There is no doubt that agriculture is back on the development agenda. But despite the promises and the rhetoric from governments worldwide, investment in agriculture and rural development is still lagging. Communication for agriculture is also not seen as a major priority at either national or international level and the role of the media as an effective player in agricultural and rural development is undervalued.

Reporting on agriculture is largely restricted to natural disasters, food shortages and rising food prices. Some argue, however, that the media has a potentially broader role in raising the profile of agriculture amongst decision-makers as well as the wider public, and in communicating farmers’ needs.

The role of the media in agricultural and rural development was the topic of the 2009 annual seminar of CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation), an institution which works in the field of information for development. Over 150 journalists, communication specialists and development practitioners gathered in Brussels to discuss the constraints, challenges and opportunities for the media to promote more effective agricultural development. A selection of participants offered New Agriculturist their points of view.

Understanding the role of journalists

I think the media is crucial in helping farmers access the information that they need and transmitting their concerns. But I think we are making a mistake in depending on mainstream media to do this. We had a forum recently, and the mainstream media personnel made it very clear they are about breaking news, they are not about partnering with, nor facilitating the agricultural sector.
Eugenia Springer, Eugenia Springer Productions, Trinidad

Many newspaper editors want sensational stories, but this can clash with responsible science journalism

The journalist’s job is not to be the public relations tool of the development organisation, of the Ministry of Agriculture or of the farmers’ organisation. The journalist’s job is to find and tell good stories and if people don’t understand that distinction they are never going to be satisfied with what journalists do.
David Mowbray, BBC World Service Trust, UK

I think the media has a role in this area but sometimes people are exaggerating that role and they expect too much from journalists. We are not specialists in agriculture. We have journalistic skills and we use those skills to bring information to the wider public. But it’s not our job to translate things.
Fenny Zangrond, Suriname Newspaper, Suriname

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Agents of Change?

Traditionally the use of the media has been about communicating research messages when there are success stories in particular. But journalists have the potential to be more of an agent of change themselves. They are in quite a unique position, potentially being the voice of policymakers, the voice of farmers, the voice of researchers. So I think they potentially can be quite a powerful catalyst for change.
Kerry Albright, Department for International Development (DFID), UK

Description: Taking radio production to the community can give a voice to the rural poor, and allow their concerns to be heard by a wider audience (WRENmedia)

Taking radio production to the community can give a voice to the rural poor, and allow their concerns to be heard by a wider audience

The essential role of the media is to create opportunities for farmers to express themselves directly on the air: this is the only way that they will have a say and therefore participate in the decision process.
Moctar Coulibaly, Alliance des Radios Communautaires, Mali

We know that agricultural extension in Africa is almost dead, so farmers have to depend on the media to deliver information. Secondly the media can also provide a platform through which the farmers can engage with policymakers, so that their perspectives can be taken on board. Thirdly the media can also profile the work of farmers so that lessons and experiences can be shared.
Parkie Mbozi, Panos Southern Africa

I would say their essential role is as a catalyst, to facilitate a link between farmers and scientific information. This information is available but it does not circulate. Why? Because the media does not know that this information exists and the farmers don’t have the tools to access it.
Thierry Elmer, CIRAD, France

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Engaging with the media

You have to ensure that all agricultural projects have journalists or media people as stakeholders in the process, and that provision should be made for them, like you make provision for other members of the team.
Oladele Idowu, Botswana College of Agriculture, University of Botswana

Agricultural radio must be dynamic and topical in order to compete with a growing proliferation of news and music stations
Ami Vitale/World Bank

The media needs to be engaged more as a partner at the beginning, during the work and at the end and not as a special invitee to events, seminars and openings.
Diane Francis, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

In Fiji the journalists are not specialised as agricultural journalists or any particular discipline. So I think that scientists should play a more active role in simplifying their research findings, making it easier for the journalists to interpret and report on such agricultural research.
Sunil Singh, University of the South Pacific, Fiji

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Challenges to reporting on agriculture

Our media are poorly re-numerated in terms of how they cover farmers. When a journalist goes to a farmer he is paid less than US$10 for his story. Yet a politician somewhere is waiting for him in a very posh hotel, he is going to buy him a drink, he is going to give him taxi home, he is going to give him some money for the family. Why will he chase after farmers?
Daniel Aghan, Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture, Kenya

Most of the libraries in the Tanzanian media are not well equipped. So if their libraries are not well equipped with agricultural information, what do you expect? It’s not easy for them to report anything on agriculture.
Jabir Jabir, Sokoine National Agricultural Library, Tanzania

One of the major challenges is resource constraint. If the media have to go to the rural areas to cover agriculture, it is very costly, and most of the media in Africa lack resources. I think the other major problem is really that of capacity. The media are not built to fully understand this complex issue that we are dealing with i.e. agriculture.
Parkie Mbozi, Panos Southern Africa

I think the essential constraints are the lack of resources for the media, but it is not only a question of financial reward. The journalists are not specialised enough: they do not know rural issues and are not close to the farmers.
Blondeau Talatala, Member of Parliament, Cameroon

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How to address those challenges?

Journalists need training in reporting on agriculture and science if they are to give accurate and informed coverage

It could be useful to train more reporters in local areas because it is a big constraint for reporters that they cannot travel to certain places. So that instead of people travelling, people could just connect to reporters at a local place, maybe by phone or through the internet.
Annelies van Velden, Voices of Africa Media Foundation, The Netherlands

We need to have more forums where the media engages with the policymakers. Because policymakers don’t usually understand the role of the media. They think the media is just supposed to be public relations, whereas our role is more than that.
Charles Dhewa, Knowledge Transfer Africa, Zimbabwe

I would say that the national governments should promote rural and agricultural development in a more active, concrete way e.g. to give the necessary equipment and financial rewards to the media, to go and report on agricultural subjects.
Blondeau Talatala, Member of Parliament, Cameroon

Many times we just report and report. If you come and get a story from a farmer, he will give you a very good story. Tomorrow another person will come and if he doesn’t see returns he will say you are wasting my time. So we should make sure there is a feedback to the farmer and not just to extract from them. Sort of like a win-win situation.
Ednah Karamagi, Busoga Rural Open Source and Development Initiative (BROSDI), Uganda

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