Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day two of Agknowledge Africa Knowledge Share Fair features focus groups

Posted by Roxanna Samii, originally posted on IFAD social reporting blog

Day two of the Agknowledge Africa Share Fair featured a series of focus groups. Participants had a wide choice and seamlessly distributed themselves among nine different focus groups.

I attended a fascinating session entitled "reporting agriculture" followed by a frustrating session on "mobile devices".

Susanna Thorp from WRENmedia gave a great presentation highlighting the challenges and opportunities of reporting on agricultural related issues. "Agriculture is a multidimensional and multifaceted subject", said Susanna. I was so pleased to hear Susanna refer to smallholder farmers as entrepeneurs. This statement resonates exactly with IFAD's vision!

She then proceeded to touch upon another topic close to IFAD's heart - young people. "We need to reach out to the young people, agriculture is not SUBSISTENCE only. Agriculture is a source of business!", said Susanna.

Not pre-empting the youth session later during the day, we talked how we can keep young people in the farming business. There was a consensus that for this to happen farming has to become a source of income.

The participants recognized that farmers do farming in an integrated manner and they do not just tackle one single aspect. This may be a challenge when one has to report about the topic. At the same time everyone recognized that farmers need to trust their information/knowledge source.

Moving to challenges and opportunities of reporting on agriculture, participants mentioned that one of the challenges we collectively face is to make journalists understand the value of reporting about agriculture. How can we make agriculture an enticing and attractive subject matter?

Rob Burnet shared a wonderful story of convergence of various technologies to communicate effectively. So we start with gold old radio. There was unanimous recognition that radio is an important communication tool for farmers to share information and knowledge.

Rob talked about an FM station run out of Kenya by young people called Shujaaz. What these young people are doing is absolutely remarkable. Besides running the FM station, they are disseminating agriculture related stories via a comic book, which they are distributing through the National Kenyan newspaper and through 12,000 M-PESA kiosks!!!

Moving on from radio, more convergence with social media tools. also has a Facebook account with over 5000 followers, uses Twitter and of course the ubiquitous SMS messaging.

Susanna concluded the session by saying: "If you want to sell anything - especially if you wish to share and report on agriculture you need to be passionate!" And believe me there were many many passionate participants under the tent!!

Later during the day, I attended the mobile session and also virtually participated in the youth session thanks to Gauri's tweet coming out of that session.

I was very frustrated by the mobile session, as I heard more and more about pilot programmes which did not quite make it to the real world. This is really sad. I fail to understand why we need to duplicate and reinvent the wheel when it comes to developing mobile applications. How many market information applications do we need? How many pest control applications do we need.

I came out of that session thinking that there is little or no hope for private-public partnership. I think the only viable way of making any head way is for governments to play a much more prominent role and take things into hand!

In my virtual conversation with Gauri it was nice to see IPSAfrica (@ipsafrica) chipping. I hope they take the suggestion of hosting a virtual converation with young African people to see what is needed for them to stay in rural areas and become the future entrepreneurs!

We finished the morning with a lovely typical Ethiopian lunch. As today was Wednesday, we had a special "fasting lunch", which was based on beans, fish and vegetables!

I've now become an addict to the Bunna, so I proceeded to the Bunna corner and thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful Ethiopian coffee.

Tonight promises to be an exciting night. We'll be having a barbecue and we've been promised good music by the best DJ in town!!!

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