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Getting radio ready for the rains

Radio Monsoon uses mobile technology, the Internet and the loudspeaker to disseminate information about the weather, to help fishers in Kerala’s Vizhinjam stay safe on the seas. The station also encourages them to call in with their observations

The coast of Kerala was showered on by its first taste of the monsoon two weeks ago. And while that is great news for most people in the rest of the country, it spells grave danger for the fisherfolk.

Rather than merely disseminating information about the climate daily, the Radio Monsoon team plans to collate scientific feedback from fisherfolk of specific fishing zones in Kerala, using Geographical Information System gadgets.
Rather than merely disseminating information about the climate daily, the Radio Monsoon team plans to collate scientific feedback from fisherfolk of specific fishing zones in Kerala, using Geographical Information System gadgets.

Each year, accidents are reported and many lose their craft and gear. “They still go fishing. Most fish on a very small scale and cannot just afford to sit idle during the rainy season. So they take the risk,” explains Ajith Lawrence, journalist and co-founder and editor of Radio Monsoon (RM). “The fishermen wanted our services during this season precisely for this reason.”

We believe we could make a difference, however small it may be,” adds the Thiruvananthapuram resident, who decided to start the project despite lack of funds.

Forecasts and feedback
Lawrence, who set up Radio Alakal, the first community radio in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, joined hands with Maxmillan Martin, a scientist from Puthukurichy, Thiruvananthapuram conducting research at Sussex University, for RM. Earlier this year, they ran a test with information about the wind, waves, ocean currents from the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) and India Meteorological Department.

The fishermen, who use mobiles widely even miles away at sea, loved the broadcast. It included announcements from Lawrence’s wife Mercy and daughter Mithra, and tracks from Bamboo Symphony — a band that plays bamboo musical instruments.

“We also had some responses and comments from the local fisherfolk of Vizhinjam. They speak with amazing clarity and conviction,” says Lawrence, who hails from a fishing community himself.

Rather than merely disseminating information on a daily basis, the RM team wants to make this a two-way process.
They plan to collate detailed, scientific feedback from fisherfolk from specific fishing zones, using geographical information system (GIS) gadgets and use the information to improve predictions.

Creative mix of media
At the moment, RM functions as a narrowcast, making use of mobile technology, the Internet, as well as the good old loudspeaker to disseminate information. The server they use, hosted by tech firm GramVaani, has free phone access which allows the fishermen to call in and listen to bulletins. “We are taking one step at a time — but technologically it is a going to be a breakthrough,” says Lawrence, who aims to push the frontiers of community communication with the help of government grants and non-profit business models. “There is a demand for RM to go on air — and we might even do that or have an extended mobile phone network. We are talking with potential partners,” adds the journalist, who has also been approached to set up RM in other districts in Kerala. But for now, Lawrence and his colleagues have their eyes set on Vizhinjam. “If we could live up to the fishermens’ expectations and make forecasts better and fishing safer in one village that will be great,” he concludes.

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