Agricultural advice through radio and SMS

from National Geographic News Watch:

John Cheburet is a Kenyan radio producer who hosts a radio show about ecologically friendly farming practices for small-scale farmers. He is seen (and heard) by the farming community as a friendly source of information which is vital for their livelihoods.

John Cheburet

John Cheburet. Source: J. Cheburet

John says: An important thing about radio is that farmers can listen to other farmers. It’s one thing for me to tell them about growing mushrooms, but when a fellow farmer tells them how to grow mushrooms, the impact is much greater. It is effective when farmers relive their story; how they started out and what made them adopt certain farming practices.John’s show is aired in the evenings, when farmers have finished their work and can take some time to listen to the radio. The topics vary from soil fertility management and preparation of lands for planting, to the number of female goats with which one male can comfortably mate.

Recently, John has started using SMS mesaging to transform his radio show from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue between farmers. He receives about 20 SMS messages per week, most of them containing questions from farmers, which he answers during his show.

John Cheburet at work

John Cheburet at work. Source: J. Cheburet

John uses FrontlineSMS to send and manage text messages. FrontlineSMS is a tool which allows anyone with a mobile phone and within the range of a mobile signal to send SMS messages to and from large groups of people. It turns a computer equipped with a 3G modem into a two-way group messaging hub. These are some of the things that FrontlineSMS can do:

  • Create and manage SMS-related contact groups
  • Send and receive messages via special on-screen consoles
  • Provide incoming and outgoing message history for each contact
  • Engage with contact groups – run surveys, competitions etc. via the SurveyManager
  • Run a customized text-based information service via the automated ReplyManager
  • Export data to Excel and other programs

While this is a very promising project, it seems that the exchange of information and knowledge during the show is basically volatile. The SMS-radio project could become even more useful if the questions answered during the radio show could be stored in a database, in order to build a searchable repository of farming knowledge. Again, there’s still much to be done.


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