About the Toolkit

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.

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.

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.

What is the purpose of this toolkit?

This toolkit is designed to help USAID projects and other implementing organizations use interactive radio to augment the traditional agricultural extension services they are providing. In addition, it aims to provide practitioners with a foundational understanding of what is needed to create compelling radio programming. It is important to stress that this toolkit does not assume that radio is the most appropriate solution for disseminating agricultural information. Rather, given the fact that radio continues to be the most readily accessible communication tool in much of sub-Saharan Africa, this toolkit aims to enable practitioners to develop a more systematic approach to using interactive radio as one medium through which they share information with farmers.

Why should you consider using interactive radio?

In response to the question "Why do you rob banks?" the infamous American bank robber Willie Sutton was purported to have replied, "Because that's where the money is." Although it is unlikely that Sutton actually uttered these words, the rationale for why you should consider using interactive radio is similar. Radio is likely where most of your audience is. It is still the most commonly accessible communications medium for significant segments of the rural population, including farmers, in many African nations. In fact, in the majority of developing countries more than 75 percent of households own a radio, and at least 95 percent of the globe has access to a radio signal.2 Moreover, effective radio programming has the capacity to present itself as an extension of the long and established practice of oral arts and spoken word in many traditional African cultures. The potential impact of radio is further heightened through the incorporation of interactive elements, which has been shown to lead to positive increases in listenership, recall of information, and adoption rates. We know that radio can be extremely effective when used appropriately—the key is making sure you are using radio in a way that connects to listeners.

What is the intended audience of this toolkit?

The primary audience of this toolkit is USAID implementing partners and other development organizations that are using or planning to use radio to enhance the impact of their agricultural and rural development project. It does not assume any level of prior knowledge of interactive radio from the reader.

The toolkit will primarily appeal to practitioners who are planning to work through established radio stations or disseminate audio recordings independently of radio (i.e. MP3 players or mobile phones). It is not intended to be a guide to establishing a radio station from scratch, although you will likely still find much of the content relevant even if that is your main objective. If you are planning to help start a radio station, UNESCO's Community Radio Handbook is a good resource, despite being slightly dated.3

What will I find in this toolkit?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach to using interactive radio. What works well in one context or situation could fail to achieve its objectives elsewhere. As such, this toolkit will not provide you with a prescribed model. Instead, it aims to guide you through a series of questions that will help you and your team design an interactive radio activity that best suits your own objectives, beneficiaries, and project realities.

To facilitate this process, each component of this toolkit begins with learning objectives and ends with critical success factors that you will need to consider when implementing your activity. By the time you have finished using the toolkit, you will have developed an implementation plan for integrating interactive radio into your agricultural development work.

The toolkit is divided into the following six components:

  • Component 1: How is interactive radio currently being used for agricultural development?
    This component provides an overview of how interactive radio is currently being used for agricultural development. It includes illustrative examples from organizations both in Africa and elsewhere, along with contact information, websites, or other resources that you can use to follow up directly to learn more about a given approach.
  • Component 2: Is interactive radio an appropriate way to achieve our objectives?
    Before you begin using interactive radio, it is important for you to assess if it is really one of the most appropriate means to address the challenges you are trying to overcome or objectives you are trying to achieve. It is also important to assess whether you currently have the capacity to work with interactive radio, and if not, what steps you can take to develop that capacity. This component will guide you through a process of assessing the appropriateness of a variety of ICT and traditional solutions to determine if interactive radio is indeed a good fit based on your own organizational, technical, and financial capacity.
  • Component 3: How can we create our own agricultural radio programming?
    This component will help you to identify how to create your own agricultural radio programming. It aims to help you create compelling scripts for original content and adapt other types of content for the radio that meet a baseline quality standard. In addition, it includes technical tips for effectively recording and editing your radio segments. Finally, it includes suggested techniques for lowering barriers to entry so that your team is more likely to produce its own content for radio, including simple ways to provide incentives.
  • Component 4: What are the different approaches that can be used to make our radio programming interactive?
    There are a number of different ways that you can build interactivity into your radio programming. This component highlights the most promising approaches that are currently available, what is needed to integrate them into your programming, and how to effectively implement them. In addition, it includes suggestions for other ways that you can disseminate your radio programming without relying on radio airwaves.
  • Component 5: How can we track the impact that our radio programming is having on farmers?
    Once your radio segments have been produced and broadcast, it is important to learn how they are being used and what, if any, impact they may be having. This component highlights various ways that you can track listenership and measure impact. It also includes suggestions for how to capture farmer feedback to better inform the creation of new content.
  • Component 6: What are the technical considerations we need to keep in mind?
    There are a number of technical choices that need to be made before you can actually begin creating your own radio programming. This component includes overviews of the different types of low-cost audio recording devices, their strengths, weaknesses, and examples of situations for which they may be most appropriate. It also covers devices that support interactivity, peripheral devices, audio editing software and other important technical choices. This section will not make recommendations for the best devices. Instead, it aims to inform you of likely technical considerations, so that you can assess what is most appropriate for your situation.

Each component can be viewed by either clicking on the component names in the list above or through the navigation menu to the left. Downloadable PDF copies of each component can also be found by clicking on the links in the navigation menu, at the bottom of each web page, or in the Resources section. Note that the PDF documents are from December 2012, and do not include additions that were made to this web version of the toolkit since then. For the most current version of the toolkit, refer to the web version.

How should I use this toolkit?

In each component, you will find helpful worksheets and templates, which are also included in the Resources section. These are meant to help you tailor the design of your implementation plan to your specific situation. It is recommended that you read each component sequentially prior to implementing any interactive radio activity. Doing so will enable you to develop a detailed plan that is more likely to address most of the issues you will encounter during implementation. That is not to say that your plan should remain static. Once you have begun to implement your activity, you may find that certain assumptions you made have changed or that the realities of implementation are different than you had imagined. That is perfectly normal and to be expected. Make sure to revisit your plan along with relevant components throughout the implementation phase and revise it as necessary.

If you have already started implementing an activity with farmers using radio prior to reading this toolkit, first write down the main challenges you are experiencing. Then, read through the toolkit (or relevant components) with these in mind and make adjustments to your current activity as appropriate. Before making any significant changes to what you are already doing, you may want to consider conducting a small pilot activity with your intended beneficiaries to ensure that the changes will actually address the challenges you are facing.


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