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Chuluke Chuluke: Community Radio and Agricultural Policy Making in Malawi

Radio microphone on a radio stationRelevant evidence, key people and convenient media at the right moment. This is a story about a Malawian journalist that set out to inform candidates’ proposals on agriculture in the run up to the last Presidential elections in 2013.

We are used to seeing policy briefs, social media campaigns, the direct engagement of public officials and many other civil society approaches to try to inform and influence policies, ideally based on good evidence. Radio can also play this role. Gladson Makowa is a journalist in Malawi who designed and produced an interactive radio programme which convened public officials, farmers’ representatives and other stakeholders to discuss the evidence on ten national agricultural policy issues.  The programmes covered the hot topics which were at the centre of debate in 2013. In the the run up to the general elections, the idea was that political parties might include the evidence based proposals coming out of these debates within their manifestos.

But how did he choose and approach these topics? In part, he drew on evidence on agricultural policy in Latin America. Gladson had participated in a Learning Alliance under the ELLA Programme, a UK Aid funded south-south knowledge initiative that mixes research, exchange and learning to inspire evidence-based policies and practices. Together with GRADE, a Peruvian think tank, Practical Action Consulting Latin America managed a Learning Alliance on Smallholder farmers and rural development where Gladson, and peers from Latin America, Africa and Asia, discussed the successes and limitations of market reforms, rural territorial development plans and public policies to sustain small-scale farming. After a four-month dialogue, Gladson was convinced that many of the issues raised were relevant for the Malawian agricultural sector. Gladson was most interested in exploring how Malawi was dealing with the challenges of market liberalisation, against the background of Latin America experience.

African woman farming

© Rafal Cichawa

His radio programme, Chuluke Chuluke[1] consisted of 30-minute transmissions, which complemented other NGO efforts. A major thrust was to support the case for a contract farming regulations act and to review old acts such as the Seed Act, the Milk Act and others which were now outdated. The main objective was to promote awareness of, and responses to, the problems facing smallholder farmers. “The design of the radio programmes was very related to the knowledge shared in the learning alliance (…) The themes were developed but with a regional development approach, which considered issues of productivity, but guided by new questions, new analytical categories and new concepts”. Gladson produced the programme in collaboration with the Farmers Union of Malawi, Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association, the National Smallholders Farmers Association of Malawi and the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET).

Gladson transcribed the radio broadcasts materials and distributed the conclusions in a report to the authorities and electoral candidates. “I wanted to capitalize on the coming general elections to make all stakeholders think about the possible direction of Malawian farming in the years to come. This is the time when parties are making their manifestos and therefore the ideas of major policy changes are filtered into their policies. The parties easily copy good ideas into their manifestos and later these may become policies”, says Gladson. He also reported that some political parties such as the People’s Party (PP) and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) included proposals discussed in the programme in their Manifestos. This was also the case of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which won the May 2014 elections.

Agricultural Development in Malawi UN Photo/FAO/F Botts

Looking at the DPP Manifesto, it indeed gathered some of the proposals discussed in Chuluke Chuluke including the abolition of the coupon system, making subsidised fertilizer available to all needy subsistence maize farmers, balancing the budget between the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) and allocations to agricultural extension, livestock production and research services, and facilitating the marketing of agricultural produce to access markets through the Agricultural and Marketing Cooperation (ADMARC).More than two years afterwards, there is still a long way to go but according to Makowa, there have been some improvements.  The government has adopted mechanisation as a strategy, the price of legumes has increased towards a fairer price for farmers, there is an increased push for maize price regulation, and a move towards more organised agricultural research.

Stories like Gladson Makowa’s and his role at informing the agricultural policy in Malawi show that south-south exchange can contribute to change when there are windows of opportunity, and where programmes work with committed, capable individuals able to deploy the knowledge they picked up when the opportunity develops.In the ELLA programme UK Aid bet on the benefits of south-south learning. Gladson’s story is just one case among the many registered by the programme.  Knowledge exchange between regions of the ´global south’ can work, even where countries are very different, when sufficient attention is paid to identifying and understanding context.  Through his radio programme and taking advantage of the elections’ campaign, Gladson was able to put some lessons from Latin America in the policy discussions for making political leaders and technicians to assess feasibility and inform their proposals on agriculture.

[1] A repeated word magnifies the quantity in vernacular language Chichewa; shortened from traditional proverb that literary means ‘many are the bees but you point at the one that has bitten you’. Gladson explains that it shows that there are even many ways, problems and solutions to experiences of farmers and NGOs in Malawi.

This article has been written by Alicia Quezada, Manager of Practical Action Consulting Latin America, and is based on interviews with Gladson Makowa (1st March 2016) and Manuel Glave, moderator of the Learning Alliance on Smallholder farmers and rural development (3 February 2016), and programme reports, including a Makowa report “A Report for Designing and Producing a Reality, Interactive and Participatory Radio Program, February 2014”.
You can contact Mark Lewis if you want to know more about the ELLA Programme and Alicia Quezada if you want to engage with Practical Action Consulting Latin America.
CCThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license
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