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“Rural reality radio” puts climate change on the airwaves

December 27, 2011 | 3:13 pm | , Solutions Analyst

Shravya is in India over the holidays taking a look at how the country is making the transition to clean energy. Read her first post here.

© 2008 Flickr/Russ Bowling CC CC BY 2.0

As we work to build a global climate movement, we often rely on the latest technologies to get the word out fast. Case in point: In September, the Climate Reality Project’s worldwide event – 24 Hours of Reality – reached people instantly in their living rooms via the Internet. But of course, billions of people are not connected to the Internet, and many don’t even have electricity. To reach such audiences, radio is often the best means of mass communication.

Recognizing this, an environmental organization in India has taken to the airwaves to help rural communities prepare for the impacts of climate change – using the format of a reality show competition! Development Alternatives – also known as DevAlt – has rolled out a program called the “Rural Reality Radio Show on Climate Adaptation” (PDF). To find out more about this, I had a really exciting chat with Zeenat Niazi and Vijay Chaturvedi, both Senior Program Directors at DevAlt.

Ms. Zeenat Niazi and Mr. Vijay Chaturvedi, Senior Program Directors, Development Alternatives

Over the past year, in over 100 villages in India’s Bundelkhand region, they’ve worked with groups of women who have been exposed to impacts of climate change like prolonged drought. These women were encouraged to devise special projects to help prepare for climate impacts, and were given airtime to discuss their projects on local community radio stations in a “reality show” format. Their projects – designed and implemented entirely by the women themselves – range from improved farming techniques to vermicomposting (using worms to turn waste into compost). The “contestants” were then shortlisted, and are up for winning a grand prize. One of the coolest features is that the judges are their fellow villagers who have been listening to the radio shows all along. Voting will start next month, and I’m already curious to find out who the winner will be!

This program was funded through a World Bank award, and its objective is to help rural communities change some of their traditions and practices in response to a changing climate. The program also aims to prove that simple measures can reduce climate risk.

By the looks of it, the initiative has already started changing attitudes toward climate preparedness. As Ms. Niazi told me, “when we see farmers switch from wheat to barley for their winter crop for the first time in decades, we know that the message is sinking in, and they know they have to be ready for change.” On a hunch that I may not have had much experience with farming (a very good hunch!), Mr. Chaturvedi clarified: “Barley requires much less water than wheat, and water availability has been dwindling in the region.”

DevAlt isn’t working solely on responding to climate change. They have a whole slew of projects that prevent carbon pollution in the first place. These low-carbon growth projects fall under the umbrella of their “Shubh Kal” initiative (which means an “auspicious tomorrow”). Ms. Niazi explained that even though these villagers have a negligible carbon footprint, her group still felt it was “important to demonstrate that they can lead by example,” and prove that communities can improve livelihoods while reducing carbon pollution.

An example of a Shubh Kal project is the building of greener brick kilns that reduce carbon pollution by up to 50%. A second example is the distribution of “carbon cards”, which contain a village’s carbon footprint as well as the amount of carbon prevented from entering the atmosphere though tree planting, forest maintenance and soil conservation measures. Periodically, the village’s performance in lowering its footprint is measured and recorded on these cards.

I couldn’t agree with Ms. Niazi more when she exclaimed: “These communities are showing others that they don’t have to repeat the same mistakes the rest of the world made, and can achieve prosperity without following the old model.” Three cheers to that! Now if only others – in the developed and developing world — figured this out too, and realized that economic growth can be achieved in a low-carbon manner. Hmm … Perhaps I need to get myself on a reality radio show soon and start spreading the word!

What do you think about this approach of showcasing communities’ climate preparedness efforts through radio programs? Would you listen to such a show, or even participate in a show like this in your community? If so, do pitch it to your local radio station. We’d love to hear what you think!

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