Filling the void: How radio is serving farmers in Ethiopia during the pandemic

Broadcaster interviews a farmer in ethiopia with onions faded in the foreground

When COVID-19 affected normal face-to-face extension advisory services in Ethiopia, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture took action. 

In normal times, agriculture extension, or the process of having a trained agriculture expert who works with farmers and ministry officials to bring and teach new and different agriculture techniques to local farmers, is done in person. As COVID-19 made in-person meeting dangerous, and travel even more so, the Ministry of Agriculture went looking for a remote way of ensuring farmers would get the extension services they needed. 

The “Supporting National Agriculture for Farmers” project was forged in response. Developed in partnership with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, Farm Radio International designed 16 weeks of e-extension servicxes to address the extension advisory gaps and reach farmers across the Oromia and SNNPR  regions with timely and quality information on various agricultural and health-related topics. 

While initially focused on regular cereal crop producers, the radio messages were designed to assist the extension advisory service on many topics, including advising regular cereal crop production, as well as farmers cultivating vegetables. 

To achieve the desired goal, Farm Radio partnered with the Oromia Broadcasting Network to reach the full Oromia region, more than 8,000,000 rural people and more than 4,000,000 rural adults. With this reach and carefully designed timely advisory information and the necessary training, Farm Radio unrolled the 16-week radio programming. 

E-extension through local broadcasters

As much as the selection of the radio stations is important, so is the selection and training of a responsible broadcaster that can best deliver the radio programs. Zekarias Fiqru is a capable broadcaster with years of experience in interactive radio and has worked with Farm Radio on a number of projects as a producer and editor. 


“Most of my work is done even before I leave the studio for an interview.”

—Zekarias Fiqru, Broadcaster at the Oromia Broadcasting Network

He has built a strong rapport with most development workers and offices in the radio over the year. His outstanding communication skills, topped up with trainings from Farm Radio, makes his job enjoyable and meaningful, he says.

“Most of the radio programs I produce with Farm Radio International are rated the best in most weeks of the editorial board review of the overall programs produced in our radio station. [Farm Radio] brings eye opening approaches and topics that have always motivated to put in my best effort,” says Zekarias.

He works closely with the development workers in the area to plan and conduct the field interviews that best investigate the issue at hand and come up with good information for the radio program. 

He works tirelessly, walking through the different farmland and neighbourhoods, interviewing farmers for his show until he feels like he has enough voices of both men and women farmers and experts. 

Zekarias Fiqru interviews Bedhassa Jambo.
Zekarias Fiqru interviews Bedhassa Jambo.

Quality programs for quality results

His work doesn’t end there. He has to arrange the voice recordings in a way that satisfies the high standard production criteria of Farm Radio’s interactive programming. 

“Having the detailed design and communication objective set before I go do fieldwork makes my work clear and efficient. Most of my work is done even before I leave the studio for an interview. I have all my questions and issues of discussion ready. After returning to the studio, all I worry about is maintaining the different standards of the radio episode. The VOICE standards stay in my head throughout the radio program production.”

The VOICE standards are Farm Radio’s self-developed guidelines for effective radio programming, emphasizing valuing small-scale farmers, providing the opportunity to speak and be heard, important information when needed, consistent and convenient broadcast times, and programs that are entertaining and memorable.

Every week is an excitement for him to put the programs on air along with his co-workers. He believes that the radio programs impact many families’ lives. The calls and appreciation of farmers is what keeps him working week in and week out. 

Radio helps farmers make profits

Bedhassa Jambo is a farmer in Koka Negewo Woreda in Oromia region. He owns tomato and onion farms. He used to be a cereal-producing farmer but now he is converting to vegetable production because of  better market return for those commodities. 

“Even though the market value for these products fluctuates and the products have a short shelf life, when it is done right, it brings you a better profit. Ever since I heard of the techniques of making a better wood support for the tomato plants, they are less affected by diseases and pests,” says Bedhassa. 

The radio program taught him how to better support his tomato plants, helping him produce better and healthier tomatoes that will bring a better market price. He is now being interviewed for market-related episodes that will give him the chance to tell other farmers that increasing the quality of the produce will give a better marker value for his produce.

Kebede Demme is a daily labourer working on an onion farm. He is away from his son and wife to make money and get back home and lease farm land for himself. As he goes back to the home he shares with some of his friends, he turns on his radio and listens to the “Atota” radio program on the Oromia Broadcasting Network. He is motivated by wanting to own his own farmland and practice what he hears other farmers talk about on the radio. Even though travels quite a distance for his work, listening to the farmers’ voices and music in the language he speaks makes him feel better. 

Because of the radio programs, he has learned how to produce quality onions on a small plot of land through the radio program. He is also implementing the lessons he got from the radio program to carefully harvest ripe onions. 

“My knowledge and efficiency have increased from the information I got from the radio program on how to harvest onions. I also share the information I get to friends that work with me.”


About the author
Nebiyu Yetsedaw is a country project officer who has worked with Farm Radio International in Ethiopia for the past six years. Born and raised in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, Nebiyu moved to Addis Ababa to complete his BA in Social Work from Addis Ababa University.


About the project
In order to expand the radio advisory services to the Oromia and SNNPR regions, Farm Radio International, at the request of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, has implemented a participatory radio program to provide the need-based advisory service under COVID-19 for small-scale farmers. This program is undertaken with the support of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia.