Creating Powerful Extension
During my fourth year in college, I had to take a core course called Audience Psychology. The required textbook for this course was titled Creating Powerful Radio by Valerie Geller. At the time, I had considered the title to be overrated and silly, but recently it occurred to me that the title and the content available were very correlated. The role of radio is central to Malawian agricultural development, and can be utilized more effectively than it currently is.
In the book, Geller explores the role of radio in society and the importance of not just creating radio programming for the sake of programming, but creating well-focused and strategic radio programming that has a specific audience in mind. The same can be said about how to develop innovative extension platforms. Have the different players in the provision of extension and advisory services in the agriculture sector considered how they can go beyond just creating these services just for the sake of it? Have we, as Malawian broadcasters begun to look at creating extension that is methodical, strategic and with a clear audience in mind?
As this decade concludes we need to consider creating extension service platforms that are well-thought-out and inclusive. What if we sat down in Malawi along with the different players in the extension service delivery to create extension platforms that are all-inclusive with human-centered design. This, for example, needs to consider radio programs that advocate for equal inclusion of men and women to sell and market farm produce. Imagine if programming placed emphasis on better pricing for products sold by women, thereby empowering women as well as creating a marketplace that is conducive to women’s success.
Consider another program that promoted the role of men in terms of educating women. In this example, men were at the forefront of the fight against childhood marriage. In this type of programming, men advocate for more women and girls to complete their education and take part in development. These are just a few examples of what inclusive and centered powerful extension through radio programming can do, especially in a context of high illiteracy with radio as the only form of instant extension service provision.
But in situations where there is widespread literacy, it is also important to consider using text messaging systems to engage audiences to promote dialogue regarding equity and agricultural services. Currently, Malawi has more than 7 million mobile phone users and almost every household has a mobile phone. What if service providers came together and discussed how best to support the rural poor to use of this technology to request extension messages on issues such as pest control, food security, climate change, and disease to promote good agriculture and agronomic practices. Think about the many farming families that would be assisted and how much productivity could be maximized. One of the most important things in the world is information because it provides knowledge for citizens to make informed decisions with regard to their livelihoods, health, and well-being. It is therefore important that all the different players in the agriculture extension sector along with the government, and other interested stakeholders to consider coming together to brainstorm how best they can create powerful, effective, realistic and implementable models of extension. This will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Malawi, and empower them to fully participate in their future.