Rice for Radio

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, radio stations explore creative funding models

Kimbobo, a rural town in the DRC, is isolated. Though the provincial capital, Kindu, is only 100 miles away, the roads are difficult to traverse. Twice a year, trains from Lubumbashi or Kalemie bring goods from Southern Africa or Dar Es Salaam, causing much celebration along the route. There is no power supply in Kimbombo, so the local community radio station, Radio Television Communautaire 117, relies on gas generators that they can only afford to operate for two hours a day.

There is no advertising market in Kibombo and the radio station struggles to make ends meet. The only reliable source of income in the region is agriculture. That gave Bernard Djunga Mashka, Radio Television Communautaire 117’s manager, an idea.

With a small grant, Djunga Mashka bought rice-processing equipment and entrusted the management of the equipment to the listeners’ club in Lowe village. The rice-processing workshop can hull about two tons of paddy per day. Part of the proceeds go to the members of the radio listener’s club as salary and to support the club and the rest goes to the radio station.

A part of the processed rice is also given to journalists and staff, who prefer to get a part of their salaries in food rather than money.

Radio Television Communautaire 117’s rice processing operation. Photo credit: Internews

“Members of the listeners’ club are today more than engaged towards our radio,” says Djunga Mashka. “Along with managing this workshop, they also organize the production of radio programs about rice breeding and how to improve nutrition in the communities. They are also willing to raise awareness in other communities about buying this kind of equipment and diversifying their agricultural production.”

Radio Television Communautaire 117 had lost some veteran journalists and volunteers in the lead up to the 2015 local elections because politicians had lured them away with the promise of establishing new radio stations with new management positions and increased salaries if they covered their press conferences.

“The increased revenues [from the rice processing] help us to maintain our independence and to keep our staff on the team,” says Djunga Mashka. “Some who had left came back to us,” he added with a smile.

Radio Bandundu FM — Renting chairs and tents

At the same time, a thousand kilometers west of Kibombo, another small grant enabled Radio Bandundu FM in Bandundu City, Kwilu Province to buy 200 plastic chairs and 10 canvas sheets. This equipment is rented at an affordable rate to people or organizations in the community holding a public event.

Radio Bandundu’s manager, Desiré Tankuy will never forget their first customer — the Catholic Church.

“The church rented our tents to celebrate the ordination of a priest in the garden on the compound of the cathedral,” he said. “Some days after this, the Bandundu City health department came to rent chairs and tents when they launched a vaccination campaign in the garden of the Protestant church of Malebo. Then some participants in that event started to rent our equipment, notably for mourning ceremonies.”

The rental chairs and shade tent from Bandundu FM. Photo credit: Internews

Tankuy believes this small monetary contribution helps a lot in motivating the staff as he is now able to provide a small allowance to volunteers and staff. “Beyond this increase of the money we pay to staff and volunteers, our cash made out of this little activity allows us to provide fees, transport, pens, notebooks, batteries to the journalists,” he said. “Moreover, our arrears on the rent of our office decreased from several years to only eight months.”

According to Tankuy, Bandundu FM earns nearly $200 per month with this activity. The money is kept in a local bank and the release of funds is authorized by three persons (the manager, the accountant and the marketing coordinator). Désiré Tankuy dreams about being able to open a small advertising company that would help other radio stations and Bandundu FM to increase their revenues.

Karim Benard-Dende is Internews Chief of Party in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Charles Ntiryica, Internews journalism adviser, contributed to this article. The enterprises at Radio Television Communautaire 117 and Radio Bandundu were launched with small grants through Internews’ Open Media Fund in DRC, part of the Media Sector Development Program, which is implemented by Internews and funded by USAID. This story was originally published on Medium.