Mass media is an industry built on disseminating information at scale, and it is often one of the first information industries to penetrate rural areas. As such, it can be a powerful tool for development programmes whose goal is to improve rural households’ access to information.
However, whilst many development programmes are happy to use media, few invest their resources in developing media. This can lead to development itself undermining media, as media is most effective when it does more than just disseminate information from sponsors to its audience. Independent and sustainable media gathers information from multiple sources, including from its audience, and produces content relevant to their needs and priorities.
The Alliances Caucuses Programme (ALCP) in Georgia was established to increase incomes and employment for small-scale livestock and honey producers (LHPs) in rural Georgia by developing the agricultural markets they participate in. In the early stages of the programme, the ALCP found that a lack of access to reliable and relevant agricultural information was negatively impacting rural farmers and beekeepers’ participation in agricultural markets, leaving them disadvantaged in negotiations with informal traders and largely excluded from formal markets.
The ALCP identified a demand for agricultural media content among LHPs but decided that instead of sponsoring agricultural content to address information constraints – an unsustainable, though common, solution – they would try to change the way media works.
Their approach was to demonstrate to mass media players that if they independently produced the kind of agricultural content that was in demand by rural households, they would tap into a large audience, their ratings would go up, and they would be able to attract commercial advertising revenue, increased sales, or (in the case of public media) a greater proportion of the public media budget.
Meanwhile, by airing and publishing agricultural content, media would provide LHPs with a way to learn about new practices, technology, input supply markets, regulations and consumers, as well as to verify market prices, strengthening their negotiating positions, and increasing their incomes.
The ALCP started their work by partnering with individual newspapers, regional television stations and a national television station who agreed to pilot agricultural media products, supported by funding for equipment and intensive technical mentoring from the programme. As the quality of these media products improved, ratings rose, and the media outlets’ capacity to produce content independently and sustainably also grew.
Scale of impact was achieved through these media products. However, scaling beyond the ALCP’s partners was a challenge, as systemic constraints in the media systems prevented significant copying from new media entities without them also receiving intensive support. The ALCP therefore began working in the supporting functions of media, most notably in partnering with universities and associations to develop agricultural journalism training.
Results are impressive. Since 2008 the ALCP estimates that its media-related interventions have reached 287,261 households, representing 639,174 people, through television, radio, newspaper and online videos. About half of surveyed viewers report changing their agricultural practices as a result of information accessed through media and most of these also attribute income increases or other tangible benefits to these changes.
Furthermore, the ALCP no longer supports any media products, yet all those started in the last decade continue to be published and developed independently, providing good evidence of sustainability.
The ALCP’s work in media provides a number of lessons for other programmes, about both the challenges and the benefits of working with mass media to address information-related constraints in agricultural markets.