by Simon Wandila
This success story is based on the presentation made at the Southern Africa Telecentre Network and Panos Institute of Southern Africa Media Forum on the Role of ICTs in Agricultural Development . The success story is based on Panos experiences in implementing radio/ICT initiative in Zambia in particular Kasempa and Itezhi Tezhi districts under a programme supported by Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) Regional ICT Programme.
In this case Convergenceis used as enshrined in the Zambia ICT Policy as culmination of traditional services in telecoms, online media, broadcasting and information technology into platform and services making the ICT sector. Radio as tools for development Radio offers the best opportunities for the dissemination of information to rural communities.With a wide coverage of radio accross Zambia and the availability of easy to operate, portable FM radio gadgets which can be used with disposable batteries, more people from low income, and rural areas even without the electricity grid can use these radios to access information on various issues.
The main radio broadcaster in Zambia is the state owned Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) . However ZNBC has limited coverage. With the existence and emerging of more community radio widely placed in across various corners of the country, more people in rural areas have access to radio. Thus Community Radio compliments ZNBC but lack capacity to generate relevant development content away from locality that communities need. Recent development thinking has been based on the assumption that markets work well enough to ensure development and alleviate poverty. The growing understanding of information constraints suggests that markets alone are often inadequate; societies also require policies and institutions to facilitate the acquisition, adaptation, and dissemination of knowledge, and to mitigate information failures, especially as they affect the poor. This therefore calls for among other things, more effective ways of ensuring the development or generation of relevant development content for the local commuties’ development information needs. The integration and adapting of ICTs (e.g. internet, radio, mobile telephony) to radio stations offers solutions to accessing valuable development content. It is at this point that convergence of radio and ICTs proves to be imperative.
The convergence process
The convergence process starts with Community radio stations used as an entry point. The next stage includes the establishment of telecentres within the radio station and equip them with internet, mobile telephony,satelite dish, printers and other relevant tools and technologies. Once the radio station is merged with the telecentre, the radio station uses the tools and technologies of the telecentre to generate relevant content for the community on agricultural issues such as weather patterns, commodity prices, farming practices , agricultural research for development results and other relevant information that is packaged and aired on the radio station. Radio stations can also package publications, in local language, using relevant content generated through browsing the internet. Community participation Meanwhile, establishment of information centres provides opportunity for communities to increase exchange of information and knowledge between different stakeholders. To facilitate community participation communities are organised around Radio Listening Clubs(RLCs) and equipped with radio sets, voice recorders and mobile phones. Through RLCs, communities listen to radio programmes,record their perspectives and text or phone in to live radio programmes of agricultural interest. Communities can suggest, using mobile phones, topics for discussion on the radio station . RLCs can also access, using a text messaging facility, the Zambia National Farmers’ Uunion trade information/agro market platform on commodity prices. Opportunities and Challenges of the Radio and ICT convergence The opportunities for and challenges to radio and ICT convergence include the following Opportunities: Diverse community media/radio stations Public Private Partnership framework is in place: Support and partnerships are led by Zambia ICT Authority ,Internet Service Providers and Mobile phone Network Service Providers,and National Agriculture Information Services and Radio Farm Forums. Rural farmers’ communities contribute about 80% of Zambia’s food basket. Scope for partnership: Pan African Radio Platform and Southern Africa Development Community- Community Media Network platforms Challenges: Most rural areas, e.g Itezhi TezhiT and Kasempa are not served by major Internet Service Providers. Cost of setting up VSAT Links are prohibitive for rural communities. Some rural areas, that are potential agricultural hubs, are still not connected to the mobile telephony grid. There is still digital divide between rural and urban settings.
Future plans to enhance convergence
However, Panos Institute of Southern Africa has plans to enhance convergence, and these are as follows: Creation of a community Media network in SADC. Plans focus on the need to strengthen access to development content through networking all community media using an online portal. The Portal will store development content on agricultural needs, experiences etc. and supported by other content on development and relevance of community media in the region. The Project will initially start as a pilot(Zambia)before going regional. And the Commissioning of the Pan African Radio Platform aimed at: Enabling African community radio stations to better provide citizens with information about critical development and public interest issues that affect them, and provide a venue for channeling information about development policy decisions from underserved communities to policy decision-making and economic centers. About PSAf Panos Institute of Southern Africa (PSAf) is is a regional non-profit, non-governmental communication for development organization. PSAf use innovative methodologies to engage the media and other key stakeholders to ensure that the development agenda is shaped and driven by the most affected members of Southern Africa’s communities. PSAf was founded in 1996 as a branch of Panos London, and became an autonomous institution in May 2005. The regional office is located in Lusaka, Zambia, and satellite offices are in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Maputo, Mozambique. PSAf works in 12 Southern African nations, namely, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. PSAf is part of a Global Network of independent and autonomous Panos Institutes based in London, Paris, Canada, South Asia, Eastern Africa, West Africa, and the Caribbean. PSAf work to ensure that information is effectively used to foster development by empowering communities to shape their own agenda. PSAf particularly focus on amplifying the voices of the poor and marginalized. We do this through: Innovative communication approaches Working with mainstream and alternative media Interfacing development actors and local communities Providing platforms for informed debate and voice SATNET: www.satnework.org PSAf www.paos.org.zm