faso, about the threat to organic cotton from neighbouring GM plants, is available in issue #152: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/04/11/burkina-faso-organic-cotton-under-threat-from-gm-cotton-by-inoussa-maiga-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-burkina-faso/

Notes to broadcasters on cotton in Burkina Faso are available in issue #163 of Farm Radio Weekly through this link: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/07/11/notes-to-broadcasters-on-cotton-in-burkina-faso/

Cotton farmers in Africa often face an uneven playing field when it comes to getting a fair price for their harvest. A November 2010 article in the UK-based Guardian newspaper (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/14/mali-cotton-farmer-fair-trade) talks about the problems that Malian farmers face with cotton prices, while US-based producers receive large subsidies from their government.

Some Malian farmers are getting a better price for their cotton through fair trade schemes: http://fairtradeblog.tumblr.com/post/45101562504/mali-cotton-farmers-fighting-for-a-fair-deal-in-an

Another article about the inequities of the global cotton trade can be found here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-19/booming-cotton-no-boon-to-farmers-in-africa-milked-by-regional-monopolies.html

This Farm Radio International script on cotton was published in Farm Radio Weekly: Developing cotton organizations in Mali: From Village Association to co-operative (FRW 62, April 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/04/20/developing-cotton-organizations-in-mali-from-village-association-to-cooperative/. This story shows how change can happen when farmers’ voices are heard.

You may wish to explore this topic in a program. Are farmer protests common in your country? What issues do farmers protest about? How do farmers voice their concerns? How does government view the protests and react to farmers? Contact farmers’ groups or campaigning/advocacy organizations and ask about issues, methods and successes as well as failures.

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Notes to broadcasters: Vegetable farming

People grow vegetables for many reasons. Farm Radio Weekly has published stories of farmers across Africa who grow vegetables to improve family nutrition: (http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/04/15/burkina-faso-mothers-learn-to-feed-their-children-better-by-growing-their-own-vegetables-by-inoussa-maiga-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-burkina-faso/ ) ; to improve profits: (http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/01/30/tanzania-farmers%E2%80%99-group-profits-by-expanding-vegetable-production-allafrica/ ); or simply because they see no reason  to stop farming (http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/03/24/south-africa-age-no-challenge-to-productive-woman-by-thuso-khumalo-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-south-africa/ ).

There are many things to consider when growing vegetables for profit. This Notes to broadcasters from January 2012 (issue 187) provides links to scripts on how farmers are embracing new techniques to identify and supply their markets: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/01/30/notes-to-broadcasters-on-zanzibari-vegetable-farmers/

A story from February 2012 (issue 188) shows how radio programs can encourage farmers to improve their production and make money from selling their wares: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/02/13/malawi-listening-to-the-radio-perfects-goodson-chisaleka%E2%80%99s-vegetable-farming-skills-by-norman-fulatira-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-malawi/

The World Vegetable Centre, or AVRDC, has produced several online guides on how to grow different kinds of vegetables (http://avrdc.org/?page_id=2315 ). The guides cover field practices, major pests and diseases, and even post-harvest handling of produce and seeds. There is also a section on integrated pest management. Why not base a program, or series of programs, on one or more of these crop guides? It will definitely be of interest to your listeners.

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Notes to broadcasters: Natural disasters

Natural disasters include floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other events not caused directly by humankind. A natural disaster can result in loss of life and property damage, and typically leaves some economic damage in its wake. The severity of damage depends in part on the affected population’s resilience, or ability to recover. Read more on the subject here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_disaster

The increase in frequency and severity of some natural disasters, including flooding and low-pressure wind systems (hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons and tornados) has been linked to global climate change. April 22 is Earth Day, and event organizers are highlighting “The Face of Climate Change” as this year’s theme. You can find more information on events around the world through this link: http://www.earthday.org/

The story on which this News brief was based can be found here: http://www.irinnews.org/Report/97805/Consecutive-catastrophes-hit-Madagascar-s-farmers

Farm Radio Weekly has covered natural disasters before. This story from issue #41 (October 2008) talks about the floods which affected farmers in Mozambique that year. Read it at: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/10/27/3-mozambique-preparing-for-natural-disasters-un-integrated-regional-information-networks/

The Notes to broadcasters from issue #216 (September 2012) offer ideas for radio stations which broadcast to regions where disasters are prevalent. The Notes suggest the kinds of roles stations can play to reduce the impact of future storms, floods and plagues on their listening communities: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/09/10/notes-to-broadcasters-on-natural-disasters/

Keeping listeners abreast of the weather is an important function of any radio station. A recent story from Cameroon can found here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/02/11/cameroon-community-radio-helps-farmers-and-fishers-cope-with-climate-change-and-extreme-weather-alertnet/ along with Notes to broadcasters: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/02/11/notes-to-broadcasters-on-climate-and-weather-programs/

Natural disasters affect most of the African continent. Statistics on climate change and its effect on disasters in Africa can be found here: http://www.grida.no/publications/vg/africa/

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Opportunity for African women writers

Are you a natural storyteller with a passion for social justice and journalism?

Global Press Institute is hiring women from 22 countries around the world, including several African countries, to take part in their journalism training program. The training will qualify the participants to work as full- or part-time professional reporters for the Global Press Institute Newswire.

No prior journalism experience is required. English language skills are not required to join GPI’s team of reporters. GPI lists the two main requirements as basic literacy skills in your native language and the passion to make a difference.

More information is available at this link: http://globalpressinstitute.org/node/6342

GPI has not indicated an application deadline on its website, but it is always a good idea to apply as soon as you can to catch the attention of the selection panel.

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E-discussion for radio broadcasters on farmer value chains postponed to May

Last week, we announced that Farm Radio International, with support from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is offering a three-week online discussion for African radio broadcasters on farmer value chains starting April 29th. The start date has been postponed to sometime in May.

The e-discussion will introduce farmer value chains, demonstrate the role radio can play in improving value chains that are important to small-scale farmers, and encourage participants to develop ideas for value chain radio programming based on the needs of their farming audiences.

The e-discussion will be offered in English and in French on a new and improved Barza website! Barza is a social networking site for rural radio broadcasters.

In 2014, Farm Radio International will be offering a scriptwriting competition on farmer value chains, so participating in this e-discussion will give you a head start on your entry!

Stay tuned for more details on how to log on to the new Barza and be part of the discussion.

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African traditional vegetables back on the table

This week’s story from Uganda shows that growing vegetables can bring farmers success. Our script of the week concentrates on traditional African vegetables, and finds that not only farmers, but consumers and others in the value chain can also benefit.

The African diet was historically rich and varied. Traditional African vegetables are known for their nutritive as well as their medicinal value. More than 300 different species of African traditional vegetables have been eaten in East Africa alone. This number would probably double if we considered the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

These foods were a big part of people’s diet and culture until “modern” vegetables like cabbage and carrots were introduced. In the past few years, however, traditional vegetables have slowly been regaining popularity. The once neglected vegetables are now being grown by small-scale farmers, sold in open air markets and supermarkets, and eaten by both rural and urban people.

This script from our most recent Resource Pack in December 2012 captures the experiences of people who have been successfully growing and selling traditional vegetables in Kenya. It shows how farmers can grow traditional vegetables to improve their income and food security.

http://www.farmradio.org/radio-resource-packs/package-95-researching-and-producing-farmer-focused-programs/african-traditional-vegetables-back-on-the-table/

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