Radio Mampita, founded over a decade ago with the help of Swiss development specialists, has become an invaluable tool for part of Madagascar’s farming community.
Today, the station is entirely locally managed, but more importantly has become an indispensable communication channel for farmers seeking to do business with one another.
“An advertisement on Radio Mampita allowed me to sell 16,000 fish fry to a wholesaler based more than 200 kilometres from here,” said Henri Randrianitsiriana, a fish farmer in the province of Fianaranstoa.
Alfrèd Rakotozafi was able to increase his manioc production after listening to the “Haiko ve tsa mba hainaro” (I know – why don’t you?) programme. “The weight of my tubers went from five kilogrammes to 30 thanks to a revolutionary planting technique and the use of new fertilisers,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Created in 1997 with Swiss backing as part of a programme to support communication, Radio Mampita is aimed at opening up rural areas. But it is not a station in the traditional sense, since it helps boost exchange between farmers, buyers and agricultural specialists in regions where people are often few and far between and roads are not common.
“The way farmers work has changed considerably since the radio was set up,” said
Emmanuel Ratsimbarafy, president of the station’s board.
The radio’s structure is also original since it is backed by the farmers themselves. More than 250 associations provide funds as well as help define the station’s orientation.
Radio Mampita’s greatest strength lies in its agricultural roots, with the famers not just backing it financially, but also actively participating in the programmes, the only ones broadcast in the local Betsileo dialect.
“The radio is recognised as an authoritative voice,” explained Emmanuel Ratsimbarafy. “Locals accept its advice more easily than that provided by specialists out in the field.”
According to a recent survey, nearly 80 per cent of the 1.5 million people who can receive them listen to Mampita’s programmes on a regular basis.
And agricultural development isn’t the only reason for listening to them. Thefts of cows can be announced quickly, a service that has led to increased security for breeders.
Broadcasts are also used for all sorts of other information. “Before, people had to travel a long way to tell others of a birth or a death,” said Lucienne Voamirama, the station’s manager. Today, it costs less than SFr1 to keep family and friends up-to-date.
The radio became formally fully autonomous in 2007. “Since last year, all the equipment belongs to us,” Ratsimbarafy told swissinfo.ch.
However the station personnel are not entirely satisfied with the current situation. Some, for example, are concerned by the poor quality of the reports sent in by correspondents, most likely due to a lack of training.
The 5,000 Arairy (SFr2) paid per cassette delivered is considered insufficient by the reporters who send them once a week by bush taxi.
The technicians are more concerned by the ageing equipment.
“Everyone has moved on to digital formats, while we are still using analog material,” said one technician. “The sound quality is affected.”
There are also problems with the 500-watt transmitter and there is no money available for a backup, which would cost an estimated SFr10,000.
“The station is autonomous financially, but we can’t invest for the time being,” admitted Ratsimbarafy.
The farmers’ associations are also concerned about the long-term financial health of the radio.
“Sometimes we wonder why we pay a subscription,” said Rakotozafi.
The board is currently looking at a number of proposals made by the associations to introduce a greater distinction between members and non-members, such as pushing farming drives or cheaper rates for advertising.
But despite the questions, nobody in the province would even consider shutting down the broadcaster. In less than 15 years, it has become an institution with the local community strongly identifying with it.
“When farmers go into town to buy a radio, many of them ask for one made by Mampita,” said Ratsimbarafy.
Switzerland and Madagascar
History: The Swiss involvement in Madagascar dates back to the 1960s, and a cooperation office was established in the country during the 1970s. In the 1980s, Swiss activities were based on the sustainable management of natural resources, agricultural research, drinking water and health.
Exchanges: About 420 Swiss, including 26 per cent who hold dual nationality, live in Madagascar. Trade between the two countries remains modest, with SFr2.9 million in exports in 2009, compared with SFr6.9 million in imports, mainly of agricultural products.end of infobox
(Adapted from French by Scott Capper), swissinfo.ch