12 / 1993
The two commonest occupations of the rural poor in Sri Lanka are agriculture and fishing. While agriculture has state and private extension services at various levels, the fishing community has been almost totally neglected.
state radio has several regional stations devoting much time to agricultural problems. So when Ratin Roy, Consultant FAO/BOBP asked me as Deputy Director, broadcasting if I was interested in establishing a Fishermen’s community radio service. I responded with enthusiasm.
Always at risk because of the uncedrtainty of their livelihood, they have little financial security and even less information, not even a daily weather and current price report. Appointed Consultant, fisheries community radio FAO/BOBP I was given 6 months to give my recommendations. First we had to have a feasibility report with some pointers from agriculture. The audience research department picked three coastal fishing towns to find out what news was relevant to each area. Then an elaborate island-wide questionaire was prepared to find out what information and assistance would be most useful to fishermen and their families in Sri Lanka.
Training courses were conducted for fisheries ministry personnel to help them present programmes that were radio oriented and not a collection of fisheries notes. They were taught how to interview fishermen, their wives, their families, businessmen involved in reparing and selling boats, nets and those providing related services, financers and fishermen’s cooperatives, fishermen’s state and coops were asked what services they could provide in the form of supplies and equipment. And in the event of a loss of a life what compensation if any could be arranged for their families or what possible extra means could be found for the hard pressed family.
Every imaginable person was consulted on the logic and thinking of regional and community radio. Finally a station producer was selected and trained to handle the daily programme. An islandwide competition was conducted to select a theme song, and arrangements were made to have a daily 5 minute programme on the commercial channel in the national language in sinhala immediately after the 18.15 hours news, at peak listening time as the men went out to sea, giving localised storm warnings and prices. On Sunday there is a 15 minute magazine programme giving them time more detailed information, as it is the one day they do not go out to sea as catholics. Last Sunday, they were told of the fish available in this season; where loans are obtainable and the assistance given by the fishermen’s association. wives were also asked about their appeals at places of worship when their husbands were lost at sea.
Now each boat is equipped with its own radio by which they can be reached in case of an emergency. Each evening when I hear the familiar chant Hoiya Hoiya I helped select, as they haul in their nets, how my heart sings.
FAO/BOBP has other fisheries community radio stations in the Asian REgion. It would be interesting and relevant to hear about them
IRED GENERAL SECRETARIAT COLOMBO OFFICE
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