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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 #298

Infestation, innovation and inspiration

Greetings! Thank you for taking the time to open Farm Radio Weekly issue #298. Kick off your shoes and settle down to read about farmers in Liberia, Tanzania and Uganda.

Armyworm caterpillars are slowly munching their way through farmland in northern Liberia. Increasing numbers of the pests are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake: crops are being destroyed and watercourses polluted. What can farmers and officials do to manage the infestation?

Aloycia Mndenye, from Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, used to spend a large part of her day collecting firewood to heat her home and cook family meals. But now a domestic biogas plant has reduced her workload – and her husband prefers shovelling manure to carrying wood!

What can you grow when you don’t have a lot of land? Ugandan farmer Jimmy Oleng discovered that he could make a good living from hot chili peppers. The perennial plants can be harvested three times a year and their fiery fruit commands a high and stable price.

The Resource section highlights some free and open source Information and Communication Technologies designed for use by local and community radio stations. Do you need to update your applications? Check out the Resource section on the sidebar!

In a couple of weeks’ time, Farm Radio Weekly turns 300, and we’ll be celebrating International Youth Day. Keep an eye on your inbox for that special edition! In the meantime, we wish you a peaceful and harmonious week.

-the Farm Radio Weekly team

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Liberia: Caterpillars invade farmer’s crops (by Prince Collins, for Farm Radio Weekly)

An infestation of millions of armyworms has damaged crops and is polluting drinking water in northern Liberia. The infestation was first identified in June 2014, and farmers say the situation is becoming desperate. The caterpillars have forced more than five thousand farmers to abandon their homes and farms in Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties.

Janeba Flomo’s farm in Lofa County has been seriously affected. The 44-year-old farmer says: “All my efforts have gone in vain for this year. The caterpillars have destroyed all my okra and other crops … I don’t know where they are coming from but the situation is getting worse every day.”

Armyworms can be very destructive, attacking food crops and grazing land. But it’s not just their appetite which has an effect on farmers. Their droppings contaminate drinking water, where they are toxic to humans.

Yarkpawolo Tarnue farms in Gbarpolu County. The 55-year-old farmer left his land in June after the armyworms arrived. He says, “[The] creek we drink from is polluted. There is no water in my village to drink. When you drink from the creek, you will get sick and maybe die.”

Lofa is considered the breadbasket of Liberia. Local farmers produce large quantities of cassava, eddoes, plantains, bananas and potatoes to supply Liberian markets. Morris Chea is a local agriculture inspector at the Ministry of Agriculture. He says, “The ministry is worried about the situation and is doing everything possible to contain the attack.”

Liberian officials and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization have visited the affected areas. They are assessing the extent of the damage and say that something will be done immediately to help farmers.

Clarice Jah is a member of the Liberian Parliament. She indicated that Parliament has already met, and that the government will make resources available for affected communities to counter the infestation. Ms. Jah says: “The situation has been brought to our attention. We will take a decision … immediately to handle the situation. We cannot sit and see our local farmers and people go through this nightmare.”

Mariam Kabbah also farms in Gbarpolu County. She is frustrated by the armyworm infestation. She uses the money she earns from her farm to send her children to school, but now worries that she will not be able to pay fees for the next academic year.

Mrs. Kabbah says, “My entire cassava farm was destroyed by the caterpillars. I don’t even have access to my farm any longer … The caterpillars have taken over.”

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Tanzania: Cooking with gas gives women a break (Trust)

Aloycia Mndenye quite literally shouldered the burden of her family’s need for fuel. She often tried to convince her husband to help her collect firewood from the forest, but her efforts failed. He believes that collecting firewood is women’s work.

Mrs. Mndenye is a 32-year-old farmer from Lunyanywi village in the Njombe region of Tanzania’s Southern Highlands. Like most people in rural Tanzania, Mrs. Mndenye does not have access to grid electricity and depends on firewood and kerosene for lighting and cooking.

She spent two hours a day collecting firewood to provide heat for her home and fuel for her cookstove. Mrs. Mndenye says: “It was very exhausting to be honest. I had to go longer distances to get enough stock. Nights are very cold here sometimes [and] the temperature drops to [the] freezing point.”

But two years ago she installed a manure-fed biogas plant which changed everything.

Her husband used to avoid most domestic tasks. But now he takes part in operating the biogas plant. He sometimes even cooks with the gas – leaving Mrs. Mndenye more time to tend to her fields.

She says: “This plant has simplified a lot of work. My husband and I are taking pride in the project. He’s very keen to ensure that it is well-maintained so that we can offset the cost of installing it.”

The biogas plant is just outside the family’s four-bedroom house. The digester can create enough gas to power a cooking stove and several gas lanterns.

The biogas plant was installed as part of a project supported by Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture. Researchers from the institution say that biogas has caused men in villages across southern Tanzania to reassess their responsibility for providing the family’s fuel.

Mr. Mndenye says that despite the pungent smell of fermenting cow manure, he enjoys shovelling dung from the family’s dairy herd into the digester.

