The entrepreneur Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu argues that for millions in rural Africa, the transistor radio improves farming, protects health and reduces poverty ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2012

The greatest invention of all is the transistor radio (and radio wave signals), first developed by Bell Laboratories in the 1940s. I admire straightforward technology that solves complex, human problems. Where there are still holes in the web, radio waves travel powerfully around the world. And one of the wonderful things about the transistor is that it is portable. 

Spreading conversations to improve access to knowledge and quality of life is a huge task. Information opens the mind and motivates the spirit. A more informed person can make a better choice. Radio is the only way to reach so many people at the same time with the same information. It made news instant. It changed the way we listened to music. It spoke the language of the people. In rural Africa, where I live, radio is still the most pervasive, accessible, affordable and flexible mass medium. It gives people a louder voice to air and solve agricultural problems, improve farm production, strengthen specialist knowledge in their communities, protect their health and reduce poverty.  

Radio is sustainable, interactive and inclusive. Even illiterate smallholder farmers can suddenly be both heard and informed. They can shape opinions, enjoy the give-and-take of informed dialogue and become decisive agents in their industry’s development. People tend to relate to information best when it originates from their own communities. 

I was inspired to launch a network that gives poor rural farmers, especially women, daily access to information on crop production, livestock rearing, soil management, national and international markets. This information is used to negotiate with traders, to decide whether to go to market, and which market to visit or supply. It has been used to analyse prices over time, to help make decisions about diversifying or producing out-of-season crops. It can even be used to help subsistence farmers find opportunities for alternative income. Educational programmes broadcast over simple radios have improved crop and livestock yield and household income.  

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu is a Nigerian entrepreneur and a 2011 laureate at the Rolex Awards for Enterprise

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Picture credit: Panos