Radio Terra promote climate smart agriculture and rural development in the Albertine Rift region

Radio Terra is providing assistance to aid Climate Smart Agriculture activities and rural development via its radio broadcasts. Efforts to help agriculture primarily aim to enhance farmers’ awareness and implementation of climate-smart agricultural techniques, while also bolstering their comprehension of and capacity to participate in markets and access services. Radio Terra not only emphasizes Climate Smart Agriculture and the dissemination of market information via radio broadcasts, but also plays a crucial role in empowering women and youths. Additionally, it aims to enhance access to and knowledge about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services in the Albertine rural regions.

The Albertine Rift area, located in the western Great Rift Valley, spans over the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania. It covers a distance of 1,000 km. The African continent has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in this particular region. The area is home to 40% of Africa’s animal species, 50% of bird species, and around 20% of amphibian and plant species. It has a higher number of vertebrate species than any other location on the continent. This region of Africa has a greater number of endangered and native species compared to any other region. Specifically, 41 bird species have been exclusively recognized in this area. The Albertine rift has been designated as a Biodiversity Hotspot by Conservation International, an Eco-region by WWF, and an Endemic Bird Area by Birdlife International. The area has a wide range of habitats, including as savannahs, lakes, montane forests, and wetlands, which contribute to the richness of biological life.

The Albertine Rift area is under significant threats due to poverty and human population dynamics, resulting in deforestation and an increasing need for additional agricultural land, as well as the illegal hunting of animals. Another issue lies in the execution of policies and laws, particularly with oil and mining activities in protected regions and unregulated extraction of peat in wetlands. The area is now facing the potential danger of uncoordinated development initiatives, which have the capacity to result in environmental catastrophes, despite being portrayed as symbols of economic advancement.

Uganda, located in the Albertine Rift area, is still one of the most impoverished nations globally. Approximately 65 percent of Ugandans are largely involved in subsistence agriculture. Smallholders with five acres of land or less constitute 96 percent of all farmers in Uganda. The Ugandan Albertine area has been marginalized and vulnerable for many decades. As an example, the Northern region of Uganda in 2013, housed 47 percent of its impoverished population, a significant increase over the 38 percent recorded in 2010. Although recent numbers from 2017 suggest that Northern Uganda is making progress towards reaching the national average in terms of poverty rates, there is still a significant distance to go. Additionally, the unstable situation in South Sudan is expected to have adverse effects. Typically, females, young individuals, and children make up the largest proportion of those living in severe destitution.

The persistent violent conflicts in Njugu territory and North Kivu, particularly since the beginning of 2021, are exacerbating the strain on agricultural livelihoods, land access, and natural resources in the Mahagi territory of Ituri provinces in Eastern DR Congo. Mukambu Chiefdom and Panduru Chiefdom are the primary chiefdoms in Mahagi territory in Ituri province that house the biggest number of refugees or internally displaced persons. At the end of 2023, there were over 15,000 internally displaced persons in Mahagi territory alone, with the bulk of them located in these two chiefdoms. Due to the unfavorable conditions in Djugu, it is unlikely that families would be able to return in the near future. Therefore, it is anticipated that the displacement will be prolonged. However, government sources report that a limited number of individuals have started to return to Ruvinga, Wala, and Kpandruma. This necessitates the implementation of a strategic and sustainable development strategy to complement the immediate humanitarian interventions. However, the arrival of displaced individuals has significantly intensified the strain on social services, economic infrastructure, job prospects, and natural resources. This has led to a notable population surge in several villages and communities, with their numbers tripling in less than a year.

This region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has a very high fertility rate of 7.4 children per woman, contributing to its status as one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation. The rate is much higher in rural regions, reaching 8.9 children per woman. This phenomenon exacerbates the perpetuation of subsistence farming and low agricultural productivity, impeding economic growth. Given that women serve as the primary cultivators in the majority of households, their extensive involvement in reproductive activities due to high rates of childbearing restricts their mobility and undermines their long-term health. 15% of women residing in rural regions express a desire to delay their next childbirth for a duration of two or more years, or alternatively, to cease childbearing entirely. However, these women do not currently use any kind of contraceptive technique.

The insufficient levels of financial literacy in Mahagi Territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo pose a significant obstacle to economic resilience. According to a 2022 study done by the Environmental Defenders, it was found that the majority of members of farmer groups that get help from the Environmental Defenders for their agricultural and livelihood activities or projects had limited reading skills, namely at the lower and higher elementary levels. As a result, several individuals in supported groups are unable to effectively perform tasks related to maintaining records and engaging with the public or community. Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) provide a means to tackle this issue, since communities with VSLAs are not only more robust and united, but also allocate the majority of their funds towards agricultural endeavors. It was determined that 85 percent of the group members were obtaining loans specifically for agricultural endeavors. Therefore, the VSLAs serve as a valuable addition to the instruction in effective agricultural techniques, while also providing a tangible solution to the issue of inadequate financial knowledge.

The impact of climate change in Uganda is particularly detrimental for the majority of the population, who are smallholder farmers relying on rain-fed agriculture and the overall natural resource base. The situation is similar to that of the Ituri provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The detrimental effects of extended droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns are worsened in both DR Congo and the Ugandan Albertine area due to the prevalent poverty and the migration of refugees.

