Analysing farm radio through contemporary models of science communication

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How information flows from those with knowledge to those who seek knowledge is important — particularly for those communicators who seek to make transferring knowledge easier.

For journalists and radio broadcasters, it can be difficult to access information – or the people who hold knowledge – to share with your listening audience.

Fabian Oswald has investigated how information flow through agricultural radio programs in local languages is structured and whether contemporary theories of science communication are observable in the practice of farm radio through a cross-case study approach. As he completed his Masters degree at the Kalsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, he researched  the work of Kilimo Media in Kenya. This work involved qualitative interviews with local actors and group discussions with farmers in Kajiado, Marsabit and Kitui counties and three radio stations (Bus radio, Radio Jangwani and Syokimau FM respectively).

This illustration shows how information flows in these communities, involving extension officers, radio, and lots of communication in local languages.

As summarized, local radio stations design an agricultural radio program in cooperation with one or various extension officers, who identify the crucial topics to be tackled with the radio shows. During interview sessions, the extension officer elaborates on timely issues on the radio. Farmers listen to the program individually or in groups, and ask questions or relate their own experiences by call-ins or SMS. They may also request topics that are relevant to them.

In addition to the broadcast program, the extension officer also continues doing classical extension work and visits farming communities. This shows that extension officers, radio operators and farming communities are central actors of the information network, however several other governmental and non-governmental institutions are also involved in the information flow. The extension officer is at the centre of this network and channels the information received from all other parties.

Farm radio was designed to be an independent and interactive communication channel that provides farmers with cheap and timely information and use a two-way communication approach in which farmers’ voices are heard. The results show that these expectations towards farm radio are met by the Kilimo Media projects. It is the element of interactivity and two-way communication that needs to be discussed in detail.

Interactivity is a substantial part of farm radio in all the three cases that were looked at. Farmers can interact with the agricultural radio program through use of mobile phones or address the extension officer directly through calling his number or during farm visits. Through call ins, farmers can also relate their own experiences and solutions to issues discussed on the program, or even be invited to participate in a program and be heard on a radio. The combination of radio, ICTs and local languages is the only combination that allows farmers to communicate on a larger scale than the personal level. This makes the use of local language the element of farm radio that, alongside mobile phones, is essential to enable dialogue. It allows farmers to apply their full knowledge in the dialogue by using familiar terms or names of plants and pests. The use of local language is key to communicating knowledge under acknowledgement of local cultural and social contexts, which is a fundamental aspect of sustainable development in rural areas and is highly appreciated by farmers.

Interview partners have affirmed that the agricultural information aired on the program is scientifically backed and that scientific sources are used as validation. This indicates that although researchers do not usually participate in the program, there is much knowledge generated by agricultural sciences that is being broadcast by agricultural radio programs. Kilimo Media’s main objective is to improve food and financial security of farmers through the use of radio information, which is primarily done by communicating practical, applicable knowledge. This may be information about basic hygiene when milking a cow, how to control a certain weed or an update on market prices of vegetables.

It is difficult to determine which part exactly of these knowledge “packages” are based on scientific findings.  Information that has been generated by scientific research is finding its way to farmers through the medium of radio. In conclusion, the cross-case study of three farm radio projects in rural Kenya shows a communication network that involves various actors but is centred around extension officers. They fulfill key functions in selecting topics, identifying model farmers, presenting the agricultural information on air and interacting with farmers, mostly by answering questions.

The radio station may be community-driven or commercial, the deciding factor is its location in the region and that it produces content relevant to the local population. Radio staff assists in the technical facilitation of the radio program and contributes with their expertise on media formats. The general impression is that extension officers see radio as a tool that improves many difficulties of their work, reaching many farmers at the same time and with little financial and physical effort. Their relationship towards farmers can be compared to that of a teacher towards students, it is common that extension officers are referred to as experts. The extension officer is responsible for selecting and packaging agricultural information from his own experience and various sources. Thus, the information flow is channelled through the extension officer first and is then distributed by the agricultural radio program. Farmers can then give feedback or ask questions which reach the extension officer, radio operators and other farmers that are listening to the program. Farm radio therefore also is a medium that facilitates farmer-to-farmer communication that would otherwise not be possible due to geographical distance and lack of other media.

Since the agricultural information communicated through farm radio has scientific sources, it can be argued that scientific information is communicated to an audience, the farmers, through a medium, radio. This means that science communication is occurring, even if scientists are not directly involved. The information flow observed is a mix of linear and two-way science communication models. Therefore, farm radio is not found to be a purely one-way or two-way communication medium, but to employ a mix of these communication models. The use of local language can be described as a key to farmer participation and to a communication approach that considers the cultural context in which the communication takes place.  Farm radio offers great potential for a direct approach to science communication by connecting farmers and researchers. It is probable that this could create a communication platform for mutual benefit.

For more information read the thesis here

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