Farm broadcasting in Baramati

BY Frederick Noronha| IN Community Media | 25/03/2006
The station is supported by an engineering college and broadcasts for four hours each morning, with a similar rebroadcast each evening.

Indo-Asian News Service

Frederick Noronha

Baramati (Maharashtra): Sounding quite professional, the announcer`s voice discusses silk cultivation and water harvesting. Welcome to what many believe is 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 in western India, is a tiny, year-old station tucked away on the second floor of a community centre.

Middle-class college students hang out at the ground floor cafeteria. But farmers from surrounding areas are more keen on information radiating via airwaves from the station that has been 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, an announcer who used to work at nearby Satara`s state-run All India Radio (AIR) station emphasises that the earth sustains all human life.

The station is supported by an engineering college in the Baramati township, the region politically dominated by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who in turn acts as the benefactor of development in the region.

Amol Goje, director of Vidya Pratishthan`s Institute of Information Technology (VIIT), 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 end-March 2005 for four hours each morning, with a similar rebroadcast each evening. The station is 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,? says a staff member, stressing how important it was to cut costs.  Says director Goje: ?There`s no business model to make it viable. We can try to 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 in India? ?To make it work efficiently, the authorities should permit local news. They should also increase the maximum permitted wattage from 50 watts 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 ad 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.?Two-thirds of India depends on agriculture. Most farmers will never access 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 information due to illiteracy.

?Farmers need 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 a radio.?

 

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