Medium or mediator?
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CTA. 2003. Medium or mediator?. Spore 104. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47881
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Without the impassioned engagement of the agricultural press of the ACP countries, agriculture will not arrive where we want to carry out it.
. We, in agriculture, shall not be where we must without the passion of the agricultural press of ACP countries. Read all about it. The end of the month is always a critical time in farming. It's the time to review sowing campaigns, check forage stocks, plan weeding, maintain tools and machines. Much depends on the weather, and on whether such inputs as fuels, fertiliser and cash are obtainable, all of them having become less reliable - with some believing that even the climate has been given a dose of structural adjustment, so variable has it become! Depending on the nature of the agricultural business, salaries and bills are due to be paid, reports written, funding proposals delivered, even tax or insurance forms completed. All in all, a familiar pattern, shaped by deep-rooted farmer savvy and by bureaucracy, and often recorded in those little diaries known as farmers' almanacs. Many drums, one beat The same regularity, quarterly, monthly, weekly or even daily, dominates the life of a newspaper or magazine publisher. This holds whether you're in charge of a community broadsheet, or one of the recently emerged papers in many an ACP country which have been welcomed as flag-bearers of plurality and press freedom. And it also holds for the new wave of farmers' magazines sweeping through our rural landscapes. Take the case of The Farmer's Voice (see Spore 101), the Cameroonian monthly which is a role model for many agricultural newspapers. In the last week of each month, the editors of the French and English editions get together with the publisher and editor-in-chief, in their orderly and none-too-spacious offices in central Yaoundé, the nation's capital. So it was with their meeting at the end of February 2003. They reviewed last-minute adjustments to the layout and content of the March issue. Then they turned their minds to the April issue; they finalised stories; they selected as many readers' letters as they could; they discussed the impact of a recent Spore article about their Website; and they caught up on the report about the distribution of the February edition (see yellow box). Similar scenes take place in the editorial offices of hundreds of agricultural periodicals across the globe, be it the editorial conference of the daily agricultural bulletin in Suva, Fiji, or Spore's own bi-monthly committee, described in Spore 99 and 101 respectively. Or the monthly sessions of the new Farmers' Monthly magazine, striving to develop a niche in South Africa's new sector of emerging farmers. Whose news? How much are they all one of a kind, these newspapers and magazines? Some belong to a particular sector, such as CitriNews of the Citrus Growers Association of Belize or the well-endowed and colourful Horticulture in Malawi magazine. A few, such as The African Farmer and Benin's monthly Agri-Culture, are explicitly commercial, struggling to stay above the break-even point in a fragile market. The standard model of an ACP farmers' magazine is not just about farming but about rural life and environments in general. An example is Communautés Africaines, published by the APICA NGO enterprise in Douala, Cameroon (again!), and approaching its third decade as a newsletter about small-scale agricultural technologies, with handy hints for improving village infrastructures in water supply, lighting or education. It has never erred from the classical model of a simple standard design, once typed but now produced using simple desk-top publishing software. The AgriPromo bulletins of INADES-Formation in Côte d'Ivoire and Ecoforum from the Environment Liaison Centre International in Kenya have shown similar staying power. They are all driven by a service attitude, with an almost evangelical fervour, and external funding. The most recent wave of publications has come from the now ubiquitous federations of farmers' organisations (FFO), typified by La voix des producteurs, produced by the Fédération des unions des producteurs du Bénin (FUPRO). They carry an FFO's multiple burdens, with an esoteric mix of market information, crop guidelines and reports on changes in the organisation. The same mixture is found in Ground-Up which promotes the messages of the Participatory Ecological Land-Use Management (PELUM) Association, a network of 130 FFOs and other civil society bodies in southern Africa. As these federations grow into their multi-task roles of being service-provider in the village and field, and representative in local and national political fora, they will no doubt separate the institutional from the technical in their range of publications. These are best kept apart. Do you believe? What keeps these publications going? Faith, faith, and more faith. Their financial viability is their weakest point but the demand, if not a paying market, is strong. The sums are simple enough: major income does not come from sales, but from grants, loans and increasingly advertising. In a measured way, this is the only way to keep income at a level that will allow investment in new production technology, in the crucial distribution chain and in sustainable staffing. Information is in better supply, in part through sharing news through the Internet. The transformation of information into knowledge is a skill that will develop as training in agricultural journalism and professional networks grow. As the mighty World Association of Newspapers is expected to conclude at its June 2003 meeting in Ireland on 'Strengthening the Future of Newspapers', the viability of any newspaper will depend on its ability to develop additional information services and use new media. Then it will thrive. And in the brittle world of agricultural periodicals in ACP countries, thrive they must. When Spore interviewed the editor of The Farmer's Voice for this article, the talk was not about the newspaper's image or its editorial process. We talked for hours about how it is used by readers as a forum to settle, or record the settling of, the occasional tensions and stresses that are inevitable in the dynamics of local development initiatives. When readers make a mediator of the press, the publishers must make sure they stay in business.
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