Radio Marketplace Program: Transforming farms into booming businesses

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Sheila from ZBS interviewing farmers for her next radio broadcast

On 18 July 2014 I traveled to the Dedza district to document the Radio Marketplace Program (RMP). I was sent to interview FRT staff project leader, Clement Shema (the Radio Impact Programming Specialist) and a broadcaster at FRT is working with for this program, Sheila Chimphamba (broadcast journalist at Zodiak Broadcasting Station).

RMP is an innovation in itself. It focuses on providing a regular and reliable market oriented radio show to farmers who are given tools to help them operate within the marketplace. RMP utilizes and teaches a variety of strategies to farmers, including negotiation skills to achieve fairer prices, considering the middleman (the vendors) to inform farmer’s on market development, and educate farmer’s on business and farming techniques to streamline the value chain, according to Shema. This set of comprehensive skills helps farmers take full advantage of, and to optimize, the value chain at their disposal.

Shema and Chimphamba list other strategies that RMP uses and teaches to farmers. For example, RMP encourages collective selling to eliminate competition, ensure fair trade, improve food and income security, and attract big market players through large-scale crop outputs. This value chain optimization is accomplished by teaching farmer’s the benefits of selling as a group versus selling individually.

One farming group told of how their farms and well-being have both improved from their use of techniques and innovations learned from the RMP. A colleague translated this to me from Chichewa, but the proud smile the leader of this group wore, spoke volumes.

A farmer in the Dedza district sharing her experience since RMP

“The value chain has drastically changed from the top down approach – where vendors control the market activity – to a streamlined value chain where the farmers, traders, buyers, and vendors are in constant communication”, says Chimphamba. This discursive strategy ensures that all members of the value chain are participating in an open, free, and equitable market. Ultimately, this has led to farmer’s viewing themselves as entrepreneurs, as business owners and ultimately becoming more efficient and effective in the market place.

RMP has spread to areas beyond the broadcast reach; farmers are teaching lessons learned to their peers, speaking to the impact of the program. These practices, techniques and knowledge are empowering many people.

A man in the first farming group we interviewed stated that he would not be participating in the collective selling and in this farming group had he not heard of the helpful radio broadcasts from a friend in a neighbouring village.

An example of the impact of RMP is seen when farmers became knowledgeable on using the Mandela Cock drying method, and on storing groundnuts. This has helped to reduce aflatoxin levels in their yields. As a result, farmer’s yields are more saleable on international markets. In turn, this improvement of the quality of their goods attracts more large-scale buyers.

When aflatoxin levels are too high in groundnuts, the stock is considered unsalable and is either destroyed or returned. Chimphamba tells us that when this occurs, vendors are less willing to trade with these farmers; the area loses credibility as a viable source for groundnuts; and it is costly to vendors, so they are less willing to return.

Farmer’s are also learning accounting and finance practices to help improve their negotiation skills and to ensure they are selling at a price that helps achieve income security through profitability. They now calculate gross margins and the cost of goods sold. Farmer’s have learned to consider the market cost of labour and their time, cost to store yields, cost to bring the groundnuts to market, cost to buy new seeds, and from this their breakeven point. This fosters an understanding of the minimum price at which they can sell in order to effectively cover their costs and to realize profit.

It was incredible to see members of this group discussing their margins, break-even points, and discussing strategies for pricing and negotiation.

Current local market price for crops

Farmer’s are making better-informed decisions and are more aware of the options at their disposal for bringing their yield to market. They are no longer rushing to harvest and sell (a grow, sell, and repeat strategy). Now, they are more carefully planning their business to ensure they are reaching full market potential.

Broadcasters are also better equipped to create more effective broadcasts as the RMP has facilitated a reciprocal discourse. Broadcasters gain insight into the farmer’s listening practices and the extent to which they adopt the information learned on air. SMS messaging allows farmers to ask questions and respond to the broadcasts, and in person interviews allows broadcaster’s to better ascertain the farmer’s needs. Broadcasts can then be tailored to satisfy those needs, resulting in a more effective process.

After interviewing each farming group, Shema would ask for the cell phone numbers to reach the group for communication, broadcasting, and informational purposes.

This results in a cycle of knowledge sharing and gaining. FRT and broadcasters conduct market research to provide basic tools to farmers. From there, farmers respond and let FRT know whether it is helpful, what would be more helpful, and what information they need from here to continue this process. This provides FRT with further information to tailor programming and other research to effectively disseminate information back to the farmers. All parties’ knowledge bases grow and expand collectively.

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