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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 #273

The Year of Family Farming: Gathering from the wild, passing on the spirit of farming, and restoring the land.

Happy 2014 to our subscribers, their families, African broadcasters, and the farmer-listeners you support!

The year 2014 has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Family Farming. For our first offering of the new year, Farm Radio Weekly re-presents three of our favourite smallholder farming stories written by our field correspondents in the past 12 months. We will return with new stories next week.

Okok is a popular vegetable in Cameroon. But the vine, which grows in the country’s forests, is under pressure because of its popularity. Efforts to domesticate the plant for agricultural production, and thereby ensure its viability in the wild, are proving to be a success.

An elderly farmer from Grande Comoros realized that he could no longer do the heavy work he used to do. He solved the problem by inviting younger farmers, who had too little land to farm profitably, to join him. The group now produces more than the individuals did before linking up, and everyone profits from the new scheme.

Mrs. Zeinabou Illa is one of a group of women who are benefitting from a Nigerien project to restore the fertility of the country’s degraded land. Once they have done the heavy work of digging trenches and planting trees, the women are rewarded with parcels of land to use for their own farming. Everyone is a winner in this story!

Don’t forget to check out our action, event and resource sections, our news in brief, and our script of the week.

Until next week,

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Cameroon: Farmers tame wild okok to increase income (by Mireille N’zouankeu, for Farm Radio Weekly)

(Originally published June 24, 2013)

Roger Awana carefully plucks leaves from a vine and deposits them in a basket. Mr. Awana is a farmer in the town of Obala, about 30 kilometres from Cameroon’s capital city of Yaounde. The vine is known locally as okok. With the income he earns from selling this plant, Mr. Awana built a new house.

Okok is a climbing vine that grows naturally in the forest. Its leaves are eaten for food, and used to make local, natural medicines. Mr. Awana started his okok business back in 2009 after attending a farmers meeting. A visitor taught the farmers that domesticating okok is a way of ensuring its survival. He remembers: “We all laughed at this news. We asked him, ‘Why should we waste time and money to domesticate a plant that grows naturally in the forest?’”

Mr. Awana was taught how to grow okok through a program funded by the Cameroon Ministry of Agriculture. Pierre Ayissi Nanga is the coordinator of the project, which is known locally as PAPCO. He says, “We found that the consumption of okok was quite high and the reserves available in the forests were decreasing.” The PAPCO project was created to protect wild okok by increasing farm production, thereby boosting farmers’ income and creating employment.

Mr. Awana already had a fruit tree orchard, but decided to give okok a try. He describes the process of domestication: a farmer finds a container with a clear lid. The farmer plants cuttings from the okok vine, with two to four leaves, in the container. Every morning, the grower sprays the cuttings with a little water until the vine starts to produce roots, which takes about 40 days. The farmer then transplants the seedlings into plastic bags containing soil and placed out of direct sunlight, in a shed or in the shade. The seedlings are watered twice a week for about 50 days, when they are ready to be planted in the field.

According to Mr. Nanga, the average annual yield increases from one tonne per hectare in the first year to seven and a half tonnes in the second. Mr. Awana began planting okok on one-tenth of a hectare. Today, he has tripled that area.

He chose not to intercrop his okok with other plants. He says: “Once we plant the okok, the plant does not require fertilizers or pesticides. At harvest, we pick only the leaves, taking care not to touch the bud.” He explains the dramatic increase in yields over time by saying, “If you only pick two leaves [from a young plant], four to eight leaves will grow [next season].”

Mr. Awana sells 90-day-old okok seedlings to farmers interested in growing the crop. The selling price is negotiable, but Mr. Awana will not take less than 400 CFA francs (80 US cents) per plant.

The business is spreading. Farmer Marie Bernard Messi started growing okok recently. He explains: “I was waiting to see the results from Mr. Awana’s field before committing myself. His results have encouraged me to try.”

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Niger: Restoring land restores women’s dignity (By Souleymane Maazou, for Farm Radio Weekly)

(Originally published June 17, 2013)

Under a blazing sun, Zeinabou Illa picks tomatoes and places them carefully in a shoulder bag. On the ground beside her, bags of aubergines, lettuce, carrots and onions reflect the variety of products she grows on her tiny plot of land. She obtained this land after participating in a national project to restore the fertility of damaged soils.