He spends half an hour every day mixing manure with water to remove impurities that slow down gas production. He adds, “It’s much easier and more dignified than collecting firewood. I mix water in two buckets of manure to get enough gas.”

According to the Tanzanian government, surging demand for firewood has placed huge pressure on the country’s forests, and has also affected water resources. The biogas unit not only saves wood otherwise used for cooking and heating, but also saves families the money they normally spend on other fuels.

Mrs. Mndenye has invested the money she would have spent on kerosene in a small shop that sells a range of consumer goods. She says, “I don’t want to waste money … [so] I put it somewhere to generate more income.”

Biogas plants have other benefits. Professor Ndelilio Urio of Sokoine University says the residues from biogas production are a better fertilizer than dried manure. The high levels of urea in the slurry increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil.

Professor Urio says that families have been taught how to use the slurry in their home gardens to boost production of vegetables and fruits. And, thanks to the economic benefits of increased agricultural production, men are now taking an interest in feeding the biogas plants.

Mrs. Mndenye says: “Before setting up this project, my husband was spending over 2,500 Tanzanian shillings [$1.50] every week purchasing kerosene – but now we use our own resources to get night light.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, In Tanzania’s switch from firewood to biogas, men step up and women get a break, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20140702094720-nr1t9/

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Uganda: Farmers benefit from hot prices for chilies (by Emmanuel Opio, for Farm Radio Weekly)

Jimmy Oleng’s face is wreathed in smiles. The 50-year-old has earned a lot of money growing hot red chili peppers.

Mr. Oleng started planting chilies when he saw how much money a friend was making from the crop. He recalls, “When I started planting chili in 2010, the money [I earned] helped me to pay for education for my five children.” That year, Mr. Oleng sold 72 kilograms of chilies from a single harvest for 288,000 Ugandan shillings [$108 US]. He gets three harvests a year and earns 864,000 shillings [$324 US] annually.

The farmer is based in Kulu Hali village, in Lira District, northern Uganda, about 320 kilometres north of Kampala. His chilies are proving to be a good bet at local markets. The price of chilies is normally stable during harvesting season at 4,000 shillings [$1.50 US] per kilogram.

In comparison, a kilogram of maize sells for as little as 200 shillings [8 US cents] if there is a glut in the market, and sunflower seeds fetch about 800 shillings per kilogram [30 US cents].

Mr. Oleng has made the best use of his small parcel of land, 40 metres by 30 metres, or just over one-tenth of a hectare. His pepper bushes mature three months after planting, and can be harvested for two to three years before the plants are no longer viable.

Mr. Oleng’s wife, Adongo, helps out on the farm. She says, “The seedling is planted on a nursery bed for roughly one month before [being trans-] planted in a garden.” She weeds the chilies twice a season before harvest.

This year, Mr. Oleng spent only 2,500 shillings [about $1 US] on chili seeds, but expects to receive more than 300,000 shillings [$113 US]. He has found enough money to buy some land, and wants to plant more chilies to increase his earnings.

Hellen Acam is the director of the North East Chili Producers’ Association, or NECPA. The association was formed in 1998, and now has 150 member groups. She says, “[I] started promoting the growing of chili to improve the lives of farmers.”

NECPA buys about 300 tonnes of chilies a year from farmers in northern Uganda, and sells it for export to countries such as India and China.

Mrs. Acam says the association is seeking financial assistance to help develop post-harvest handling practices. NECPA is also looking into fair trade certification to help its members benefit further from chili peppers.

Mr. Oleng is happy with the money he makes from his chili bushes. He says, “I suggest that chilies are [a] good bet for farmers without much land to spare.”

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FRW news in brief

Farm Radio Weekly has a new trial resource for you: Farmer news briefs. These are stories from across the continent which have been adapted from print or online sources and are suitable for use in your regular farm radio program. Read them, edit them, broadcast them, localize them, or simply use them as background info. Want more details? Click the link under the story to see the original article.

Please let us know what you think. Do you want to see Farmer news briefs in Farm Radio Weekly on a regular basis? Email us at farmradioweekly@farmradio.org

1-Tanzania: Researchers urge farmers to adopt intercropping and organic fertilizer

Agricultural experts from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and Malawi came together recently in Arusha, Tanzania, at a meeting organized by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA.

There was general agreement that in order to increase yields, small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa need to embrace farming systems that include intercropping and organic fertilizers.

AGRA Tanzania Project Coordinator Stephen Lyimo says intercropping improves productivity and profitability while organic fertilizers improve soil fertility.

To read the full article, go to: http://www.coastweek.com/3727-agriculture-02.htm

2-Ethiopia: Seed banks increase farmers’ options

Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia are benefiting from seed banks in community-based training centres across the country. The most recent to open is in the Oromia region.

There are now 18 seed banks spread across Ethiopia’s Oromia, Amhara and Southern regions. Farmers can source and plant a greater variety of seeds from these banks, which also serve as training centres for local farmers, including women, on beekeeping and horticulture.

