June 2, 2017
Written by Josh Woodard
This toolkit originally appeared on ictforag.org. Reposted with permission.
For decades now, radio has been a dominant source of information for farmers in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Although the reach of radio varies from country to country, it is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of households in Africa have access to a functional radio. The liberalization of regulatory environments in a number of countries has further increased the number of independent and community radio stations broadcasting over the airwaves.1 Given the fact that adult literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa are just over 60 percent and that electricity in many rural communities is non-existent, battery-powered radios are often the most affordable and practical way for rural farmers to access information.
Yet for the most part, traditional radio promotes a one-way flow of information from the broadcaster to the listener. This can be effective for the passive consumption of information, such as weather reports or price information, but is not necessarily the best medium to foster active learning, such as promoting changes in farming practices. Radio as a primary conduit of information is also at risk from the growing prevalence of two-way communication channels, like mobiles phones and the internet. Not to mention the challenge it faces from the television, as increased access to television often correlates to a reduction in radio listenership.
All of that said, for the time being radio continues to be the best way to reach sizeable portions of rural smallholder farmers in Africa. Furthermore, advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) have made it significantly easier and more affordable to engage and interact with listeners over the radio. By using new technologies, it is possible to enhance the potential of radio as a powerful distribution channel beyond what had ever been possible. Radio stations and development organizations working with farmers now have a number of options available to them for converting traditional broadcast-only radio into what has become known as interactive radio.
Interactive radio is defined here to mean radio that leverages other ICT tools to create a two-way communication exchange between radio stations and listeners.