Eco-Friendly Radio: Yogyakarta, Central Java

The two-by-three-meter room is cramped with electronic gadgets, computers, chairs and tables — but it is the nerve center of farming life, as well as every other activity in Terong village, Dlinggo district, Bantul, from which the Menara Siar Pedesaan (MSP), or Rural Broadcasting Tower community radio station airs its programs.

Terong village consists of nine hamlets and is inhabited by around 6,000 people, 4,000 of whom are farmers.

MSP broadcasts a variety of community-based information programs as well as an environmentally-friendly farming program, which disseminates information on efficient farming patterns, pest control and food crop price management.

The farming program is aired twice weekly — every Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and every Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., while other programs are aired every Friday evening.

“Our schedule is flexible. We’ll cancel the Wednesday program out of the planting season,” said Sukamdan, leader of the Among Kismo farming association, an alliance of farmers from the nine hamlets in the village.

“We apply a back-to-nature concept in farm management and planting pattern programs,” said Terong village administrative chief and MSP radio announcer, Sudirman Alfian.

Sudirman said the radio station chose to focus on a back-to-nature concept due to extensive soil damage in the village, which had resulted from an ineffective government policy of promoting the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Despite the lack of concrete data, the four years of MSP’s existence has brought about some changes in farmers’ cultivating patterns. This is evident from a decrease in the use of chemical fertilizers, with most of the farmers switching back to organic fertilizers.

“We have not yet obtained the exact figures or percentages, but the change in farming habits is obvious,” Sudirman said.

Sudirman said residents now used natural pest control measures, such as using organic pesticides derived from the mindi plant, with favorable results.

“The eel population dropped drastically when chemical fertilizers and pesticide were used … they died of chemical poisoning.

“Now, eel numbers in the fields have increased. This indicates that the environmental condition has improved.”

Radio MSP was established in 2002 when one of the farming groups received aid from the World Bank through the Decentralized Agriculture and Forestry Extension Program (Dafep) in an effort to empower farmers.

They received audio equipment, such as amplifiers and loudspeakers, to expedite information among villagers. As they faced difficulties in operating the devices, they set up a community radio as a means to communicate and provide information and entertainment.

Group members collected fees which amounted to Rp 7 million (approximately US$777) and purchased additional equipment. The World Bank then provided them with a mixer.

MSP radio, which is set at a frequency of 107.9 FM, went on air in November 2002 and has been registered as a member of the Yogyakarta Community Radio Network (JRKY). It has a current broadcast radius range of 6 kilometers.

“We stopped airing for two months because the radio station and some of the equipment was damaged from the massive earthquake that struck in May last year.”

Thanks to a number of donors, that provided transmitting devices, a mixer and a facsimile machine, MSP was able to get back on the air.

At least 15 people call in to participate in live programs every day; some from as far away as Gunungkidul.

“At least we are able to get information quicker,” said Sukamdan, leader of the Among Tani farmers’ group.

MSP is also the center for information on activities in the village. A survey involving 500 local respondents showed that 75 percent of listeners regularly tuned in to the station.

The radio station employs seven broadcasters, some of whom are employees at the village hall. Residents collect fees to finance operational costs, while the village administration foot the telephone and electricity bills, which amount to Rp 1 million monthly.

Sukamdan said Radio MSP gives direct benefits to farmers because they can obtain information fast, and are kept up-to-date on crop price developments, thereby no longer needing to rely on middlemen during the harvest.

Farmers are able to listen to the experiences of other farmers in cultivating a certain plant successfully.

“We often discuss the best way to plant. We record the discussions and the radio airs and discusses them during the interactive programs,” he said.

Slamet Susanto