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Tuning in to Farmers’ Water Needs: Radio broadcasts aid Malawi irrigation efforts

Originally published by Food Tank on 08/23/2017

Several members of the Youth Economic and Social Action group led us across flood plains parched in the bright sun of the dry season in Malawi’s southern Chikwawa district. Lloyd, the lanky head of the group, pointed across the hardened dirt, ridges carefully drawn for a regulation soccer field. In a small stand of trees, solar panels sparkled in the afternoon sun.

The group, an arm of an organization called the Sustainable Development Initiative, was taking us to see the new solar-powered pump they had installed to bring irrigation to community-owned lands. With climate change bringing erratic rains, shorter growing seasons, and, last year, devastating drought to southern Africa, irrigation can be a lifeline—literally—for farm families dependent on their next harvest for food.

Augustine Mulomole, from Farm Radio Trust in the capital of Lilongwe, brought me to Chikwawa, not only to see the range of irrigation projects underway there but also to see Farm Radio Trust’s work organizing farmer “listening groups” and developing local radio broadcasts on agricultural development issues in the area. The shows link local farmers to government extension officers to promote social accountability for the many agricultural development projects underway in the region. In fact, radio connected the youth group to its irrigation pump.

Radio as two-way communications

Farm Radio Trust (FRT) broadcasts a weekly show nati