In Eastern Uganda’s Bugisu sub region, literacy remains a substantial barrier to development. Here, radio can reach a large number of poor people because it is affordable and uses little electricity.
This is why Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) turned to radio.
BCU is a Ugandan agricultural cooperative federation established in July 1954. Based in Mbale town, Eastern Uganda, the Cooperative Union was started by a group of coffee farmers led by The Late EV. Samson Kitutu. Over time, the Union has thrived in uniting the region, marketing, advocating and bulking produce on behalf of the coffee farmers within Bugisu.
On Oct. 9, 2019, BCU Radio could be heard on the airwaves at 100.6 FM. Their broadcast covers two-thirds of Eastern and Central areas including Masabaland’s households.
The majority of the programs are aired in Lumasaba, the preferred language of people living in this area. A few programs also air in Luganda and English.
Currently, the cooperative union is led by Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi who also doubles as a Member of Parliament representing Budadiri West in Sironko district.
“The radio is now going to be the ultimate vehicle of delivery and mobilization for the union farmers because this is their own,” Nandala said.
He further believes that the already strong cooperative is only going to get stronger with the addition of radio.
John Musila says opening the radio station for the union was a priority for farmers. “The decision to come into existence is to avail farmers in Bugisu and our neighbors with an agricultural, informative and farmer educative broadcast,” he said.
He added: “We want them [farmers and business fraternity] to know that this is their radio which basically means any form of support in form of adverts, announcements, and paying for commercial talk shows by them will make BCU radio even stronger.”
Mr. Musila, who doubles as Manafwa district LCV boss, says that though the region already has over 15 operational radio stations, BCU Radio will be distinguished by a couple of principles some among which include: farmer community ownership, management and farmer community participation.
Enhancing effective extension, education, and communication services amongst its members are some of the key strategies the cooperative expects from their new broadcast prospect, for sustaining agricultural growth, strengthening food security and combating hunger and malnutrition in the area.
BCU board member in charge of the Radio operations, James Kutosi alluded to the fact that the radio project is seen as a lifetime blessing by both farmers and the board.
“We have also been spending a lot of money to other commercial radios, in mobilization and educational activities but now that we have our own [radio station] we will not have to continue spending a colossal sum of money, contracting over 10 radios to pass the same massage to our farmers,” Mr. Kutosi said.
He continued, “It will be a requirement for our farmers to always listen to BCU Radio for all official communications of the union, unlike in the past where everyone listened to the radio of their preference.”
According to Mr. Kutosi, BCU was spending approximately UGX. 150 million annually on local radios, newspapers and TVs for mobilization activities, an amount he says will now be minimized by the existence of BCU Radio.
Julius Musungu a farmer in Manafwa district says they expect the radio to be the voice of farmers and able to inspire farmers to observe weather patterns.
Farmer education through radio will be another key prospect for quality coffee production since the crop has for long been the uniting factor in Masabaland, this is according to Musungu.
“I suppose the radio will provide employment opportunities for some of our children who end up doing journalism and mass communication at University level or institutions,” Mr. Musungu said.
The majority of BCU farmers have welcomed their newly-established radio station with the hope that it will provide a proactive and farmer-dedicated voice to the community of farmers, majority of whom are rural coffee growers and dealers.
The listenership is already building up for BCU radio, which has also managed to attract majority of Bugisu’s most established radio personalities.
It now has more than 15 staff members, including support team and a number of experienced presenters.
It is clear from their debut programming that BCU Radio is a type of station that caters to the interests of the farming and business fraternity. Their content is increasingly popular to a local audience, which is often overlooked by other stations.
John K, one of the senior staff, said: “It is a truly people’s radio that perceives listeners not only as receivers and consumers, but also as active citizens and creative producers of media content, its them who dedicate what should be on air at what time.”
Their programming includes the morning show, Inyukha Hasi, and Coffee Tree. Another farmer program is called Imbago Y’omulimi, loosely translating to the hoe of farmer. There is also a Golden Medal sports show among others.
John K explains how they are trying to include farmers’ voices. He said: “We decided to dedicated a two-hour show to farm features and vox-pops.… This what we call a two-way means of inclusive communication.”
Javier Silas Omagor