Tag Archives: Rural

Farm Radio International Board Member, Journalist and Former Station Manager of Uganda’s Mega FM David Okidi

7 Nov

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Date of lunch:
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The company:
David Okidi is a journalist in Northern Uganda and was the station manager at Mega FM, a radio station in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu. He recently joined the board of directors of Farm Radio International. Farm Radio International (FRI) helps African radio broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities. My colleague’s grandfather, George Atkins, former host of the noon farm radio broadcast on CBC for 25 years, founded Farm Radio International in 1979. My colleague and FRI board member, Sarah Andrewes, has spoken to me many times about the organization and when she let me know David Okidi was in town, I asked if she might be able to arrange a lunch for me with David and she helped to set up this meeting.

The food:
In order to be able to work with David’s very tight schedule while he was in Canada, we met for breakfast instead of lunch. We met at La Prep at Bloor and Church. We each had a small coffee and I had a regular croissant and David had a chocolate croissant. I love all croissants and this one was no different. Very delicious mostly due to butter, but also very flaky and messy. Total bill was $7.63 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
David spoke to me about how radio is used as a peace building tool in Uganda. I studied Radio & Television Arts in university and while I saw the value of radio from a Canadian perspective, I never imagined the power and impact it can have in a place like Uganda. The radio station that David managed was in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu, an area at the centre of the civil war and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The government of Uganda passed an amnesty law in 2002 for rebel soldiers, allowing them to return to the community and not face prosecution. This was especially important given that many of the rebels were children who were abducted and forcefully conscripted against their will, while some were born in the rebel camps themselves and knew no other life.

While the amnesty was extremely important, getting the word into the rebel camps was extremely difficult. David’s radio station became the peace building tool, broadcasting information about the amnesty, often at night between 10 and 11 p.m. when rebels were no longer on the move and more likely to be listening to the radio. And rebels began returning to communities, giving up the fight and taking advantage of the amnesty. As more and more rebels left, the rebel commanders banned radios and threatened to burn down Mega FM, David’s radio station. Soldiers were stationed outside the station and the rebels were never able to stop the broadcasts. And because the rebel commanders still had their own radios, the message continued to get out simply through someone overhearing and spreading the word. Radio can be incredibly powerful and it was truly incredibly to hear this story from David who played such a major role.

David let me know that the amnesty law had been renewed annually since 2002 but was unfortunately not renewed in May of this year, now leaving no attractive option for rebels soldiers wishing to leave the fight and return to the community.

The lunch:
Beyond the incredibly powerful role radio played in peace building in Uganda, David’s work with Farm Radio International is also truly amazing. FRI was originally founded to share best practices for small-scale farming. Farming is completely different in these rural communities than what we see here in Canada and many of the techniques that are used for farming here are not at all practical, feasible or affordable in Uganda.

Prior to FRI, farming radio programming in Africa often touted the techniques used by commercial farmers such as pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. But small-scale rural farmers were unable to afford these materials and the advice was pretty much useless. FRI was able to provide and share tips and techniques across communities, networking the best practices of other farmers so everyone was able to succeed. David was able to explain many of the techniques that are used in his community and by his own mother, a farmer.

While most farmers do not have access to tractors, rather than ploughing a field with a hoe by hand, a ploughing tool pulled by two bulls will reduce the time it takes to finish a field to two days from ten. For livestock farming, neighbours will get together on a community grazing field. They will then rotate days of bringing the animals to the grazing field and supervising the animals while there to ensure they don’t damage nearby crops, which could be very costly. By sharing the supervision, these farmers are able to focus on other aspects of their farms on their off days. Many farm owners also owned plots of land that were quite scattered and they often spent far too much time travelling between the fields rather than working on the land. Neighbours have since gotten together to split the land in a more practical way, caring for the land nearest to their homes and making the work more efficient.

Much of the farming where David lives is for consumption and not exporting. However, he did let me know that there are now huge food markets in South Sudan that local farmers are beginning to supply – a new opportunity for growth. Speaking to David, you hear a story of hope. As communities rebuild from the civil war and former rebel soldiers re-integrate themselves into the community, farming has become an important way of life and Farm Radio International is helping locals teach each other and grow the community as a whole.

