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Member Profile January 2016



Development and Peace

Kevin Perkins and colleagues meet with members of a farmer's group in Segou, Mali to discuss the impact of a community radio program about composting.

This month CCIC met with Kevin Perkins, the Executive Director of Farm Radio International to discuss World Radio Day and their upcoming Boom Box event, priorities for the new government, why radio is here to stay and much more!


CCIC - Radio is at the heart of Farm Radio International’s mandate and work. Please explain how Radio is a catalyst for change.

Kevin Perkins - The demise of radio has been predicted for a long time and some assume it is already as good as dead. The thing is, it’s not true! Radio is more popular in sub-Saharan Africa than ever. In fact, even the cheapest mobile phones house a built-in radio that can be listened to for free for as long as the phone has power.  Radio’s inherent benefits make it relevant: it reaches people wherever they live; it does not require literacy; it is often broadcast in local languages; it permits multi-tasking.

If rural folk listened to radio, but only to music, sports, sermons, or daily presidential announcements . . . well, that wouldn’t make it a bad thing, but it would make it a questionable target for development investments.

But the evidence we have gathered through dozens of projects and thousands of interviews with farmers assures us that, indeed, development-oriented radio programs are very widely listened to (on average, about 35% of potential listeners will tune into such programs) and have a demonstrable impact on the knowledge of listeners. Typically, people who have listened to these radio programs will score 20% better on knowledge quizzes than those who did not listen.  The broadcasts also lead large numbers of people to try a new practice featured in a radio program.  Typically, we find that people living in communities exposed to these programs are five times more likely to apply a new practice than those who live in similar communities that are not exposed to the radio program.  And, they are very effective in capturing and amplifying the experiences, opinions and needs of small-scale farmers through recorded discussions, call-in shows, and polls.  Given that one radio program can reach anywhere from 10,000 to 10 million farmers, there is no better way to take promising new initiatives to scale. It is one of the most cost-effective investments you can make if your goal is to catalyze change.


CCIC - February 13th is World Radio Day! This year’s theme is ‘Radio in Times of Disaster and Emergency’. How does this particular theme resonate with the work of Farm Radio International?

Kevin Perkins - In 2011, UNESCO decided to dedicate February 13 as World Radio Day. It’s about celebrating radio, why we love it and why we need it more than ever. For us, it’s also about celebrating the impact radio has on its listeners every day. This year’s theme is resonating strongly with some of the work we have started in Ethiopia in response to the drought. We have been assembling producers and presenters from radio stations that serve drought-affected areas and helping them serve listeners with vital information about coping with the impact and accessing assistance.

We will also be marking World Radio Day with an exciting event: Boom Box. This is a webcast featuring well-known radio and podcast producers and hosts, including CBC’s Piya Chattopadhyay, Nora Young, (host of CBC’s Spark) and Katie Jensen (producer of CANADALAND). The topic “Changing radio – how radio is adapting to new technologies, and how the new age of radio is changing the world.”


CCIC - What are 3 top priorities/issues for the Canadian civil society community that you would like to see Global Affairs Canada address in 2016?

Kevin Perkins - I can’t speak for the whole of Canadian civil society, but from my point of view, one of the top priorities is for Global Affairs Canada to engage the full spectrum of Canadian civil society (along with other levels of Government and the private sector) in deciding how the country will meet its SDG and COP commitments internationally and in Canada. A second priority is to restore greater predictability to the way civil society organizations can participate in publicly-funded development programming and greater responsiveness to the efforts and mandates of Canadian CSOs and their southern partners. 

One of Canada’s historic areas of strength is communication. With a small, diverse, multilingual, multicultural population spread over a vast territory, Canada has been a pioneer in public and community radio and television, social media, ICTs, publishing and distance education.  We have exceptional people and institutions, methods and technologies that have filled the need to connect, educate, motivate, mobilize and empower Canadians.  Yet, when you look at Canada’s international cooperation efforts, development communications is all but absent.  We’d like to see Canada step up in this area, and we are ready and keen to be involved.


CCIC - Farm Radio International works with small-scale farmers across Africa. Please tell us about a recent project of which you are particular proud.

Kevin Perkins - It is hard to just pick one project, but let me tell you about “Her Voice on Air,” a project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.  Rural women need more relevant information and an opportunity to express their own ideas, questions and concerns on a large and far-reaching platform. To meet these needs, we have linked up existing radio stations with women belonging to farmers groups.  The women in these groups have been supported in capturing and recording conversations in their own communities about a range of issues, and turning these over to radio producers to incorporate into their programs. 

The project is going very well.  We developed a simple and free way for women to share their views widely without leaving their communities.  It’s called “beep2vox”.   When members of the women’s groups are ready to record a comment or conversation, they “beep” a number (call and hang up – there is no charge for a missed call), which prompts an interactive voice response system to phone them back and start recording.  The comment or conversation is recorded in a voicemail box (on the cloud) and the radio station producer can harvest this material and integrate it into their radio program when they are ready.


CCIC - Farm Radio International is an important CCIC member. What contribution do you hope to bring to CCIC and what value does CCIC bring to your work? 

Kevin Perkins - While radio is our focus, Farm Radio International is a “communication for development” organization.  As noted, there are not too many of these in Canada, and we are happy to share what we know and partner up with other CCIC members to help them add a strong communication (using interactive radio) component to their programs.  An intensive community development project that serves, say, 25,000 people, can be scaled up to serve 250,000 or even 2.5 million when a carefully designed and executed interactive radio strategy is added to it.  That’s what we have to offer.

We are proud to be a long-standing member of CCIC.  We value the work it does to bring our sector together, advocate on our collective behalf, conduct policy analysis and develop policy recommendations, and keep us abreast of trends and developments in global cooperation efforts.



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