Radio remains a viable and cost-effective medium for disseminating information on agriculture and rural development to the Pacific’s remote and geographically challenged islands. Radio provides up to 90% coverage in most Pacific Island countries, and is the most common way that most rural communities receive information. However, lack of funds for programming and poor reception in very remote islands can hinder the use of radio for communication.
In a recent workshop on Pacific media and agriculture and rural development held in Fiji in May 2010, presentations from Fiji and Kiribati clearly indicated that radio is the ideal medium for communication, given both countries’ many scattered outer islands. Even larger Pacific Islands have isolated inland villages, some of which are accessible only by hours of travel on horseback, and where radio is the only source for information.
Radio and other forms of media play a key role in bringing agriculture information to poor, rural communities. Vanuatu has five radio programmes every week on agriculture ranging from market information to talk-back shows covering agriculture, fisheries, livestock and quarantine. Kiribati airs an agricultural radio programme fortnightly, and Tonga has three weekly three agricultural radio programmes each week..
Agriculture in the Pacific is a significant contributor to rural employment and food security, and is a foreign exchange earner. Up to 30% of the national gross domestic product (GDP) in some Pacific states comes from the agricultural sector. Agriculture accounted for over 50% of the Solomon Islands GDP in 2006. Most Pacific Island countries have large rural populations, with an estimated 15% of the population engaged in formal employment. Agriculture’s contribution to Pacific Island economies goes far beyond simply the production of crops and livestock. The multiplier effects of agriculture on the rest of the economy can be many times more than that shown on quantities of primary production alone.
The delivery of information, technical advice and agricultural skills training for farmers rests with national extension services. However, extension activities are typically given a low priority across the Pacific. Extension work continues to face challenges because of the scarcity in human, financial and physical resources. The need ‘to do more for less’ is a realty, and partnering with the media can help enhance extension services. The extension officer to farmer disparity points to challenges in delivering information. In Papua New Guinea, the ratio is one extension officer per 3,600 people, and in some parts of the northern Solomon Islands this ratio is 1 per 14,000. For medium size islands such as Samoa and Tonga, the ratio is closer to 1 per 800 people. Extension work is further hampered by a lack of transport, or lack of fuel for transport.
The production of extension information is the task of the information units of national ministries of agriculture. However, the capacity of national agricultural information units to provide this service have diminished over the years because the service is made redundant, or because these activities have been absorbed into other technical divisions following structural reforms implemented by national governments in the 1990s.
Research and development on agriculture is carried out at government research facilities. Increasingly, researchers are adopting a holistic and participatory approach, recognising farmers’ input into research and carrying out on-farm trials. The media and information and communication technology (ICT) can help facilitate the link between research and extension.
Farmers groups are formed in some Pacific Islands to help screen new crop varieties for taste, yield and production qualities. The farmers group ‘Taro Improvement Project’ (TIP), based at the University of the South Pacific (Samoa campus) screens new varieties of taro being bred at the Alafua campus against the fungal disease, taro leaf blight. TIP farmers have identified more than 10 varieties of taro that taste good and are suitable for marketing. Planting material for the new taro varieties are being propagated by selected farmers for distribution to other farmers. (For more information on the taro improvement programme, please contact TIP coordinator, Tolo Iosefa:
Partnering with the media offers an alternative for extension agencies to continue with one of their core functions — disseminating information. However, this might be a challenge for smaller atoll countries such as those in Micronesia where media outlets are limited or non-existent. The increasingly important role of the media calls for a closer working relationship with extension workers. Extension officers should also be responsive to new innovations emanating from farmers. ICT can be used to capture or record these innovations and bring them to a national forum in order to share them with farmers from elsewhere. The Pacific media summit in May recognised the need for media workers to develop trust and a greater appreciation of efforts in rural development work. Conversely, extension needs to be aware of the operations of the media industry, how information is collected and reported, what is considered to be priority news, how agriculture is reported in the news, and more.
In light of the constraints of human and financial resources and geographical distances, the media and ICT are being promoted as valuable tools in the delivery of extension information. Increasingly, ICT is being regarded as a tool for sustainable development and poverty reduction.
