2.2.2 Communication for rural development

Strategies that include communication for rural development as a significant aspect of agricultural and rural development are sorely needed. Efforts in this direction are being made, but governments have yet to recognize fully the potential of this factor in promoting public awareness and information on agricultural innovations, as well as on the planning and development of small business, not to mention employment opportunities and basic news about health, education and other factors of concern to rural populations, particularly those seeking to improve their livelihoods and thereby enhance the quality of their lives.

Rural development is often discussed together with agricultural development and agricultural extension. In fact "agricultural extension" is often termed "rural extension" in the literature. In contrast, rural development includes but nonetheless expands beyond the confines of agriculture, and furthermore requires and also involves developments other than agriculture. Accordingly, government should consider the establishment of a communication policy that while supporting agricultural extension for rural development also assumes the role of a "rural extension" service aimed as well at diffusing non-agricultural information and advice to people in rural areas.

A communication policy would aim to systematically promote rural communication activities, especially interactive radio but also other successful media such as tape recorder and video instructional programmes. Computers and the Internet may not yet be accessible to rural communities but they serve the communication intermediaries and agricultural extension agents who provide information to rural populations. Other devices such as cell phones hold considerable promise for the transfer and exchange of practical information.

For reaching the final agricultural and basic needs information users in rural areas today, radio is the most powerful and cost-effective medium. However, other traditional and modern communication methods are equally valuable, depending on the situation and availability, like face-to-face exchanges (via demonstration and village meetings); one-way print media (such as, newspapers, newsletters, magazines, journals, posters); one-way telecommunication media (including non-interactive radio, television, satellite, computer, cassette, video and loud-speakers mounted on cars); and two-way media: (telephone, including teleconferencing, and interactive (Internet) computer).

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have proved to be important for Internet users and for the intermediate users who work with the poor. Pilot experiences show that various media are valuable for assisting agricultural producers with information and advice as to agricultural innovations, market prices, pest infestations and weather alerts.

ICTs also serve non-farming rural people with information and advice regarding business opportunities relating to food processing, wholesale outlets and other income-generating opportunities. In the case of non-agricultural rural development interests, a communication for rural development policy would aim to promote diffusion of information about non-agricultural micro-enterprise development, small business planning, nutrition, health and generally serve to provide useful, other-than-agriculture information.

By its very nature as mass media, communication for rural development can provide information useful to all segments of rural populations. However, it would serve as a first effort toward advancement of "rural extension" services and activities aimed at rural development concerns beyond those of agriculture. Thus, extension and communication activities would be expected to work in tandem, allied in the common cause of supporting income-generating activities, both agricultural and non-agricultural.

Communication as related to extension services immediately suggests several avenues of mutual support. For example: these would include national services relating to extension and communication, specialized extension communication services, extension services promoted by producers, commercialized extension services, and mass media extension-related services. A similar orientation toward other aspects of rural development information and technical advice is evident considering the de Janvry-Sadoulet rural development pathways and other related rural development needs such as information and assistance with health problems, most notably Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in case of sub-Saharan Africa.

Rural extension and radio need to be more purposely connected. Radio, according to contemporary specialists (FAO 2003c), is under utilized at present. While ICTs and their connection to radio hold promise for the future, some consider radio to be "the one to watch" (FAO 2003c). In this connection, regional networks are being launched. Examples are The World Association for Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) and the Latin American Association for Radio Education (ALER). Global initiatives have begun: Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN) and UNESCO Community Media Centres.

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