Mrs. Illa used to work in the family field alongside her husband and brothers-in-law. But today, she divides her time between the family’s land and her own plot.

Fifty-two-year-old Mrs. Illa belongs to a group of women in the central-western Tahoua region of Niger, east of the capital city, Niamey. The women are part of a soil restoration project. They are nicknamed “bulldozers” because they have revolutionized farming by taking on tasks which used to be considered men’s work. The women dig half-moon ditches, embankments and trenches, and plant trees on stony soils. At the end of the day, they are paid in-kind with millet, sorghum, or cooking oil, or with cash, earning 1500 to 2000 CFA francs ($3-4 US) per day.

Since 2001, Nigerien authorities have intensified their efforts to recover and restore degraded soils across the country. Each year, approximately 18,000 hectares of wasted land are restored to health. Within three to five years, these sites can support vegetation and even become fertile. The lands are then made available to farmers. Landless women have been the main beneficiaries.

Rabi Hassan grows potatoes, lettuce and aubergines on her plot. This allows her some independence. She says, “For my small purchases, I do not have to wait for my husband [to give me money]. I can buy them with the money from the sale of products from my garden. ”

Hadiza Idi works for a civil society organization in Niamey. Ms. Idi says that restoring land also restores women’s dignity. She adds: “Many women who were deprived of good land previously through socio-cultural considerations have now become owners of highly productive fields.”

Every morning, Mrs. Illa carries a basket of produce from her garden to the village market. She is proud of her economic independence. She says: “From the sale of these vegetables, I earn about 3,000 CFA francs ($6 US) per day. With this money, I contribute to the daily expenses of the family. I can even save 7500 CFA francs ($15 US) per week.”

To irrigate her plants, Ms. Illa relies on her physical strength to draw water from a well. But her dream is, one day, to buy a motorized water pump.

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Comoros: Older farmer forges partnership with youth to grow profits (by Ahmed Bacar, for Farm Radio Weekly in Comoros)

(Originally published April 29, 2013)

Mouigni Hassan was born seventy years ago in Nvouni Ya Bandani, a village 25 kilometres north of Moroni, the capital of Grande Comore. He decided recently that he was getting too old to farm alone, and decided to go into partnership with younger farmers. He explains: “With my age and my energy, everything became difficult. This is why I am associated with these young people.”

He believes that this decision has worked for everyone involved. Mr. Mouigni says: “My associates do not have enough land to build their farming businesses. My proposal allows them to earn more money.” He is happy because he earns more now than he did when farming alone.

In 2011, Mr. Mouigni joined forces with younger farmers to grow tomatoes and chillies, both of which are highly sought after in the local market. His partners are responsible for the physical work which Mr. Mouigni used to do. They plough the ten-hectare field, sow the seeds, carry irrigation water 500 metres from a well, and tend to the plants.

Mr. Mouigni supervises the production. He is also responsible for marketing the harvest to wholesalers and hotels in Moroni. He and his partners share the profits. Mr. Mouigni explains, “I take 40% of revenues for myself, and my partners share 60%.” There are three harvests per year. Each earns the group between 900,000 and one and a half million Comoran francs ($2,400 – 3,950 US).

Mohamed Youssouf is one of the younger farmers. He admits that growing tomatoes and chillies is hard work and requires skill, endurance and long hours. He says: “We leave the house at six in the morning to get to the field at seven … We get back to the village at six in the evening. It’s tiring, but we work as a team so we don’t really feel it.”

Ibrahim Issa is another partner. Like his comrade Mr. Youssouf, he is satisfied with the arrangement. He explains: “It was Mr. Mouigni who decided how to split the profits. I find it normal that old Mouigni takes 40% of the profits because not only is it his field, but he also manages the business.”

Mr. Issa says he benefits from working with Mr. Mouigni. He says: “For good production, not only do you need a large area, but the financial resources to pay for seeds, fertilizers and so on.” Mr. Mouigni had the land and the resources to purchase the inputs. He says the money he earns from the partnership pays for school fees and other family needs. He is also able to take an active role in his neighbourhood rotating savings and credit group.

