Climate Change and Community Radio

I spent the majority of my five months interning at Development Alternatives (DA) working on two climate adaptation related projects based in the Bundelkhand region of India. One project, a collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, I discussed in a previous CEP Blog entry. In short, the project focused on establishing a baseline climate vulnerability assessment of the region in order to inform future policy decisions and prioritization. The second project, on the other hand, took a direct approach to improving the region’s adaptive capacity to a changing climate through an innovative information-communication system involving community radio stations.

Bundelkhand, India

As opposed to large private or government run radio stations, community radio stations in India run by nonprofit organizations and typically only broadcast to a radius of approximately 10-15 kilometers. These stations are staffed by members of the community and programming is broadcast on local issues and in the local dialect–an important quality in India where hundreds of different languages and dialects are spoken. These characteristics make community radios particularly suited for directly engaging with the grassroots level on issues pertinent to the station’s listeners. With this in mind and with support from the UK Department for International Development under the Climate Knowledge and Development Network initiative, DA enlisted four community radio stations in the Bundelkhand region (including a DA supported station, Radio Bundelkhand) to participate in a climate communication pilot program.

The crux of the program is based on a communications model that aims to increase the flow of information between communities and the policymaking and research institutions that are charged with serving them via community radio. Through a long standing presence in the Bundelkhand region, DA has experienced the problems arising from a lack of communication between communities and these institutions. In this predominately agricultural region, there are many government schemes and programs as well as research initiatives that aim to help farmers cope with adverse climatic conditions that often threaten their primary source of livelihood, but community utilization of the available assistance usually leaves much to be desired in part due to low awareness of and large barriers to accessing information on helpful schemes, programs, and research. Conversely, regional policymakers and researchers are also in need of information from the grassroots level. Policymakers need to know the needs and concerns of communities to adequately design and implement policy, while researchers highly value traditional knowledge and information to help inform and direct their work to be more pertinent to people at the grassroots level.

To enable the participating community radio stations to act as intermediaries between communities and policymakers/researchers, radio reporters and managers from each station participated in several capacity building workshops that focused on the basics of climate change–its causes and impacts–and how to interact with communities and relevant government officials and researchers in the context of climate change journalism.

Community radio reporters interviewing a local agricultural research scientist

Since the broadcast areas of the participating radio stations are primarily rural and agricultural, the workshops focused on agricultural impacts and adaptation strategies and interfacing with agricultural extension officials and local agriculture and forestry research institutions. My primary role in the project involved the development of a ‘climate change resource guide,’ background research on local climate adaptation strategies, research on other related radio programming from around the world, and the authoring of articles and reports to help disseminate information emanating from the project to a wider/global audience. My first year coursework significantly contributed to my ability to take on these assignments as they required a competent understanding of climate change and agricultural science, which I received from Professor Ed Mathez’s and Jennifer Phillips’s courses. Additionally, the strong emphasis the BCEP program places on writing was immensely helpful as effectively communicating complex information such as the causes and impacts of climate change is a vital component of the success of the project.

Eating some freshly 'roasted' groundnuts with farmers and community radio reporters

I also gained what I believe to be valuable and unique experience through my involvement with this project. While I do not speak the same language as the radio reporters and managers that we engaged with, DA still involved me in the workshops and training exercises. My primary responsibility during these trainings was photo and video documentation, but my attendance allowed me to experience working in very unfamiliar settings, interact with various government and research officials, and learn firsthand the precarious situations many farmers and communities in this rural part of India face everyday. Before this internship, the hardships endured by many of the world’s disadvantaged and poor were mainly statistics read in peer-reviewed papers. Witnessing and working with communities that are already experiencing significant detrimental impacts from the changing climate really underscores the imperative nature of addressing climate change through both mitigation and adaptation solutions.

Currently, the four radio participating radio stations have recorded and produced over twenty different radio shows as part of the pilot project on topics ranging from community perceptions on climate change to local impacts on water and agricultural resources and strategies for adaptation. Moving forward, there are plans to integrate community radio into a planned state-run climate change information portal using the communication model piloted in the project. It is hoped that this model can be expanded to community radio stations across India to improve communication between communities and entities that can help these communities respond and adapt to the challenges of a changing climate.

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