Using Radio to address the challenges

Radio Terra FM, a project initiated by the Environmental Defenders, is tackling many challenges by means of radio broadcasting in order to strengthen resilience and promote economic growth in the Albertine area of Uganda and DR Congo. This includes providing support to displaced individuals and the communities hosting them. Activities include assistance in climate smart agriculture, and dissemination of practical expertise on climate-smart agricultural techniques, as well as marketing and financial literacy, facilitated by radio broadcasts on radio Terra FM.

Communities and individuals in the Albertine region of Uganda and DR Congo, such as smallholder farmers and displaced persons or refugees, are enhancing their understanding and proficiency in climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies. They are also progressively cultivating an appropriate combination of food crops and cash crops. This is already empowering them to enhance and maintain their agricultural output, leading to enhanced food security and greater agricultural revenues for their families.

Expert agricultural extension workers and business facilitators offer free marketing advice through a radio program. This program complements the existing free radio-based agricultural extension services that provide information on Climate Smart Agriculture to farmers and communities.

Household producers residing in rural locations have several hurdles, including restricted access to markets and extension services, as well as unstable land rights. These difficulties are especially prominent in the Albertine Rift region, which spans both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To achieve equitable economic development, it is necessary to expand agricultural productivity and improve the resilience of agriculture production systems and rural communities to climate and market hazards.

To achieve development and resilience in agricultural production, it is necessary to improve technology, ensure secure land ownership, implement appropriate land management techniques, and disseminate information on sustainable input usage via efficient extension services. To enhance the sector, it is necessary to increase the level of value addition and provide employment opportunities. This will need strengthening policy execution and regulation, improving institutional coordination, and promoting private sector involvement. Supporting the organization of producers and their integration into sustainable agri-food value chains is essential for enhancing farmers’ access to financing and markets, as well as for improving the overall competitiveness of the industry.

In response to this issue, Radio Terra FM has implemented a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity. One crucial aspect is the provision of efficient advisory services to small-scale farmers, enabling them to swiftly adapt to new production technologies. Additionally, Radio Terra FM has established early warning systems (EWS) and emergency response mechanisms (ERM) to effectively manage various disasters, including droughts, floods, and the outbreak of pests and diseases.

Dissemination of agricultural radio broadcasts provides significant insights into innovative farming techniques. Radio communication is rapid and has a broad reach over a larger population. The farmers assimilate valuable knowledge from the radio, leading to a gradual adoption of new agricultural practices and subsequent changes in their methods. Furthermore, information and knowledge play crucial roles in promoting rural development. Understanding the concept of location provides further support to farmers. Disseminating knowledge, coupled with introducing new ideas and agricultural processes, may provide farmers with unique prospects.

FAO has confirmed that radio is a crucial instrument for improving agriculture in rural areas. Radio is a potent and efficient medium for disseminating agricultural information and expertise in poor nations. Additionally, Sharma asserts that radio is a dependable medium capable of covering a broader geographical region and reaching a substantial audience. Radio’s strength as a communication medium lies in its cost-effectiveness in terms of transmission, presentation, and mobility. Radio may serve as a valuable medium for educating farmers by presenting new programs that include contemporary agricultural technology, provided that these programs are appealing to them. Nevertheless, it is crucial to comprehend the literacy level of farmers in order to effectively comprehend and implement such initiatives.

About Radio Terra FM

TERRA FM is a nonprofit and independent radio station by Environmental Defenders that ties together the two sides of Lake Albert (Uganda, DR Congo). The radio is now transmitting on two frequencies, namely 95.0 and 97.0 FM.

The purpose of Terra FM is to unfold the complexities of the Albertine Region, to inform people about relevant issues, from health and food security to conflict management. To do so, the strategy is to use environmental education, promote basic rights, and propagate Indigenous culture.

The objectives will be considered achieved when all Indigenous groups in the different territories will know the principles of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in defense of their ancestral land, when everybody will be aware they can exercise their food sovereignty in continuity with the Indigenous culture, when the communities will resume being custodians of common lands, water, and forests.

The long-term vision is to use community radio as a laboratory enabling a community-based development model, encompassing the direct rights and needs of civil society. The principles complied with are those of eco-feminism.

Terra FM identifies Environmental and Human Rights Defenders, as Earth Defenders, above all by what they do. They are not necessarily only members of big, well-known environmental NGOs. They may work as journalists, activists, or lawyers who expose and oppose environmental destruction or land grabbing; or they are often ordinary people living in remote villages or forests, who may not even be aware that they are acting as environmental human rights defenders. They may be small scale farmers with no land deeds; fisherwomen; teachers in remote rural communities; and in some cases, even government officials. In many other cases, they are Indigenous leaders or community members who defend their native lands against the harms of large-scale projects from extractive industry. Many become environmental human rights defenders by accident or necessity, taking a stand against injustice or harm to their environment.

Terra FM brings together the peaceful voices of those living amidst armed conflict in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Terra FM amplifies the voices of the communities evicted without or with an unfair compensation from their native lands to make way for extractive industry projects or conservation projects after they were unable to exercise their rights to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. Terra FM serves to make marginalized rural communities less vulnerable through access to information, communication, and network support.