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Globe and Mail European Bureau Chief and Author Doug Saunders

2 Apr

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Date of lunch:
Friday, April 1, 2011

The company:
Doug Saunders is the European Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail, an award winning columnist and author of Arrival City, a book about the “cities” that immigrants and village-to-urban migrants create within or just outside existing cities. It is a very interesting look at moving populations and a global shift from rural to urban living. I went to hear Doug speak at an event at the Toronto Reference Library back in November and tweeted throughout. Doug then tweeted back to those of us “live-tweeting” so I took the opportunity to invite Doug for lunch over Twitter. And here we are. I was able to grab some time on Doug’s calendar as he returned to Toronto for his book tour.

The food:
Doug wanted us to have lunch around Spadina and Dundas as it’s his old stomping grounds and it ties in with the theme of his book as a sort of arrival city for Chinese immigrants. I suggested my fave Pho Hung. However, due to a last minute scheduling conflict, we moved our lunch to the Pho Hung at Bloor and Avenue. Same great food but without the atmosphere. We both had a small #2, which is the rare beef Pho and my favourite Pho in the city. It was delicious as always. Pho Hung fact: the food at the Bloor location is less spicy than the Spadina location. We then shared the beef rolls, which were not pre-assembled. I think attempting to roll rice paper rolls at the table is a bit difficult so definitely would have preferred pre-rolled rolls. We shared a pot of green tea. All in all, it was a great meal. The total bill was $24 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
As we were finishing up, I asked Doug if he had seen Christiane Amanpour’s interview with Gadhafi’s sons. Doug let me know that he had and then told me a story of when he interviewed Gadhafi’s son Saif. He said he was driven out to his compound and spoke to Saif as he fed beef cubes to his pet Bengal tigers. What?!?!? So that is the difference between consuming the news (me) and producing the news (him) and that is why Doug is so fascinating to speak with.

The lunch:
Doug and I talked a lot about his book Arrival City and how he went about visiting all these cities around the world and what he learned along the way. I am mid-way through the book and it is so interesting and a must-read for anyone developing immigration policy, as he offers a real understanding of how these cities or enclaves of arrivals work and how support and consideration could really help.

A detail in his book and something we discussed was how rural and farming populations are shrinking around the world as more people move to cities. Because of this, families are no longer as large. Many rural families were much larger as the parents and children took care of the farm, but in an urban setting that changes and large families are not necessary or financially viable. Many experts and Doug believe that the world’s population will level off around 2050. This is good news to all of those people worrying about overpopulation. In general, I think fear mongers of many stripes could really learn something from Doug’s book.

On that note, one chapter of Doug’s book juxtaposes two Washington, DC suburbs – Herndon, VA and Wheaton, MD. Both have large populations of Mexican, Central and South American immigrants. I am going to over-simplify here so please read Doug’s book for more details. Herndon did not embrace these arrivals. When a Herndon mayor created an indoor day-labour centre to help the men looking for cash work, he was quickly voted out in the next election. The new mayor closed the centre, made it illegal to gather and wait for cash work, or live in apartments with four or more non-related adults. Without support or means to make money, these arrivals were having a very difficult time surviving. On the other hand, Wheaton embraced the arrivals and saw it as way to revitalize their town and realized that with their success, the town would benefit from the wealth creation. Wheaton engaged with the new arrivals, helped them to access government and non-profit services and celebrated the new multi-ethnic cultures. I will let you guess which town is now more prosperous.

Doug and I talked a bit about the revolutions going on in the Middle East. Doug has long covered and traveled to these areas for the Globe and Mail. He said he did travel to Libya at the beginning of the protests. He entered the country through Tunisia into a rebel held area. He would go in for the day, speak with and interview people and then head back to Tunisia. As he saw the conflict worsening, he decided to leave and head back to London and work from there as bureau chief and other Globe and Mail reporters took over. He says many of the reporters he was with in Libya pushed East towards Tripoli and were taken prisoner, beaten and tortured. I think we forget in Canada how lucky we are to have a free press who can question authority without reprisal and it’s something we all need to make sure never changes.

I really enjoyed my lunch with Doug. I am a total news junkie so it was incredibly fascinating to talk to someone who has actually been to the places and met the players. Doug is also exceptionally nice – something that always makes a lunch more enjoyable. I look forward to finishing Doug’s book with my new insight and again, so grateful to this blogging thing for giving me such awesome opportunities.