Mr. Mouigni would like to expand the initiative into the larger community, and encourage other farmers to form groups to improve their businesses. He notes that many farmers in other parts of the Comoros have successfully formed associations.

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Notes to broadcasters: Non-timber forest products and vegetative propagation

Farm Radio Weekly recently produced another story on okok. “Cameroon: Women earn income from forest foods without deforestation” (issue # 240, March 2013) is available through the FRW website at this address: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/03/24/cameroon-women-earn-income-from-forest-foods-without-deforestation-alertnet/

It has accompanying Notes to broadcasters, which you can read here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/03/24/notes-to-broadcasters-non-timber-forest-products-ntfp/

In this week’s story, the farmer has been taught how to propagate (meaning “reproduce” or simply “grow”) okok vines vegetatively. Vegetative propagation uses cuttings of plant parts such as roots, stems and leaves, to produce new “seedlings” which are almost identical to the parent plants from which they came. This method of growing plants allows a farmer to establish a crop without growing plants from seed. It is appropriate for some but not all crops. Vegetative propagation is often quicker than planting seeds. Growers can be confident that they will produce plants with the same growth rate, disease resistance, yield and other characteristics which the parent plants displayed. For more information on vegetative propagation, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetative_reproduction

Successful propagation from stem cuttings requires the cuttings to be in an environment with high humidity. If planting only a few cuttings, you can use a plastic bag or gunny sack filled with soil. You can maintain high humidity by covering the bag or sack with clear plastic, which keeps in the water and allows light to reach the cuttings. The cuttings should not touch the plastic cover, as they can be damaged by the condensation that will form on the inside of the plastic. For larger planting areas, such as an old wooden box, the plastic can be kept away from the cuttings with wire or wood. It is important to remember to make drainage holes in the bags or boxes containing the soil. Moisture must be able to drain through the soil, or the development of the cuttings’ roots may be impaired.

An easy-to-follow video is available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O7icCqFfEo

An FAO guide to vegetative propagation is available through this link: http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/ad224e/AD224E00.htm#TOC

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Notes to broadcasters: Soil restoration

Soil fertility, or lack of fertility, is an issue for all farmers. Much of a farmer’s effort is devoted to ensuring the soil has the nutrients it needs to produce crops through both traditional methods – such as mulching and fallowing – and newer methods such as applying chemical fertilizer.

The story from Niger features women taking part in land restoration schemes. For more information about land restoration, follow this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_restoration

The story also mentions “half-moon ditches.” Read more about them in this Radio Resource Pack (#42, Script 6, October 1996): http://www.farmradio.org/archived-radio-scripts/?rscript=42-8script_en

Farm Radio Weekly has covered this subject before. “Farmers restore soil fertility to boost yields” (Issue #217, September 2012) can be found here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/09/17/farmers-restore-soil-fertility-to-boost-yields-by-johanna-absalom-for-farm-radio-weekly-in-namibia/

An age-old practice to improve soil fertility is crop rotation, which often involves a fallow period designed to allow soils to recover naturally. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_rotation

Agricultural practices that improve soil fertility can help farmers address other common problems. For example, mulching (spreading organic matter on the soil around plants) helps with water management by decreasing evaporation of moisture from the soil. And intercropping legumes (plants which take nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil) can help keep invasive weeds out of the field, while providing an additional crop.

Farm Radio International explored many aspects of soil health in a Resource Pack published in July 2010: http://www.farmradio.org/radio-resource-packs/package-91-soil-health/ (see scripts 91.1-91.9)

You may wish to host a call-in show inviting farmers to discuss methods they find most effective in boosting soil fertility.

-What materials (such as manure, crop residues, or chemical fertilizers) do they add to the soil on a regular basis to maintain or improve soil fertility?

-Can they describe any application techniques (for example, preparing compost from available materials, or microdosing chemical fertilizer) that they find particularly effective?

-What other methods (such as rotating crops, intercropping, or growing crops like Tithonia a plant with leaves that increase soil fertility when incorporated into the soil or made into compost) have local farmers found helpful in improving or maintaining soil fertility?

-For each technique, what is the cost in terms of time and money, and what is the payoff in terms of increased production and value of crops produced?

