The media and farmer enlightenment

The media plays a crucial role in the growth and development of society. It is this central significance of the media that has earned it the designation ‘fourth estate of the realm’ – only behind the three arms of government; the executive, legislature and judiciary.

The media has since time immemorial led the way in bringing transformative change to society on many fronts. From politics to religion, the media has a proven reputation for engineering positive change that easily spreads like wild-fire.

Despite this pronounced importance of the media, however, the Ghanaian media is unequivocally still miles away from impacting the agric sector in the way many stakeholders would have wished.

Indeed, there is an apparent disconnect with the agric sector on many fronts. Advocacy is generally flaccid, while micro local journalism meant to target farmers and other value chain actors at the grassroots is literally alien to many journalists.

This situation has fostered a dearth of information for many farmers who are not fortunate enough to have acquired basic education. As a chief agent of socialisation, one would hope for the media to be at the centre of championing farmer-education in fulfilment of its development communication mandate – but, alas, the media is fixated on other areas of national life…notably, politics and sports.

This ebbing relationship between the media and farmers, particularly in rural Ghana where farming thrives most, is partly responsible for the shocking revelations that not only lay bare the need to prioritise farmer-education, but to also employ the media as a tool for the eradication of malignant practices that could hurt the farmer fatally, and consequently become a spanner in the wheel of ample productivity.

Recently, a familiar story of gross indiscretion by farmers who are clearly getting a rough ride from illiteracy came to light. The story indicated that the poor handling of agrochemicals by some cocoa farmers is exposing them to danger, and also putting the lives of people and animals in their communities at risk through the pollution of water-bodies from which they drink.

The Bono Regional Manager of the Quality Control Company Limited of the Ghana Cocoa Board, Dr. Joseph Easmon Sarfo Adu, gave the caution – warning cocoa farmers to desist from using empty containers of pesticides and insecticides as drinking cups and containers for salt in their homes.

According to him: “The poisonous chemicals in these pesticides could cause death to humans and animals when they come into contact with food and water through improper disposal; therefore, it is dangerous to use them as household utensils,” he warned.

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He further reiterated an earlier call on the farmers and various spraying teams to refrain from the irresponsible practice of washing their spraying machines in rivers and ponds after using them, since that could contaminate such water-bodies and potentially kill both human beings and animals who drink from such sources.

The success of agricultural development programmes in a developing country like Ghana largely depends on the nature and extent of using mass media to mobilise people to do the right things. In other jurisdictions, Planners realise that agriculture development can be hastened with effective use of the media. But is this country’s media doing enough to help promote the sector that drives the country’s economy?

The answer is an emphatic ‘no’! If a fraction of the attention given politics and sports beats was directed toward agriculture, we would not be begging farmers to avoid using emptied agrochemical containers as makeshift drinking cups in 2019.

Considering the low to moderate literacy levels among farmers in the country, it is imperative to have the media leading the way against a formidable enemy like ignorance. This way, the media can play a significant role in the transfer of modern agricultural technology to literate and illiterate farmers alike within a short time. New technology, research and development and the current issues and challenges faced by farmers would also feature centrally in agricultural programming.

For a country that views agriculture as the mainstay of its economy, emphasis on agricultural development must also take into account a viable media partnership through dissemination of the latest agricultural information among farmers.
While we have not done so great with media focus on agriculture, there’s still a chance to sharply reverse the storyline. Agric-reporting – unlike sports, politics, business, arts and culture – is generally placed on the fringes of mainstream journalism. But, without doubt, it is important to expose and educate farmers to current agriculture information that could influence productivity and have positive impacts all along the value chain.

The need to channel the media’s powers for the benefit of agriculture was notably projected when the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) rolled-out a capacity building initiative aimed at redirecting the media’s attention toward agriculture. As part of the project, some African journalists and researchers from Anglophone countries were trained, in Accra, to promote the coverage of agriculture and rural development issues in mass media.

The five-day training programme aimed at getting common interests and approaches on how communicating research and science can improve and promote agriculture.

With both parties (Journalists and Scientific Researchers) working together, promoting the resources and capacity of science researchers to interact with the media about their research findings sought to benefit farmers – especially in increasing crop productivity and its related advantages.

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In a reaction, Maureen Katafiire – Programme Assistant (High value non-staple crops) of the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) – said that the training guarantees effective communication that will benefit the farmers.

“The training taught me how to communicate better, because now my messages are short, simple and relevant. I know how to identify the targetted audience, and this will improve my working skills on the documentaries and newsletters I produce.”

A representative from Zambia, Darlington Kahiru, said there is need to build a relationship between farmers and journalists so as to easily reach out to farmers with information that will improve the agricultural sector in Africa.

“Having joined forces with the researchers, this is an opportunity for me to learn more about how I can approach them if I want to get the best stories out of them. Occasionally, there is a big gap between farmers and journalists.”

A participant, Emmanuel Natey – a farmer of onions and maize, said they learnt new technical farming skills from the agricultural programme that is aired on radio.

“We used to water our plants directly from the ocean, then during the education programme on the radio, we spoke about our limited harvest and they taught us another irrigation method and the use of sprinkling machines to water our plants,” he narrated.

He also noted that they interact with other farmers and discuss the information that is aired on the agricultural radio show. It gives feedbacks on solutions to their problems.

“If by any chance we don’t understand the farming methods, the radio station connects us to an agricultural expert from government who teaches us more about the method – hence improving our farming skills,” he added.

The media is a seismic liberating force that must be fully utilised for agricultural advancement. Globally, farming has become more of smart work than hard work. But who will drive home this message for our farmers to understand? Indeed, there is no better tool for eradication of ignorance than the media.

The media has successfully downed empires and philosophies where military might has floundered. We must take inspiration from the far-reaching influence of the media to reposition the Ghanaian farmer to unlearn primitive and unprogressive methodologies and practices. This will pave the way to embed in farmers contemporary and progressive farming practices which genuinely guarantee impactful results.

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