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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 #245

Reclaiming land; rethinking crops. And, the bat: friend or foe?

Welcome to issue #245 of Farm Radio Weekly. This issue presents stories from Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

Good news from Cameroon! Against the current tide of land-grabbing, the government is reviewing its policies on leasing land to large companies at the expense of small-scale farmers. Some growers are back on their land. But will they be able to own it?

Farmers in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province face diminishing rains. Some have decided to grow drought-tolerant crops which were not planted traditionally. The farmers still face challenges, but there is hope that small-grained cereals such as sorghum and millet can change their fortunes.

A story from Ghana features the “Bats of 37 Military Hospital.” Bats are often hunted for food, disturbed by human activities, and killed because of misconceptions about the diseases they can carry. But bats play essential roles as natural pollinators and insect predators.

Are you a journalist who covers health issues? A competition is looking for the best recent stories. Read more in the event section.

Keep broadcasting!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Cameroon: Farmer regains land grabbed by state-backed forestry company (by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu, for Farm Radio Weekly)

In 2009, the Cameroonian government leased over 49,000 hectares of land to Cameroon United Forests, or CUF, a forestry company. Marcel Mindjana is from the village of Adjap in southern Cameroon. He had farmed ​​two hectares of land before it was leased to the CUF. He earned enough from his farm to feed his family and pay for his children’s education. He says, “The earth is my life and without it I am nothing. This is why I decided to fight to get back what was mine.”

With the support of two NGOs – Cameroon Ecology and Initiative for Rights and Resources – Mr. Mindjana and other community members developed maps that indicated their farmland. Using these maps, they are campaigning to reclaim their land.

In August 2012, they were partially successful. The government signed a decree reducing the area leased to CUF. At the same time, it gave indigenous people the rights to nearly 14,000 hectares. It was a decision that pleased Mr. Mindjana. He says, “When I read the decree of the Prime Minister, I gave a sigh of relief. I felt myself lighten, as if a burden fell off my shoulders.”

With a confident step, Mr. Mindjana walks up and down his field planting maize and cassava. From time to time he stops, checks his progress, then starts again. He states, “I’m so glad to have another opportunity to farm. It feels like a dream after three years …”

Although Mr. Mindjana can begin farming again, he does not yet own his own land. He would like to get a land title.

Marcellin Biang is the chief of Adjap village, and is in the same situation as Mr. Mindjana. He says: “This land is not ours. Every night when I fall asleep, I think that the next day, the state can come [for my land]. We want to secure our lands to be sure they are really ours.”

The law governing forests, wildlife and fishing is currently under review. Passed in 1994, the law gives ownership of forest land to the state. Martin Cyrille Nkié is a senior manager in the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife. He states, “The review process of the forest and land policy is underway … The development of the draft law is quite advanced.”

Mr. Mindjana finds it hard to hide his pleasure while he awaits the outcome of the legal review. He says, “I hope my harvest will be good. I have started to make plans and I am pleased to be able to dream again.”

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Zimbabwe: Drought-tolerant crops give hope to small-scale farmers (By Vladimir Mzaca, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

For many years, maize was Michael Moyo’s main source of food and income. But in recent years, a number of droughts have forced him to reconsider. Now he has started growing more drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and millet.

Mr. Moyo is a resettled farmer in Zimbabwe’s province of Matabeleland North. Very little rain falls in the province. Recently, there has been even less rain and the farming seasons have become unpredictable. Mr. Moyo is one of the first farmers in the area to make the switch to drought-tolerant crops in order to reduce the impact of climate change.

Mr. Moyo’s maize suffers from insufficient moisture. He explains, “High temperatures are affecting my maize yields [while] at the same time giving weeds and pests room to creep in.” He was forced to invest more heavily in pesticides and weeding, but without rain his yields suffered.

Mr. Moyo approached the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services. He was advised to grow crops that do well despite low rainfall. He says, “The Department’s officials advised me to take up small grains. There are a few of us who have taken that advice.” Most farmers in the area have been reluctant to grow small grains such as sorghum and millet.

Sithabisiwe Ndlovu is a local farmer. She is adamant that she will not yet follow in Mr. Moyo’s footsteps. She thinks that small grains are too labour-intensive. She explains, “Small grains are difficult to harvest, especially the thrashing or processing stage where I would have to hire people to do it.” Mrs. Ndlovu recognizes that the situation is bad. But for now, she will continue growing maize.

