Radio still reaches most Kenyan farmers—but agricultural information still not useful enough


Most Kenyan farmers listen to the radio to learn how to farm better but are not receiving the information they need (photo credit: Flickr/Internews Network).

Radio is still the dominant media channel used by Kenya’s small-scale farmers wanting to learn new techniques to improve their farming methods. But farmers say they’re still not receiving most of the agricultural information they badly need.

Findings of a 2012 study of over 600 small-scale farm households spread across high- to low-yield agricultural regions of Kenya in Nakuru, Nyanza, Nyeri, Machakos, Makueni and Webuye show that farmers receive mostly basic ‘how to’ and technical information; despite its modest usefulness, this kind of information is not enough to enable these Kenyan farmers to improve their food production levels or practices.

Selected findings from this study were shared in a presentation, ‘Shortcomings in communications on agricultural knowledge transfer’, made by Christoph Spurk, a media researcher, at a seminar on 17 Oct 2013 at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya.

‘Over 75 per cent of the households we reviewed practised mixed crop-and-livestock farming, with an average of 4–6 people in each household occupying 1–3 acres of land. Over half of those we interviewed were women’, said Spurk, who is also an agricultural economist and a professor at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Applied Media Studies.

‘One of our key findings’, says Spurk, ‘was that government extension services are still the “most trusted source” of agricultural information for most farmers, even though many of these services are “difficult to reach and less available than expected”.’

At the same time, the study found significant gaps between the agricultural information farmers would like to receive and what they actually get through different communication channels.

‘The farmers are receiving mostly technical agricultural information even though they prefer information on markets, improving incomes and fighting farm-related diseases’, said Spurk. ‘They also said most of the information they get is presented in simplified top-down “how-to” formats rather than in detailed formats that lay out the different options available to them.’

According to the study’s findings, radio is used by 95% of the households. Even though two-thirds of the households also have access to mobile phones, only 11% of mobile phone owners use these devices to access to agricultural applications such as ‘iCow’, which registered farmers use to receive information on, for example, optimal feeding regimes and gestation cycles for their particular cows.

Although most of the farmers interviewed reported that they regularly listen to vernacular radio stations, nearly all them said their favourite source of information is other farmers and family members. Just under half of the farmers (44%) said government extension services were their most trusted source of information. In terms of sources of detailed farming information, farmers reported preferring first to listen to other farmers, second to take part in field visits and only third to listen to radio programs.

Spurk believes findings from this study highlight a need for greater integration between radio and extension services to better reach small-scale farmers and a need to provide farmers with the kind of information that empowers them in their own decision-making.

Note: In October 2012, this blog reported on a study by Farm Radio International in Africa, which showed that participatory radio campaigns that use local languages, allow farmer participation and highlight tested and available technologies help in hastening the adoption of new technologies by small-scale farmers in Africa.

Download a PDF version of the study report:


Participatory radio’s power in driving adoption of farming technologies: Lessons from Farm Radio International

The African Farm Radio Research Initiative

A Ghanaian radio presenter talks with farmers during a broadcast. Participatory radio can hasten adoption of new technologies by smallholder farmers in Africa (photo from Flickr, Gates Foundation).

A recent study by Farm Radio International shows participatory radio campaigns that use local languages, allow farmer participation and that highlight tested and available technologies are particularly useful in hastening the adoption of new technologies by small-scale farmers in Africa.

In an experiment carried out between 2007 and 2011 under the African Farm Radio Research Initiative, Farm Radio International tested a participatory radio campaign in in Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Tanzania and Uganda. The campaign carried out 49 participatory radio campaigns through 25 state, community and religious radio stations across the 5 countries.

Nearly 80 percent of small-scale farmers in Africa have access to radio and farm radio broadcasts have existed in the continent for a long time but most have not inspired large-scale change.

The African Farm Radio Research Initiative wanted to see how radio could be used to reach farmers at a larger scale. Using radio broadcasts that explained available and tested farming improvements, the initiatives focused on what farmers in the target communities said they wanted. Broadcasts were then scheduled at times that were most convenient to the farmers in each region. The programs featured interviews and content from members of participating ‘active communities’ and each week a successful farmer’s experience was featured in the shows. Listeners were asked to decide if they would try the improvement they had heard about and they were given a chance to comment and be heard through live calls and short message service (SMS).

The study compared the reach and impact of 14 participatory radio campaigns in a participating community and a control community which never received the signals. The experiment also assessed the impact of the broadcasts in the larger community that was reached by the broadcasts.

‘The results were compelling,’ says David Mowbray, the manager in charge of training and standards at Farm Radio. ‘We found that 39 percent of the active listeners and 22 percent of the passive listeners had started new practices to improve their farming since the start of the broadcasts,’ he said. Mowbray, who presented the findings of the survey at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on 17 September 2012, said that as a result of the initiative, nearly 1 million small-scale farm households tried what they heard on radio in the 5 countries.

‘The participatory radio campaign approach worked because radio programs were broadcast in local languages and allowed farmers to learn from each other,’ said Mowbray.

Farm Radio is now carrying out a follow-up survey to investigate how the adoptions spread after the end of the campaign and if the early adopters have continued using the methods they learnt. The organization hopes to scale out the methodology used in this study to other parts of Africa.

View David Mowbray’s presentation here:

To find out more about the approach visit