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The Role of Radio-based Extension and Advisory Services

by Rex Chapota[1], Dr Catherine Mthinda[2], and Paul Facthi[3]

1.0 Background

Extension and advisory services in Malawi has a rich history dating back to the colonial times. The current agricultural extension policy that is pluralistic, demand driven and decentralized was launched in 2000[4]. The use of radio for extension and advisory services dates as far back as the 1960s in Malawi[5]. The ownership of radio is currently at 64.1%[6] up from 49.9% in 1998 and radio regularly reaches 70% of rural households and it is the most accessible and preferable source of information unlike face to face extension since there are few extension workers in the communities[7]. The extension to farmer ratio hovers around 1:3000 unlike the recommended 1:500[8].

Until 1994 when the airwaves were liberalized, agricultural broadcasts were the monopoly of the public broadcaster who used to receive programming from the Department of Agricultural Extension Services. The farm radio programming landscape in the context of agricultural extension and advisory services was transformed in 2007 with the coming up of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) funded African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI) that was implemented by Farm Radio International (FRI). At the end of the project in 2010, a rigorous research to learn about participatory radio programs for farmers revealed a number of findings such as: that participatory radio programs a) are regularly listened to by half of the farmers in communities reached by the broadcasts (this includes both men and women); b) develop detailed knowledge of specific farming practices among listeners; c) lead to the adoption of a new farming practice, on average, one in five households living in listening communities actually introduce a new farming practice after being engaged in a PRC – five times the rate of adoption in areas not exposed to the radio program; and d) lead to significant increases in knowledge of the agricultural improvement among women ( In an effort to consolidate the work pioneered by AFRRI, BMGF funded two other initiatives, the first being the Farmer Voice Radio (FVR) from 2009 to 2012 in order to develop, test and modify a radio extension model and the second one being the African Farm Radio Results Initiative (AFRRI 2) from 2010 to 2013 with an aim of consolidating the role of radio programming in agricultural development based on the AFRRI research findings. As a direct outcome of such work, a new farm radio organization known as Farm Radio Malawi was formed in 2009 which has become the centre for promoting the role of radio in agricultural extension and advisory services in Malawi.

A number of lessons have been learned on how farm radio programming is contributing to the extension and advisory services in Malawi hence this submission to conduct a lessons learnt case study.

2.0 The key research questions for the lesson learnt case study

In order to document the contribution that farm radio programming in the provision of extension and advisory services the following major research question will be explored:

  • What lessons have been learnt in the provision of radio based extension and advisory services focusing on the role Farm Radio Malawi has played since the inception of the research work in 2007. 
To explore the research question other issues surrounding the general understanding of the agricultural extension policy in Malawi and how it affects the provision of farm radio programming in the context of decentralized, demand driven and pluralistic principles will be researched. The study will also explore the partnerships and linkages that various players in the agricultural value chain have been involved and benefited from the farm radio programming approach spearheaded by Farm Radio Malawi. The case study will also explore to what extent has radio-based extension and advisory system impacted on farmers’ knowledge and adoption of agricultural technologies.

3.0 The approach/methodology in undertaking the case study

The study shall be completed in 3 months on the three existing initiatives (AFRRI 1, AFRRI 2 and FVR) pioneered by Farm Radio Malawi that have used radio-based extension services to reach small holder farmers. The research team will comprise of Mr Rex Chapota from Farm Radio Malawi as a Team Leader and Dr Catherine Mthinda from Bunda College of Agriculture as a key knowledge partner with support from Mr Paul Fatch from the Department of Agricultural Extension Services as a major service provider and partner in the above initiatives.

Various qualitative case study methods such as key informant interviews and focus group discussions will be employed in data collection including secondary data captured in order to understand each of the initiatives as units for learning. The study findings will be shared in accordance with MEAS guidelines, however a number of national forums like the farm radio symposium held every year in Malawi will be one of the major outlets of the research findings. The study will also be published in relevant journals.

4.0 Benefits of the case study and contribution to body of knowledge to MEAS

The research will contribute to understanding of the extension and advisory services in Malawi since the advent of the demand driven and plurastic extension policy in 2000. It will show how farm radio programs have affected and provided an alternative pathway for extension and advisory service to small holder farmers. The research will also contribute to the design of new initiatives in radio based extension and advisory services especially on how they can reach small holder farmers to increase agricultural productivity.


[1] Executive Director of Farm Radio Malawi
[2] Lecturer in agricultural extension and gender, Bunda College of Agriculture, University of Malawi
[3] Agricultural Training and Extension Officer, Department of Agricultural Extension Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development
[4] Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (2000) Agricultural Extension in the New Millennium: Towards Pluralistic and Demand-Driven Services in Malawi. Policy Document. Agricultural Communication Branch, Lilongwe
[5] Bradfield D.J (1966) Guide to Extension Training. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
[6] National Statistical Office (2008) Malawi National Population and Household Census. Zomba. Malawi
[7] FRI. (2010) Baseline Survey Results for AFRRI Malawi. Ottawa, Canada
[8] Department of Agricultural Extension Services, 2011. Draft Extension Workers Statistics for Malawi