Mrs. Sharlene Mabharani is the Agricultural, Technical and Extension Officer for the local district. She says the only way for small-scale farmers in Matabeleland to adapt to the effects of climate change is to shift to drought-tolerant crops. She continues, “Small grains are suitable for Matabeleland. We strongly encourage farmers to familiarize [themselves] with this kind of farming.”

But there is a downside. Mrs. Mabharani says, “Farmers say that the crops … are at risk of being pecked by birds.” She believes that this problem can be contained. She explains, “If most farmers in one area grow similar crops, the damage will be shared, instead of only one farmer suffering.”

In Matabeleland, farmers traditionally depend on growing maize. But Mr. Moyo believes that, if farmers are to survive, there is an urgent need to look beyond maize. He explains: “I have to send my late brother’s children to school as well as mine. My only source of income is through farming. With maize not working out, I have to look at other avenues.”

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Ghana: The bats who never left their chief (by Lisa Marie Borrelli, for Farm Radio Weekly in Ghana)

Many years ago, an ailing chief from a village in eastern Ghana was admitted to the 37 Military Hospital in the capital city of Accra. According to local legend, he was accompanied by fruit bats from his locale, as a sort of “honour guard” for the dying man. In time, the chief passed on. But, so says the legend, the bats are still waiting for him to be discharged so they can accompany him back home.

The straw-coloured creatures are the second largest of Africa’s 13 species of fruit bats. However, they stir up controversy with Accra residents and visitors alike. The site they have chosen has become a tourist attraction, as their evening departure for night-time roosts provides ample opportunities for photography.

But their noise and droppings have caused a lot of anxiety and environmental concern. In 2002 and 2005, the military resorted to shooting them down from the mahogany trees where they spend their days. Hospital authorities have repeatedly tried to remove them. But they keep coming back.

Bats usually prefer to live in caves. But caves are often invaded by humans looking for limestone and other minerals. Their other main habitat is trees like those around the 37 Hospital. Trees, however, provide little protection against humans and other predators. Humans often kill colonies because of misconceptions about disease transmission and vampirism.

The Kumasi Centre of Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine, or KCCR, investigates bats and their interactions with humans. Some bat species are known to carry rabies and the Ebola virus, both of which are potentially fatal to humans and other animal species.

But KCCR’s project has shown that bats play an important role in pollination and dispersal of seeds. The larger species feed on fruit, plucking it from trees or bushes and carrying it to safe places to eat. This transports seeds and pollen to new areas.

Ghana exports timber from the iroko tree, one of Africa’s most valuable and threatened hardwoods. Up to 90 per cent of the straw-coloured fruit bat’s diet is iroko fruit. Bats are the tree’s effective seed dispersers. At night during peak fruiting time, the bats disperse more than 300 million iroko seeds across thousands of square miles.

Bats also forage for pollen and nectar. After foraging, they are covered with grains of pollen, which they transfer from plant to plant. This helps to pollinate over 130 species of plants, including plantain, bananas, mangos and avocados.

About 70 per cent of bat species eat insects which attack crops and humans, including mosquitoes, which often carry malaria. So bats are an efficient and environmentally friendly solution to insect problems.

Bat droppings, called guano, can be used as fertilizer, and are an excellent source of nutrients for farmers’ crops. Bats are an important part of our ecosystems, and should be welcomed, not chased away.

The writing of this story was assisted by funding from Friends of the Year of the Bat Campaign. The Year of the Bat was a two-year awareness raising campaign run by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS).

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Notes to broadcasters: Land rights

Poor people with few connections to those in high places often have trouble getting hold of land, and retaining control over it once it is theirs. Traditional peoples often do not have legal mechanisms such as title deeds that formalize individual claims over communal territories. Therefore, there is no legal back-up when powerful individuals, groups or companies try to take land into private or corporate ownership. It is unusual to get land back once it is taken away.

Land tenure is the relationship amongst people with respect to land and natural resources such as water and trees. Rules of tenure define how access is granted for the use, control, and transfer of land. In simple terms, land tenure systems determine who can use which resources for how long, and under what conditions.