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Notes to broadcasters: Cooperation and older farmers

“United we stand, divided we fall.” By getting together, people can wield greater power, and more opportunities will arise. In this article, several issues are raised. As broadcasters, you have an opportunity to explore any or all of them. For a basic introduction to farmers’ co-operatives, visithttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_cooperative

You can also revisit a recent Notes to broadcasters on co-operatives: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2012/06/11/notes-to-broadcasters-on-co-operatives-3/

For World Food Day on October 16, 2012, the United Nations highlighted the role that agricultural co-operatives can play in strengthening farmers’ hands. A short sound bite is available at http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2012/10/world-food-day-highlights-role-of-agricultural-cooperatives-in-fighting-hunger/

A report from Ethiopia states that agricultural co-operatives support small-scale farmers and marginalized groups such as young people and women by pooling their resources: http://allafrica.com/stories/201210190202.html

Co-operatives have also proven to be an effective vehicle for social inclusion, promoting gender equality and encouraging the involvement of youth in agriculture: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?Cr=hunger&Cr1=&NewsID=43299#.UIU_74aLiSo

On this same topic, see this script from our script package 93, December 2011:


Small-scale farmers typically have poor access to markets, a lack of bargaining power, and a lack of access to financial services. Agricultural co-operatives can help small-scale farmers overcome these constraints: http://www.netnewspublisher.com/agricultural-cooperatives-could-expand-and-make-an-even-greater-contribution-against-poverty-and-hunger/

This script focuses on the potential benefits of agricultural co-ops. It can be found at http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/01/10/%E2%80%98together-we-stand%E2%80%99-agricultural-co-operative-society/

Script package 94 contains eight scripts and an issue pack on co-operatives. The issue pack gives examples of co-operatives, background information on co-operatives, production ideas for programming on co-operatives, and further resources on co-operatives – organizations, audio files, print documents, and a video. You can find package 94 at http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/

For earlier scripts on co-operatives, go to:  http://www.farmradio.org/script-categories/cooperatives/

A recent story about an elderly South African farmer who continues to profit by carefully choosing suitable crops was featured in FRW issue #240. Read it here: 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/ The accompanying Notes to broadcasters can be found here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2013/03/24/notes-to-broadcasters-older-farmers-and-their-farming-choices/

Do farmers in your area work together to obtain better market prices for their products, or purchase inputs as a co-operative? You may wish to find a farmers’ group and prepare a news story or arrange an on-air interview which profiles the group and their efforts.

-Who are the members of this group? Are they grouped by area, the type of crop they produce, etc.?

-Is there a mixture of young and old farmers? How do they get along? Who owns the resources? Is there a conflict between “age and experience” and “youth and energy”? If so, how are these issues dealt with?

-When did they come together? What were individual farmers’ experiences with processing and selling their crop prior to forming the group?

-Ask the members to describe in detail the procedures they use to process their goods, identify markets for their crops, gather them together, and sell them. Did they try other methods before determining that one method worked best?

-How much extra income do farmers earn as a result of group marketing, group processing, or group purchase of inputs? What are the other benefits of working together as a group (saving time, learning from each other, etc.)?

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International Women’s Media Foundation seeks nominations for Courage in Journalism Awards and Lifetime Achievement Awards

Do you know a woman journalist who demonstrates extraordinary strength of character in pursuing her profession under difficult or dangerous circumstances, for example, government oppression, threats to personal safety or other intimidating obstacles?

Each year, the Courage in Journalism Awards honour three women journalists. Candidates for the Awards can be full-time or freelance women reporters, writers, editors, photographers or producers working in any country.

The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a woman journalist with a pioneering spirit and whose accomplishments have paved the way for future generations of women in the media.

Self-nominations are not accepted.

Nominations will be accepted on a rolling basis.

To learn more about the awards and how to nominate a candidate, go to the International Women’s Media Foundation website: http://www.iwmf.org/our-impact/courage-in-journalism-awards/nomination/

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Mixcloud: Sharing free and open-source radio programs online

Radio broadcasters, no matter what kind of station they work for, want their shows to be heard far and wide. But when the broadcast is over, stations might wonder how to make their shows available online and on-demand.

