Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

MEAS Case study #8: The Role of Radio in Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services

The Role of Radio in Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services - Experiences and Lessons from Farm Radio Programming in Malawi

Introduction:  Agriculture and Agricultural Extension in Malawi

Agriculture is currently the most important sector of the Malawi economy. It employs about 80% of the total workforce, contributes over 80% of foreign exchange earnings, accounts for 39% of gross domestic product (GDP) and contributes significantly to national and household food security. The Malawi agriculture sector is divided into the estate sub-sector, comprised of commercially oriented and leasehold land, and the smallholder sub-sector, dominated by subsistence food production on customary land (Government of Malawi, 2011). The smallholder sub-sector occupies about 80% of the land whilst the commercial sector comprises 20% (Government of Malawi, 2000).

Extension was identified as a key service to enhance agricultural productivity in colonial times. In 1903, the colonial government brought in organized agricultural extension that advised farmers on improved methods of cotton production, and later broadened out to other crops and livestock (Kabuye and Mhango, 2005). The Department of Agriculture was established in 1907. At that time, the government sent out instructors to teach crop production. Later, the concept of “master farmers” was incorporated into the mainstream of extension activities. These farmers were innovative and generally better off and received government support for inputs and extension services. They followed recommended practices, thereby providing an example to other farmers. An agricultural cooperative program was instituted in 1948 to enhance agricultural production. Through all these stages, the predominant extension approach involved individual contact and coercion. Up until 1962 this was considered appropriate. The importance of a group approach was recognized in the 1970s as a faster way of spreading messages to the farming community. In trying to enhance the group approach, the “block extension system”, a modified training and visit system, was adopted in 1981 with the aim of improving farmer coverage. The approach then went beyond specialized groups and tried to contact a wider range of farmers, including the resource poor and women. There have been new players coming into agricultural extension services during the 1990s, including NGOs, the private sector and farmer organizations. The current agricultural extension policy, built on the principles of pluralism in extension delivery and decentralized and demand-driven planning, was launched by the government in 2000 (Government of Malawi, 2000).

The Use of Radio in Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services in Malawi

Individual, group and mass-media approaches to agricultural extension and advisory services have been used concurrently. The continuing increase in the number of farming families has led to a growing emphasis on approaches that reach more people at a time. Realizing the importance of mass media in extension, the use of radio has evolved in terms of the policies, laws, approaches and players involved.

The rationale for using radio in extension and advisory services came from an understanding that rradio is an excellent, cost-effective means of sharing knowledge, building awareness, facilitating informed decision-making and supporting the adoption of new practices by small-scale farmers (Farm Radio International, 2007). The Malawi national population and household census report of 2008 indicates that nationally 64.1% of households own radios, up from 49.9% in 1998.  Radio regularly reaches 70% of rural households; it is affordable, accessible to the illiterate, can use local languages, and can give voice to end-users critical for effective agricultural extension and advisory services.