Stella Akia has been a presenter and news anchor on ETOP FM, the most popular Ateso language radio station in Uganda, for 15 years. Between October 2019 and March 2020 she was the main presenter of ‘Acautu Akoriok’ or ‘Farmers See the Light’, a Farmers’ Voice Radio programme broadcast as part of interdisciplinary and multi-partnership project, NIMFRU, which aims to improve the targeting, relevance and communications of flood warning and response in Uganda. This was a pilot project, focused on the flood-prone district of Katakwi in the east of the country.
In a recent interview, Stella told us about her journey as a radio presenter and her experience of working on the NIMFRU project.
What was your motivation for becoming a radio presenter? I had a brother who worked with radio Uganda [National Radio] who inspired me to join broadcasting. I loved the way he would present the news in the local language [Ateso]. I think I have a natural love for media, especially broadcast, that has seen me popular in my locality.
How did the Acautu Akoriok programmes differ from other programmes you work on?
Acautu Akoriok is unique in the sense that farmers share their indigenous knowledge on farming and weather forecasting… Here, farmers were the experts, and the experts [were] moderators. There were live demonstrations on how to do some of the farming activities – for instance, we had a demonstration on nursery bed setting, carried out by both the farmers and the [agricultural officer]. It was an all-inclusive approach that took into consideration wealth, gender, disability and literacy, and programmes followed the seasonal calendar.
How have farmers responded to being recorded for the radio programmes? I must say it was pleasant for all the farmers who participated in the NIMFRU project, with some having their voice on radio for the very first time. They had their ideas and questions on farming shared with farmers across Katakwi district and other parts of Teso sub-region.
What feedback have you received from listeners of Acuatu Akoriok? Katakwi people want the programme to continue, especially during the first rains. During the on-air programmes, many listeners from different districts of Teso like Serere, Amuria, Palisa, Bukedea, Kumi and others expressed interest in having the programme in their districts. Farmers also wanted their questions responded to.
Have you seen any changes in the communities as a result of the Acautu Akoriok radio programmes? Sure, some aspects I have noticed include farmers abandoning bush burning, which previously was a serious activity practised by many farmers. Spacing during planting season is also being observed by farmers; both those who featured in the NIMFRU radio programmes and those who got information from the radio. Tree planting is also being considered, with a lot of support coming from local governments who have gone a step ahead setting bylaws to enforce tree planting. On the negative side, farmers still cannot harvest rainwater because of the cost involved. Katakwi District has been hit by foot and mouth disease that has seen the authorities impose animal quarantine for almost six months. This has made it difficult to assess whether the information farmers got from the NIMFRU radio programmes on livestock production has been observed.
Has involvement in the project given you any opportunities on a personal level?
Wow! I must say as a broadcaster, I am the number one beneficiary of the project in that I have been able to broaden my knowledge on farming techniques. I can now give information on a variety of topics handled by the NIMFRU project with great confidence! Am proud to say I receive calls from some listeners who ask questions on some of the topics covered. For example, someone reached me by phone to ask how to grow mushrooms – honestly, I am glad I was able to assist by sharing facts from the [programmes] on mushroom growing. I was also able to interact with many agricultural officers, health experts and district leadership of Katakwi, which now makes it easier for me to reach any of them for assistance in carrying out my duties. Honestly, I enjoyed every bit of the time we had in the field.
What one message would you like to give the listeners of Acautu Akoriok? They should embrace better farming methods and increase uptake of alternative subsistence and livelihood activities, such as mushroom growing and poultry keeping.
Finally, this is a challenging time for everyone. Can you tell us a bit about how you and ETOP FM are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?
At ETOP, we try to observe the measures set by the Ministry of Health, whose information we share with our audience. Besides that, we work closely with health experts at different levels in the crucial role of dissemination of health information and increased awareness about COVID-19. Through the same experts we are also trying to change people’s attitudes and behaviour to help them to keep safe from COVID-19. We also made it a point that people get first-hand information each time the Head of State gives a national address on COVID-19. All our discussions on-air [now] are around COVID-19.
24 individual episodes of Akautu Akoriok were broadcast over the six-month pilot to approximately 67,000 people across the rural areas of Katakwi District. Topics covered by the radio programmes included weather forecasting, common cattle diseases, post-harvest handling and storage of crops, HIV and Aids, nutrition, soil fertility, crop rotation, bush burning and the production of alternative crops such as mushrooms, upland rice and sunflowers.
This interview was orginially posted on Farmers Voice Radio's Website, see here for the full post.