Lack of Media attention to Agriculture is a threat to food security in Africa

Agricultural journalism plays a key role in food security, but is often lacking in many African Countries. The situation in Africa is alarming, considering the effects of climate change on food security in the continent

Sharing information and giving voice to small-scale farmers is a necessary support component that enables farmers to improve their prospects of achieving improved income and food security in the face of climate change.

When as a young Broadcast Radio Journalist, I personally experienced that difficulty of securing a little airtime in my radio station to broadcast agriculture programs, I was completely saddened as to why a rural radio station like mine, whose core listeners are smallholder farmers couldn’t or didn’t have enough space to broadcast agriculture information.

I told by my Programs Director and Marketing Manager to secure sponsors for the program before it can be sanctioned.

In my more than ten years of practice as an Agriculture Journalist, interactions with colleagues shows that, Editors in chief and managers of media houses are so reluctant in giving attention and space to agriculture news and stories, in print and electronic outlets.

Food security

Independent agricultural journalism is a crucial factor when it comes to food security. Farmers need to know about farming methods, from independent media.

They need to know about politics, market access and everything that’s needed in the wide range of topics a farmer needs to deal with when it comes to farming and gaining an income out if it.

So farmers should be able to make their own decisions. About farming in the broadest context on their own farm, about soil fertility, plagues and diseases, about animal husbandry.

But they also need to understand how markets and politics work and need a say in the local and regional decision-making process. Only this will make it possible for them to make the right decisions.

From 2007-2010 Farm Radio International, with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ran one of the most in-depth action research projects in the history of radio in Africa.

The project, called the African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), aimed to more fully understand the effectiveness of farm radio in meeting the food security objectives of rural farming households in Africa.

When the project ended, they had the results… We now know that participatory radio can have a major transformative effect on the way farmers form their opinions, gather knowledge and make choices about what to grow on their farms.

Most importantly, we learned that radio (when done according to certain standards) has a huge role to play in African agriculture.

Through AFRRI, we learned what works and what doesn’t, and we learned how to engage with broadcasters and train them to better serve their farming communities. How do you follow-up a large research project like this?

It was time to use these learning to deliver results for farmers by working with other agriculture partners to scale-up appropriate sustainable agricultural innovations.

Agents of change

Agricultural journalism is not only about providing information towards the farmer, it also reports on farmers’ needs and concerns, which can influence politics.

It was agricultural journalist Jean de Dieu Ininahazwe who clearly put this into perspective at the Africa Forum of the IFAJ: ‘We, as agricultural journalists, are agents of change!’ But, he added: ‘the role of agricultural journalists as effective player in agricultural and rural development is undervalued.’

Freedom of the press is questionable in most African countries. Also, many agricultural journalists have been neglected, intimidated and often they are just not allowed to do their job.

Equally, many journalists have failed to show interest specializing agriculture reporting. Many journalists and media are not interested in covering agricultural stories. Agriculture is barely covered in most media.

In some African countries, it’s largely restricted to natural disasters, food shortages and rising food prices. As everywhere in the world, media give mainly what the readers want and prefer sensational news, entertainment and sports above important news.

Another big item on this continent with a general lack of capital is the extra costs that are involved with covering agriculture, learned from my professional experience.

For reporting in the field one needs to go literally to the fields in often remote areas. This means a lot of travel expense for this outstretched continent.

Farm Radio International through its AFRRI Proof that agricultural radio can improve food security among smallholder farmers in Africa

Report highlights

• Radio continues to have a broad reach in Africa. An estimated 40 million farmers in five different countries were served by the AFRRI partnership with 25 radio stations.

• Farmers engaged in the design and development of farm radio programming were almost 50 per cent more likely to take up agricultural practices deemed to improve their food security than passive listeners. Those in what AFRRI deemed “active listening communities” (ALCs) were 10 times more likely to adopt the practice than those farmers who had no access to the farm radio programs.

• Farmers demonstrated increased knowledge of agriculture innovations as a result of listening to AFRRI radio programs, with up to 96% of some radio listeners scoring at least 60% on a follow-up knowledge quiz about the promoted farm practices.

Holding together

Agricultural journalism in Africa has still a long way to go. Only in some countries agricultural journalists are organized in a national guild.

It is only a few years ago that agriculture journalists in Ghana organized themselves into the Ghana Association of Rural Development and Agriculture Journalists (GARDJA). GARDJA is a member of IFAJ. Just a few African countries have a guild that’s member of the IFAJ.

But this underdevelopment of agricultural journalism is not restricted to Africa. Worldwide, agricultural journalism is too much influenced by the agribusiness.

Climate change poses significant threats to the food security of small-scale farmers in Africa. Changes in rainfall patterns and extreme events like floods and droughts threaten the livelihoods of vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan African countries like Ghana.

In Northern Ghana, the country’s poorest region, climate change and land-degradation have resulted in both decreased yields and crop failures for farmers (Laube, Schraven, & Awo, 2011).

However, farmers can respond to the impacts of climate change by integrating adaptive techniques into their farming practices – that is if they have access to the information they need to be successful.

Communication strategies that convey good information, provide timely advice, and facilitate dialogue about weather, seasonal climate forecasts, and adaptive farming strategies can increase the capacity of smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change.

By Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei

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