Land tenure is an important part of social, political and economic life. It may be well-defined and enforceable in a formal court of law or through traditional (customary) authorities. Alternatively, land tenure may be relatively poorly defined, and leave land and people vulnerable to exploitation. The FAO has produced a document on the subject which can be found here: http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/Y4307E/y4307e05.htm

Issue #242 of Farm Radio Weekly highlighted the efforts of the Tanzanian government to wrest grazing land from the Maasai for “conservation” reasons. The situation is still fresh in the minds of locals, and the story can be found here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/04/15/news-brief-tanzanian-maasai-to-lose-land-to-%E2%80%98green-land-grab%E2%80%99-agencies/ As the whole subject of land grabbing is current, the Notes to broadcasters linked with the story have been updated, and are available through this link: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/04/15/notes-to-broadcasters-on-land-grabs/

Women often find it hardest to stake a claim for land through national or customary laws. A Notes to broadcasters is available on the Barza website (June 2012) with stories and scripts on the subject, as well as program ideas. It is available here: http://www.barzaradio.com/content/notes-broadcasters-women-and-land-ownership-2

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Notes to broadcasters: Sorghum and millet

Sorghum is an important world crop, used for food (as grain and in sorghum syrup or “sorghum molasses”), animal fodder, the production of alcoholic drinks, and biofuels. Most varieties are drought- and heat-tolerant, and are especially important in arid regions, where the grain is one of the staples for poor and rural people.

Millet probably originated in tropical West Africa. Pearl millet is now one of the major crops in the drier and less fertile agricultural regions of Africa. Millet is well-adapted to poor, dry, and infertile soils, and yields more reliably in these conditions than most other grains. For more information about sorghum and millet, see: http://www.gramene.org/species/sorghum/sorghum_intro.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millet

One of Farm Radio Weekly’s first issues (#2, December 2007) told how traditional crops such as millet and sorghum can help farmers maintain food security in the face of climate change. It is available here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2007/12/10/1-africa-re-discovery-of-traditional-crops-helps-farmers-cope-with-climate-change-farm-radio-weekly/

Another early issue (#6, January 2008) featured a story from Nigeria. The story described how farmers were included in field trials to identify the best millet varieties for dry conditions, and then multiply the seeds from those varieties. Read it here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/01/14/2-nigeria-farmers-test-best-millet-varieties-for-dry-conditions-allafricacom/

More recently, Farm Radio Weekly has produced stories about farmers who chose new crops to replace failing traditional crops.

–          Kenyan farmers have started growing upland rice to offset the decrease in maize production (issue #240, March 2013): 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/

–          Tanzanian farmers are growing sesame instead of their usual cash crops (issue #239, March 2013): http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/03/18/tanzania-sesame-co-op-improves-yields-sales-and-income-by-paddy-roberts-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-tanzania/

–          Men return to growing sesame (issue #228, December 2012): http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/12/10/niger-men-return-to-growing-sesame-by-souleymane-saddi-maazou-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-niger/

The story of Mr. Moyo in this issue raises questions about growing non-traditional crops. You might consider producing radio spots or interviewing farmers on how they make decisions about these kinds of crops. For maize-growing regions in particular, you could follow up by asking maize farmers whether they have considered growing sorghum or millet.

Here are some questions to ask farmers:

Where do you get information about new varieties or non-traditional crops? What factors do you consider when choosing to grow something different? What circumstances would convince you to try a completely different crop? What are the most important factors in your decisions?

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Notes to broadcasters: Bats

Last year, 2012, was the Year of the Bat. The Year of the Bat was a global species awareness initiative launched by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats.

Flight has helped bats become one of the most widely distributed groups of mammals. Apart from the Arctic, the Antarctic and a few isolated oceanic islands, bats exist all over the world. They perform vital ecological tasks by pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds. Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats to distribute their seeds, which also assists reforestation. For more information on bats, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat

Bat colonies can contain thousands of individuals, and each animal can eat up to its own weight in insects every night. This considerably reduces populations of mosquitoes and agricultural pests, thereby improving rural livelihoods. By eating insect pests, bats reduce the need for pesticides. On the African continent especially, bats play a significant role in reducing malaria.

The “Bats of 37 Military Hospital” have been featured in several newspaper stories and blogs. A selection of these follow:

Military Hospital authorities get green light to cull bats (GhanaWeb) http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=96161 ;

Bats Adapt To Hospital Premises (Modern Ghana) http://www.modernghana.com/news/55720/1/bats-adapt-to-hospital-premises.html ;

The Bats of 37 Military Hospital (blog) http://anothercolor.com/GhanaBlog/?p=312

A recent story from the online version of the Ghanaian “Herald” newspaper in March 2013 (“37 Military Hospital Bats Could Harbour Deadly Virus” http://theheraldghana.com/?p=14826 ) highlights the issue of zoonoses (animal diseases which can be transmitted to humans). A more balanced write-up on one zoonotic disease can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henipavirus

The Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) is mentioned in this week’s story. The KCCR is a joint venture between the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Ghana; the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana; and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany. The KCCR is committed to combining research with educational programs. You can find their website here: http://kccr-ghana.org/kccr/

A story about using bat guano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was published by Farm Radio Weekly in May 2009 (issue #67). You can find it here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/05/25/1-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-bats-leave-good-fertilizer-on-village-ceilings-syfia-grands-lacs/ and the Notes to broadcasters are here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/05/25/notes-to-broadcasters-on-bat-guano/

Many people do not realize how important bats are for Africa. Despite their benefits, many people still think of bats as evil or as pests, and persecute them. What do your listeners think about bats? How are bats regarded in your community? Is there a colony equivalent to the one at 37 Military Hospital in your area? If so, how does it affect your listeners? What steps are being taken in your locale to protect, or prevent, bats?

