by Filius Chalo Jere

During the rainy season, most parts of the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia cannot be reached by government extension worker Luke Lungu, as there are many streams between the villages and Nsefu where he lives. These streams usually overflow the low bridges and the water is infested with crocodiles, making it dangerous for him to attempt to cross on his motor bike.

Under normal circumstances, farmers would be cut off from important information on how to take care of their rice fields and get good yields. COMACO wants them to have enough food for the whole year and will not buy their rice unless they have a surplus.

To support farmers, Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) has developed a monthly calendar of farm activities. It has also given lead farmers like Anne Mungawo a Better Life Book, which explains good ways of farming using simple terms and photographs. Anne lives in the nearby village of Kamphasa and is in charge of three groups of between 15 and 20 farmers each.

Farm Talk weekly radio programmes

COMACO also produces a weekly radio programme called Farm Talk, which informs farmers of what they must do every week. This information follows the farmer calendar and each programme is aired three times a week: 14:00 hours on Wednesdays, 11:00 hours on Fridays and 20:00 hours on Mondays. Farmers listen in their groups on Wednesdays and Fridays but on Mondays each farmer may use his or her own radio at home.  However, many families do not have working radio sets. If they do, they cannot always afford the ongoing cost of batteries.

To solve the problem of listening access, COMACO has given close to 1 000 Lifeline Energy Prime solar and wind-up radios that are designed for large group listening. The Prime is like their ‘extension worker’ during the rainy season. The radio is kept by lead farmers like Anne, who takes it around from one group to the next.

Farmers gather half an hour before the programme is broadcast and make sure that their Prime radio is in good working order and has enough power. Anne writes the names of everyone who is present in a register. When the programme starts, everyone listens attentively. A few farmers are able to write, so they usually take notes. However, many farmers, especially women, are illiterate, so they try to remember whatever they hear.

After the broadcast, the farmers discuss what they have learned and compare it with what they are doing. Then they choose what they think they can adopt and make a work plan on how to do so. Sometimes they agree to work from one farmer’s field to another as a group. In this way, they ensure that they apply the correct technology to every field.  This process helps to build community amongst the farmers.

Because of this, everyone benefits equally from the radio broadcasts and usually everyone has the possibility of getting higher yields. At harvest time, Anne assesses how much is enough for each farmer’s family and tells COMACO how much surplus can be bought. This is an excellent arrangement that ensures the farmers get the correct information for increasing their yields. It also makes sure that every farm family has enough to eat and that they earn a decent livelihood by selling the surplus to COMACO.

Without those big blue Lifeline Prime solar wind-up radios, this would not be possible!