Mobile phones offer another potential for extension workers, with estimates of up to 50% of Pacific Islanders having access to mobile phones. Mobile phones could help extension workers disseminate information on crop pricing or pests and diseases to farmers. In Tonga, a pilot exercise is underway using mobile phones to link farmers and extension officers. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is helping develop an efficient market information system and a user-friendly platform to disseminate information via mobile phones. UNCTAD supports the establishment of a regional information hub that would be based at SPC.
Recognising the important role the media and ICT plays in assisting extension and information dissemination, participants at the Pacific Extension Summit put forward the following strategies for using ICT and the media in extension transformation.
1. Never use ICT as a stand-alone strategy. It is one of many tools to use in extension work, but the value of face-to-face communication must not be forgotten.
2. Link round-table media capacity training to major agriculture and forestry events such as the Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry and Heads of Agriculture and Forestry meetings to increase the level of reporting on agriculture and forestry in local media.
3. Identify opportunities for capacity building in media production skills for extension officers. Because many Pacific Island countries and territories have non-functional information units, extension officers need basic training in communication skills such as writing press releases for newspapers and radio, interviewing skills, publication and video production skills, and using ICT for extension work.
4. Develop strategies on media convergence and explore cost-effective ICT that will increase intensity and diversity of media coverage of extension activities.
5. Broaden media formats to include:
• radio talk shows, using local celebrities and/or champions;
• local news on TV and newspapers;
• partnerships with other relevant sectors such as health, education, rural development, to co-sponsor media programmes;
• DVDs on agricultural practices;
• mobile phones and telecentres;
• establish a help desk to improv extension services;
• high frequency radio for outer islands; and
• the Internet and email groups; and OLPC.
6. Encourage media groups at national and regional levels to assist with information dissemination. Some of these groups include: Journalists Association of Western Samoa, Pacific Islands News Association, PACNEWS, Islands Business, Radio New Zealand International, Radio Australia, and Pacific Regional Organisations Media Officers. Encourage participation and send out press releases on national and regional agricultural events, famer field days, agricultural shows, workshops, farmer success stories, and environmental and health issues. The purpose of these measures is to promote the formation of media focus groups that are specific to agriculture and rural development, as a means of addressing the lack of specialised media reporting in this sector.
7. Establish media awards that acknowledge and encourage agricultural reporting.
8. Incorporate a media component into national agriculture and forestry strategies to allow for the dissemination of outputs and reporting of best practices.
9. Develop partnerships with international organisations, local funding agencies, business houses, and non-governmental organisations to co-fund newspaper supplements, TV programmes, video documentaries, and radio broadcasts of field days.
The Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA) has organised several information and communication workshops and seminars for Pacific ACP member states in the past and in collaboration with SPC’s Land Resources Division. The focus on the role of the media in agriculture and rural development was the highlight of a seminar held in Brussels, Belgium in October 2009 (http://annualseminar2009.cta.int), where over 200 representatives of the media industry and rural development practitioners from ACP countries gathered for discussion on the topic. The seminar aimed to encourage the media to give greater prominence to agriculture in ACP countries. Media orgnisations through capacity building can facilitate awareness, learning and action to address major challenges in agricultural and rural development. SPC coordinated the participation of Pacific representatives to the seminar.
The Pacific media and agriculture meeting in May 2010 is an outcome of the Brussels meeting, and the Pacific became the first member of ACP region to conduct a follow-up workshop. Participants to the Pacific meeting comprised local and regional media organisations and heads of national extension services. An email group has been formed to facilitate communication between the media and extension workers, and for summit organisers SPC and CTA, to monitor growth in media coverage of agriculture and rural development issues. Meeting participants also developed national plans to increase synergies between the media and agriculture through networking and capacity building. The Pacific Islands News Association has been tasked with helping coordinate media training for regional extension officers.
A similar effort to increase media coverage — but focusing on the environment, including the impact of climate change — is currently being coordinated by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (www.sprep.org).