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Submit your entries to journalist competition on immunization

Journalists working in print, broadcast, or online media are invited to participate in a competition to recognize the best media coverage of immunizations.

Stories published or broadcast in sub-Saharan Africa between March 15 and May 15, 2013 (which includes World Immunization Week from April 24-30), can be submitted for the African regional contest, administered by the International Centre for Journalists  in partnership with the African Health Journalists Association.

Entries must relate to diseases such as polio, measles, and pneumonia that are preventable or treatable with vaccines. Potential topics include: the discovery of new vaccines, testing of vaccines, public attitudes toward vaccination, innovative approaches to delivery of vaccines, or the efficacy or failure of vaccination campaigns.

Each top winner will be awarded a two-week study tour to the United States and a cash prize.

The deadline for entries is May 20, 2013.

For more information and to download the entry form, go to http://ijnet.org/opportunities/health-journalism-contest-offers-us-study-tour

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Online report: ‘Making women count’

Women’s voices are essential to the development of societies. Although gender concerns have been part of development programs for almost 40 years, equality and female empowerment are often an afterthought when programs are designed.

A new report, available free to download in PDF format, argues that the media needs to do more to promote gender integration. The report offers a historical and contemporary perspective on key policies, research and approaches to gender integration.

The report considers these issues through in-depth interviews with Internews staff and leading stakeholders, including representatives of, among others, the United States Agency for International Development, the Open Society Foundation, and the World Bank.

Issues discussed include: gender integration, gender equality, and how these terms apply to media development. Examples of media development programs that have helped advance gender equality are highlighted, and the report discusses priority gender goals for media-related work.

The report is available to download through this link: http://www.internews.org/sites/default/files/resources/Internews_MakingWomenCount2013-03.pdf

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Farm Radio International’s Blythe McKay tells her story

Blythe McKay is Manager of the Resources for Broadcasters Program at Farm Radio International. She was recently invited to tell the story of how a major disappointment in her life turned into a dream job. She gave the talk for a TEDx audience in Hamilton, Canada. (TEDx talks are designed to give communities, organizations and individuals an opportunity to stimulate dialogue about great ideas.)

Blythe’s story goes like this: After she failed physics in her first year of university, her life-long dream of becoming a veterinarian was crushed. Initially, she was devastated. But she turned that failure into a challenge by enrolling in a new program at the University of British Columbia. The program combined agriculture with culture, and led her to Sweden for a year-long exchange program. In Sweden, she first learned about participatory development methods. She then travelled to Ghana, where she conducted field research for her master’s degree, focusing on the role that Radio Ada (a FRI broadcasting partner) played in the lives and livelihoods of a fishing village in Ghana.

This long and exciting journey led her to the “dream job” she now enjoys at Farm Radio international. Blythe says she couldn’t be happier because she’s “working with some amazing broadcasters who are committed to their communities and who are very talented.”

To hear her entire story and see her complete TEDx talk, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztJ7MmVuhFA

You can find out more about TEDx talks at http://tedxtalks.ted.com. To find out if a TEDx talk is being organized in your area, go to: http://ted.com/tedx.

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Sekedo, a drought-resistant sorghum for Karamoja

In this week’s story from Zimbabwe, a farmer switches from growing maize to growing small grains, including sorghum, because small grains tolerate drought better than maize. Many farmers across Africa are faced with a similar decision.

Our script of the week focuses on a dry area of Karamoja in northeastern Uganda, where drought and hunger are regular features of life. Sorghum and millet provide most of the community’s nutrition.

In this script, we hear from a farmer who reports that his usual variety of sorghum is not doing well. He decides to plant a new, drought-tolerant variety. The switch proves to be a success! With the new variety, the farmer can feed his family and buy needed household goods. The new and improved quick-maturing type of sorghum is called Sekedo. Using Sekedo and other drought-tolerant varieties can help farmers adapt to shorter rainy seasons.


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