A note from an Indian journalist to African colleagues : Tell the agriculture story

If you’re an African adult of about 25 plus years, living on the continent, then you will need to pay close attention to the following information. From now on, you will need to be concerned about how you will sustainably feed your family – first, the nuclear  and then, the extended family, by the time you reach the jubilee period of your life – 50 plus years – which is 33 years from now, precisely by year 2050.

Richard Mahapatra

Managing Editor of Down to Earth, Richard Mahapatra

According to the United Nations Population Division, by year 2050, Africa’s current population of a little of over 1.2 billion would have more than doubled. And this rapid population growth rate, said to be second fastest in the world, is seen as a challenge to food security on the continent.

This challenge will worsen by 2050 per the UN projection, due to the numbers of the people, combined with the on-going trends towards urbanisation as well as climate change related problems such as flooding, landslides and droughts that are increasing and hitting hard at Africa’s agricultural sector.

The sector has been performing creditably of late as many African governments have prioritised agriculture, according to the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2016. “… Governments have put agriculture back to the top of the development agenda, and from a growing revenue base, they have increased the proportion of their national budgets going to this vital sector. Private companies have invested heavily in Africa’s agriculture value chains in recent years, paving the way for a renaissance in Africa’s agri-food systems that multiplies the options for farmers in terms of the seeds they plant, the fertilisers they use, the markets they can now tap into, and the information services now available to help them manage their farming activities.”

Africa’s leadership has demonstrated commitment to the sector with the introduction in 2004 of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the launch in 2014 of African Union’s “Year of Agriculture and Food Security,” and the adoption that same year of the “Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.” As part of the recent commitments, the AU Heads of State and Government made a commitment to end hunger by 2025 and to achieve this they further resolved to halve the current levels of post-harvest losses by the year 2025.

The 2016 Africa Agriculture Status Report notes that “agricultural growth in Africa has also expanded livelihood opportunities for millions of people now engaged in the growing off-farm stages of the agri-food system.” This trend is seen as “offering a glimpse of future success,” and has inspired “a new vision for Africa, one in which farming realises its potential to help make the continent sustainable and hunger free.”

But underneath the excitement is the gnawing issue of how to deepen the on-going agricultural transformation process in Africa, in the midst of the growing pressure on the agricultural sector to deliver more and better food for her rapidly increasing population with all of its associated problems such as decreasing availability of agricultural lands.

Moreover, Africa has become a net importer of food and reportedly spends $35 billion every year on food imports. This is more than what the continent receives in total overseas development assistance.

And the fact is that as at now, lots of individuals, families, communities and nations of Africa are still struggling to feed themselves (in terms of quality and quantity).

However, African countries are not alone in this state of affairs. The continent shares similar features with India, the world’s second most densely populated country after China. The agriculture of India and most African countries have similar characteristics including more than half of the population involved in agriculture with majority doing subsistence farming. Agriculture is dominated by food-crops, it is rain-fed and mainly seasonal based.

Africans and Indians have realised that together they can work to strengthen and make agriculture more resilient. Therefore, their political leaders, technical experts, private sector as well as students have initiated partnerships to strategically find solutions to the common problems saddling their agricultural sector. The media in Africa and India have joined the trail in a bid to jointly utilize their skills to support the general efforts in sustaining the sector.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a leading public research and advocacy organisation of the Global South based in New Delhi, India, has for some years now been interacting with civil society, media and environmental regulators across Africa to forge common understanding of common issues. It has held two media workshops in Kenya and Ghana. CSE’s programme teams are also currently engaged in training environmental regulators and discussing environmental policy change issues in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Namibia, Swaziland and Zanzibar.

And from CSE’s perspective, “the fundamental idea behind nurturing this association between Africa and India is our belief that as nations and peoples from the Global South, our environmental concerns are similar. We can, therefore, share learnings and experiences and work together towards solutions.”

Accordingly, CSE’s Media Resource Centre and its subsidiary magazine “Down To Earth,” have in collaboration with African Voices for Climate Change and Conservation as well as Media for Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) Kenya, have organised a consultative and skills-enhancement, for African media on agriculture. Participants were from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and India. The workshop took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on September 14 and 15, 2017.

The participants were taken through approaches to understanding and using data as sources for agriculture and environment stories. The Director of the Environment Resources Unit of CSE, Kiran Pandey, and Assistant Editor of “Down To Earth,” Rajit Sengupta, exposed the participants to the appropriate use of data to generate stories. They agreed that the ability of African journalists to properly utilise data will enable them to position themselves “in this era of social and new media, characterised by the speed at which information is sent and the diversity and size of the audience.”

In other words, this is an era that presents journalists with the challenge of how to tell a story for such globalised and at the same time local audience. This is underscored by the fact that current data production is transforming the world and journalists will have to be abreast of events to report accurately.

The two-day event was also used to launch the September 1 to 15, 2017, special edition of “Down to Earth,” titled “Talking About A Revolution,” devoted to African agricultural issues. The magazine’s cover story examines the challenges that have caused Africa to become a net importer of food, despite having the ability to be the world’s food basket; and how this trend could be reversed. It was compiled by a team of African and Indian journalists.

This special edition of “Down to Earth,” was launched by Nairobi-based Environmental Communication Expert and former BBC Presenter, Uduake Amimo. She hoped that, in spite of challenges such as the refusal of African media organisations to invest in the career of journalists, they will find innovative ways to enhance their professional capabilities to address issues in specialized areas including agriculture and environment.

The Managing Editor of “Down to Earth,” Richard Mahapatra, emphasised that it was the duty of the media to create awareness about the reality of what was happening in the agriculture sector. He urged journalists to create awareness “about the fact that the bulk of agricultural produce is wasted; that there is a crisis of failure of agriculture due to aging farming population; use their reportage to innovatively make governments responsible and convince the population including the media that agriculture is lucrative.”

He said: “Journalists need to be principled in seeing agriculture as national security issues, grounded in African values. This should reflect in the collection, packaging, branding and framing of agricultural stories as social and business issues.”

Mr. Mahapatra added: “We have to tell the African agricultural story – we must tell it competently, consistently and professionally.” To this end, he stressed the need for training of journalists, saying, “Training is essential to enable journalists understand issues enough to demystify them in their reportage, apply interpretative skills in analysing issues and empathizing with the affected people.”

Kaah Aaron Yancho of the African Voices for Climate Change and Conservation and Daniel Aghan of MESHA, were grateful to CSE for its support in making the programme a success. Mr. Aghan announced that he would with effect from 2019 personally sponsor one African journalist to participate in a related international conference.