The community centres also provide farmers with greater access to information to combat the effects of climate change. Ethio-Organic Seed Action and the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity plan to expand the seed banks into more areas of the country.

To read the full article, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20140704110845-bjkc6

3-Uganda: Refugees and asylum seekers prosper

Many of the 387,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda have been able to find enough work to support themselves and their families. This is helping to relieve the burden on humanitarian services in the country.

Most live in refugee settlements where they can farm and earn a living, although many have relocated to Kampala and other parts of the country.

A research team from Oxford University’s Humanitarian Innovation Project found that 78 per cent of refugee households in Kampala no longer receive assistance from the UNHCR or other agencies. In refugee settlements, 17 per cent of households receive no assistance.

To read the full article, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/100284/refugee-economies-the-ugandan-model

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Call for applications: Open Society Fellowships

The Open Society Fellowship financially supports innovative and unconventional approaches to the fundamental challenges of open societies. The fellowship aims to promote work that enriches public understanding of these challenges and stimulates far-reaching and probing conversations within Open Society Foundations and in the larger world.

The Open Society Fellowship is accepting proposals for fellowships from anywhere in the world. Applicants should possess a deep understanding of their chosen subject and a track record of professional accomplishment.

A fellowship project might identify a problem that has not been previously recognized, develop new policy ideas to address familiar problems, or offer a new advocacy strategy.

Project themes should cut across at least two areas of interest to Open Society Foundations, including human rights, government transparency, access to information and justice, and the promotion of civil society and social inclusion.

Successful projects should push the boundaries of current thinking and carry lessons that can be applied to a variety of settings. Fellows may produce a variety of work products, including publications such as books, reports, or blogs; innovative public education projects; or the launch of new campaigns or organizations.

Individual journalists, activists, academics, and practitioners in a variety of fields are encouraged to apply. Proficiency in spoken English is required.

Interested applicants should first download and review the fellowship guidelines at this address: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/grants/open-society-fellowship

To apply, go to: https://fellowships.submittable.com/submit

The deadline for applications is August 4, 2014.

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UNESCO: Empowering local radio with Information and Communication Technologies

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, has been operating an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) project in seven African countries. The project’s goal is to improve the lives of the poor, especially women and girls, by improving the quality of local radio stations’ programming.

Empowering Local Radio with ICTs aims to help local radio stations acquire ICT skills and develop wider coverage of local news. The project focuses on gender equality and financial sustainability, providing better social services, and engaging the community on issues of local concern.

The UNESCO website features several ICT applications of interest to local radio stations. These free and open source programs are designed to allow radio stations to send and receive large information files through the Internet, gather information about their listeners’ locations, design websites, manage their accounts, create documents and surveys, record and edit interviews, and improve interactions with their listeners.

To access the ICTs through the UNESCO website, go to: http://en.unesco.org/radioict/icts

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Voices from the field: Erena Micheal, Tanzania

Farm Radio International’s archive of audio postcards keeps growing!

Farming is what Erena Micheal knows best. With the profits from her farm, she pays for her children’s school uniforms and books.

Recently, Mrs. Micheal listened to an agriculture program on Pride FM in Mtwata that helped her improve her farming (Pride FM is one of Farm Radio International’s 560-plus broadcasting partners). Through the radio, she learned about the importance of planting her crops in rows. And because of this, she harvested more rice than ever this year.

Mrs. Micheal works hard for her money. But that doesn’t stop her from enjoying herself! She dances under the hot summer sun dressed in her colourful kangas (traditional Tanzanian fabric used for clothing and for carrying babies), and celebrates the rice harvest with her fellow farmers.

Find out more on FRI’s blog page. You can see and hear the audio postcard here: http://www.farmradio.org/ourblog/2014/07/10/voices-from-the-field-erena-micheal-tanzania/

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Is an insect always a pest?

This week’s story from Liberia shows the kind of damage that can happen when insect infestations are serious and spiral out of control. But is an insect always a pest? Should you always use pesticides when you see insects?

Farmers need to assess at what point spending money on pest control is justified. If a farmer spends money on a pesticide to control pests that are doing only a small amount of damage, he or she may actually lose money. To minimize damage, farmers should examine their fields regularly to monitor pest populations, and apply controls only when infestations reach the level of “economic damage.” “Economic damage” is defined as the point at which insect damage causes a loss of income greater than the cost of buying and applying a pesticide or other control measure.

Our script of the week shows that pesticides and other pest control methods may not be necessary if the damage caused to crops is minimal. You may want to talk to an agricultural extension worker to find out what the economic damage levels are for commonly grown crops in your region, and include this information in your broadcast. This will help farmers in your listening audience to better understand the concept of economic damage.

For example, farmers in Guatemala learned how to test for economic damage levels in stored beans. They were taught to check samples of stored beans every 30 days for weevil damage. If more than four of every 100 beans (4%) were damaged, the farmers were advised to control the pest. If the percentage of damaged seeds was less than four percent, there would not be a significant reduction in germination, nutritional quality or sale price of the beans.


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