Radio Mampita broadcasts programs by farmers for farmers in Madagascar's highlands. From cultivating rice to turkey breeding, the unique station hopes to stamp out poverty by promoting information sharing and education.
Rakoto Harynanza balances skillfully on the narrow causeway of trampled earth between two rice fields. The farmer grows rice and cassava, and often works in the field.
But today he's standing on the sidelines, anxious to make sure his small tape recorder doesn't fall into the mud. He has come here to interview a fellow rice grower about cultivating the crop. Harynanza is one of around 30 farmers employed by Radio Mampita, a station geared specifically towards the needs of farmers in Madagascar's highlands.
Harynanza's interviewee stands ankle-deep in mud. Since early this morning he has been working the land with a stick and his bare feet, preparing the ground for the rice seedlings the women will sew the next day. The grain is a staple food for the local Malagasy people.
Education over the airwaves
The island off the East African coast is among the poorest countries in the world. Most families who live here depend on agriculture to survive, but more often than not, their yields fall well short of the fertile land's potential. One reason for that is destructive storms that wreak havoc on the land, but another key factor is that many farmers lack an education - many can't read or write. Most have simply copied farming techniques from their parents and grandparents, and have never heard of more efficient alternatives.
Radio Mampita wants to change this. The Malagasy word "Mampita" means "to connect," and farmer-cum-correspondent Harynanza also sees this as his mission. "The point is to exchange experiences and share with one another," he said.
In the countryside, where houses are few and far between, and there are no newspapers, radio is the most viable way to make this happen. "Many farmers have no education, and some say that's their biggest problem. Most are able to continue their education via Radio Mampita," he said.
Harynanza conducts an interview for the station about four times a month. He doesn't make much money with his reporting job - Radio Mampita can only offer their correspondents a small amount for their expenses. Still, Harynanza enjoys working for the broadcaster. There he has learnt how to use a tape recorder, set up for an interview, and prepare his interviewees.
From rice to turkeys
Harynanza remembers one interviewee who really impressed him. "This rice farmer had absolutely no education, and he just learnt everything from the radio," he explains. Five years ago, the man needed 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of seed to plant one hectare, but "today he only needs four kilograms," said Harynanza.
There are many other success stories in the Haute Matsiatra region where Radio Mampita is broadcast. Marie-Collette Razafindratsara, for example, used to survive purely off earnings from her hand-woven raffia mats. "Now I also breed turkeys," she said. "They explained how to do it on the radio. Now I know what they eat and how to make them grow quickly."
"Our goal is to help the people in the region to improve their lives," said Radio Mampita Editor-in-Chief Yves-Lucienne Voahirana. Things won't change overnight, she admits, "but we've seen the farmers improving their production techniques step by step." The radio station was launched in 1997 as an initiative by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Today the station covers its own costs mainly through advertising, and leasing airtime to development aid organizations.
Radio made for farmers by farmers
Back in the paddy fields Harynanza has finished his interview. Now he just needs to deliver the recording to Radio Mampita's headquarters in the provincial capital Fianarantsoa. He gets there by bus, traveling for about an hour over 12 miles of dusty roads.
The station's building was donated by the German Embassy in 2012. In the broadcast studio on the first floor, the early morning program is coming to an end.
Apart from the reports brought in by correspondents, the text messages from listeners are also an important part of the program, says Editor-in-Chief Voahirana. "They write to us, for example, 'here in the village a kilo of rice costs 1000 Ariary (about 0.30 euro / $0.40).' Then someone else writes, 'with us a kilo of rice costs 1200 Aviary,' so the farmers are better able to set their own prices."
The presenters speak a dialect from the region called Betsileo. It's another trademark of Radio Mampita, explains Voahirana, "What makes Radio Mampita special is that it really is a radio station for the farmers. We not only speak their language, with us they can also have their say." Just like correspondent Harynanza and the rice farmer he interviewed earlier in the day.