Airwaves as fertiliser from Asia's "first agri station"
Welcome to what is being called here Asia’s first broadcaster dedicated to the farm
and the field. Farmers are keen on the information radiating via this invisible airwaves, from one of those stations being opened up under India’s new drive to license campus-based radio stations.
Sounding quite professional, the announcer’s voice discusses silk cultivation and water harvesting. Welcome to what is being called here Asia’s first broadcaster dedicated to the farm
and the field.
In the small town of Baramati, a two-hour drive from the city of Pune, a tiny year-old station tucked away on the second floor of the ‘community centre’.
Middle-class college students, both women and men, hang out at the ground floor cafeteria. But surrounding farmers are more keen on the information radiating via this invisible airwaves, from one of those stations being opened up under India’s new drive to license campus-based radio stations.
Outside, a board announces station "Vasundhara Vahini", which broadcasts on 90.4 FM. Vasundhara is one of the many local names for the earth.
At the station, announcer Joglekar who worked at Satara’s neighbouring state-run All India Radio (AIR) station as a casual announcer, points out that the crucial earth itself sustains all human life.
Nearby, the station is supported by an engineering college in the Baramati township, the region politically dominated by Indian federal agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who in turn acts as the benefector of development in the region..
Vidya Pratishthan’s Institute of Information Technology (VIIT) director Dr Amol Goje told IANS he plans to hand over the radio to the students to run. Others in the campus rue the number of government restrictions.
One can broadcast just four minutes of advertising in a day. There are limits on rebroadcasts of entertainment-oriented music. Yet, broadcasts have been sustained since March-end 2005 for four hours each morning, with a similar re-broadcast each evening.
This station located in three rooms, and is run with the minimal staff to keep it somewhat affordable. "From where we announce, we keep an eye on the transmitter," say staff, stressing how important cutting costs is.
"There’s no business model to make it viable," says director Goje. "We can try and cut costs. But some remuneration has to be paid. So there’s need for an income source."
What are the other challenges facing such non-government, non-commercial stations, quite new to India?
"To make it work efficiently, the authorities should permit local news. They should also increase the maximum permitted wattage from 50 to 500 watts. It would give us a good range (to be heard in)," says Goje.
He argues for permission to rebroadcast local music at no-cost or even low-cost. "Royalty for community radio stations should not be at the same level as commercial stations," Goje argues.
He also suggests the possibility of ‘community advertising’.
"If a farmer wants to sell a cow, should that not be allowed as an advert on a station like this? What if there’s some new variety of flowers emerging? We’re not asking for major commercial advertising, but small-scale alternate advertising," he argues.
Goje himself did his doctorate on information and communication technologies. He looked at how telephone IVRs (interactive voice recordings) could be used to take relevant information to rural areas.
Says he: "Two-thirds of India depends on agriculture. Most of farmers will never access to the internet in their lifetime. Most don’t even have access to a telephone. They can’t afford a TV and can’t read printed info due to illiteracy."
"Farmers need for information," he argues. "About agriculture, horticulture, soils and forests, water resource management, agriculture husbandry, sericulture, and fisheries."
"Radio could be the best and cheapest technology. It can reach people who live without phones or electricity. Even poor communities can afford to buy radio."