Mixcloud.com is a tool that allows listeners to hear program content by accessing radio shows in “the cloud.” “The cloud” (also known as “cloud computing”) refers to storing and accessing data and programs on the Internet instead of on your computer’s hard drive. Mixcloud says it “is re-thinking radio by joining the dots between radio shows, Podcasts and DJ mixes.”

Mixcloud has several advantages:

– It’s 100% free to use.

-There are no upload limits. This means broadcasters can upload as many audio files as they like. There is also no limit on the duration of uploaded audio files.

– The uploaded files can easily be shared through various online social networks.

To learn more about this free online audio upload tool, you can view this short video about Mixcloud or check out the Frequently Asked Questions to learn about how to create an account, upload content and share content.

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Farm Radio International and its broadcasting partners attend Panos Institute West Africa meeting in Senegal

Radio broadcasting, good scripts, audience interaction, and appropriate use of new technologies for sharing programs between stations and with audiences; these were some of the themes explored during a two-day meeting convened by Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA) in Dakar, Senegal last December.

The meeting brought together journalists and media experts from across Africa. PIWA presented their Pan-African Radio Platform pilot project. The online platform helps African community radio stations by offering training to broadcasters and serving as a medium whereby broadcasters can exchange quality radio programs.

As part of the meeting, Farm Radio International was asked to make a presentation on our online social media tool for broadcasters, Barza, and the ways in which African broadcasters have been using Barza to interact online.

Participants heard a variety of presentations, including FRI broadcasting partners Bush Radio (South Africa) and Radio Ada (Ghana), and the Forum for African Investigative Reporting (FAIR).

Brenda Leonard from Bush Radio made a presentation on how the radio station makes effective use of social media tools like their blog, Twitter handle, Facebook page and Youtube channel to increase audience engagement and make the station’s broadcasting more interactive. You can listen here to Ms. Leonard. Ms. Leonard also talked about how, in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, the station used its blog to offer archival audio of Mr. Mandela’s first press conference after his release from prison.

Kofi Larweh from Radio Ada talked about the value of working within a national network of community radio broadcasters like the Ghana Community Radio Network, and the importance of participatory radio that is operated by and for the people. Click here to listen to Mr. Larweh explain the concept of community radio concentric circles and participatory programming.

Khadija Sharife of FAIR presented a project that will create an online podcast of African investigative journalism in 2014. Click here to listen to Ms. Sharife explain FAIR’s online podcast project.

To learn more about Panos Institute West Africa, you can visit their website.

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Are burning crop residues and grass good for soil health and fertility? Views from a farmer and an agricultural researcher

This week, FRW reprints a Nigerien story from earlier this year that focuses on soil fertility. One way that some farmers attempt to increase soil fertility is by burning crop residues. Crop residues are the remains that are left over after the plant or crop has been put to use – for household food, for fodder, for sale, etc.  But what is the effect of burning crop residues and other vegetation on soil fertility?

In this script, a smallholder farmer and an agricultural researcher give different opinions on whether burning crop residues and grasses is a good idea. The farmer sees that burning residues makes her farming work easier. Burning controls weeds and pests, and improves yields in the season after burning. On the other hand, the agricultural researcher says that, over the long-term, burning destroys the soil. It causes increased soil erosion; it kills beneficial soil organisms, and eventually causes lower yields.

This is a complicated subject. Some researchers say that, in humid environments like western Kenya, it is not as harmful to burn residues as it would be in dryer environments. In dry environments, burning residues can reduce soil fertility quite quickly.

For some farmers, it may be easier and cheaper to burn residues and grass, even if it is not a good long-term strategy. Farmers may not have the labour or resources to grow cover crops, dig residues into their fields, or adopt other practices for long-term soil fertility and conservation. Cutting bush and pulling weeds by hand is labour intensive.  But, when farmers burn their fields, they see immediate gains.

Broadcasters should help farmers understand that cover crops, incorporating residues, and other soil-building practices – including the residue and agroforestry practices suggested by the agricultural researcher in this script – are a good long-term investment.  An investment which will help them achieve good yields over the long-term. But it’s important to note that not all these practices work in every climate. For example, farmers in dryer areas may not have sufficient mulch or crop residues to use some of these practices. Or all the residues may be needed to feed livestock.


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