Jael Lieta sits in the Radio Nam Lolwe studio with large headphones resting on her ears. The small (four by six feet) studio is dark apart from a dim light in the ceiling and a glow from the computer screen in front of her. She speaks loudly into the microphone with a gentle smile on her face. She is welcoming her listeners to the radio programme ‘Pur Mariek’ (Wise Farming in the local Dholuo language). “Waruakou e chendro mar pur mariek; kawuono wa biro wuoyu e wach mar loso loo”, (Welcome to today’s Pur Mariek programme; today we will be talking about land preparation) she said.
Jael, a radio presenter, has worked for Radio Nam Lolwe since its inception, about six years ago, first as a radio presenter and currently also as the station’s assistant manager producing many of the shows aired. Rural radio stations such as Nam Lolwe, especially those broadcasting in ethnic languages, have major grassroots appeal playing a functional role in empowering communities whose voices are unheard in the mainstream national stations.
The Pur Mariek programme is widely listened to owing to its informative nature, particularly for farmers. Since it was launched two years ago it has provided an avenue through which farmers in the region have accessed the much-needed advice and support on new and improved ways of farming and encouragement to pursue agribusiness. Furthermore, since it airs between 7:15pm and 8:00pm every Thursday when many people in the rural areas are at home, about 529,058 are usually listening in according to the Kenya Audience Research Foundation (KARF) Quarter 1 2013
In January 2013, the Kenya Market Assistance Programme (MAP) started working with Radio Nam Lolwe to increase the quality of its programmes. Pur Mariek was selected as the first programme to be redesigned as part of this strategy.
Upon listening to the programme, the MAP outreach team realized that although it was popular, the audience did not drive the content. In addition, like most radio stations in Kenya, Nam Lolwe depends on advertising to stay on the airwaves. In many cases, these advertisers dictate the content aired in programs like Pur Mariek. As a consequence, listeners are often subjected to what is easily perceived as unbalanced, advertiser/product-driven content which in many cases does not meet their needs.
“We needed to change our programme to be more in-depth and focussed on encouraging farmers to improve their farming practices,” said Jael. She also revealed that observations by Radio Nam Lolwe revealed that farmers preferred to listen to testimonials from other farmers facing similar challenges rather than radio personalities.
With mentoring support from the MAP media team, the radio station redesigned Pur Mariek to include new segments such ‘Know Your Soil’, weather reports, myths and practices, extensiontips, contests, financial/business tips,farmers’ voices, and consumer checks. The revamped programme began airing from the 28th March, 2013 with improved content, local expert contributions and more farmers’ voices.
The station is already recording positive results from the program’s new format. Listener feedback in the form of mobile phone text messages has risen to between 15 and 25 messages reported per show, up from the previous 5 to 10 messages. The reformatted show has also attracted advertisers such as Magos Enterprises (a well-known farming inputs firm in the region) and Kenya Seed Company (mandated by the government to research, develop, market quality, high yielding seeds) who are advertising on the show without controlling content. Furthermore, Equity Bank (voted the 2013 best bank in Kenya according to ThinkBusiness magazine) supported a farmer’s forum organized by Pur mariek in Kisumu County as an opportunity for Radio Nam Lolwe to meet their listeners while discussing key issues related to agribusiness in the region.
“Radio Nam Lolwe has totally embraced this approach. We are likely to become number one in the region thus attract advertisers”, comments Washington Oguya, the Station’s Manager.
MAP will continue working with Radio Nam Lolwe to improve programme quality, audience interaction and develop better relationship with the private sector as well as ICT and research firms. They are also engaging other stations in the country especially those in rural areas to bolster the quality information flowing to farmers. So far these include Sifa FM with independent radio stations in Voi, Garissa, Lodwar, Marsabit and Lamu, Radio Mang’elete in the Lower Eastern part of the country and Radio Mambo. The aim is to grow a number stations that will improve their content and provide rural residents with quality information that will improve their economic livelihoods.