Breaking new ground with Brazilian agricultural journalists

by Owen Roberts

President, IFAJ

In April, members of the Rede Brasil de Jornalistas Agro (Brazilian Agricultural Journalists’ Network) hosted representatives from the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) at Syngenta’s national headquarters in Sao Paulo for a professional development and information exchange event.

Brazil is not an IFAJ member. But that could change, as the world gets smaller thanks to technology and global development. So IFAJ and the Brazilian network designed an event to introduce the groups to each other, see where their interests intersect and discuss collaboration.

Brazil is a major agricultural exporting nation and home to an active network of agricultural journalists.  The country’s 5.2 million farms are the world’s largest producers and exporters of sugar, coffee, tobacco and orange juice. They’re tops in global poultry exports, second in soybean production and exports and third in corn exports. And they have the world’s largest commercial cattle herd, around 200 million head. That kind of production and export activity keeps agricultural journalists there busy writing and broadcasting stories, in conventional and digital media.

In the early planning stages, IFAJ officials and their key Brazilian contact, veteran agricultural journalist and photographer Luiz Pitombo, envisioned a gathering where a handful of curious Brazilian agricultural journalists could meet informally with a few members of the federation visiting Brazil as part of the federation’s Exposure 4 Development (E4D) program.

The E4D program, sponsored this year by DeLaval, creates opportunities for small groups of IFAJ members—selected for the program by a jury— to explore production and marketing in countries with dynamic, developing agricultural economies. Over the past several years, E4D has given chances for members to visit non-member countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America—including, most recently, Brazil.

As it turns out, Brazilian agricultural journalists were clearly interested in connecting globally. The envisioned half-dozen participants grew to a standing-room-only crowd of 75 (and 20 or so more online), including some of Brazil’s best-known agricultural journalists, welcomed by event host Syngenta. Poultry producer Cobb-Vantress also contributed to the meeting.

Brazilian organizer Pitombo and his co-organizing counterpart Steve Werblow of the USA, IFAJ’s secretary general, created a program designed to stimulate discussion and enlighten both groups.

For example, IFAJ members learned Rede Brasil de Jornalista is an independent, not-for-profit network that prioritizes relationship building and content generation. It aims to strengthen agricultural journalism activity in all regions of Brazil, exchange ideas and – of particular interest to IFAJ — stimulate the relationship with international colleagues.

Owing to the size of the country – it’s the world’s fifth largest country – network members stay connected mainly through a very active Facebook group. This group is administered by six network members, a strategy that reflects the network’s overall decentralized management approach. It does not have a constitution and executive, features that characterize a typical IFAJ guild.

At the Sao Paulo meeting, Rede Brasil de Jornalistas learned that besides global outreach, IFAJ is also committed to professional development (embodied in programs such as E4D) and youth development. In fact, one of the IFAJ presenters, Tullikki Viilo of Finland, was a participant in the 2018 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism program, in The Netherlands.  

Viilo, along with Werblow, Brazilian agricultural journalist Vera Ondei, Argentinian agricultural journalists’ guild president Adalberto Rossi and me, presented perspectives on trends in digital journalism and communications, a vital part of connecting with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders in a network as large and dynamic as Brazil’s. Other topics of common interest discussed included the role of agricultural journalists in knowledge mobilization, as well as the outlook for print and traditional broadcast media.

“Brazilian agricultural journalists are aware of the importance of their country worldwide in food production,” Pitombo says. “There are new opportunities to improve our connection with other journalists globally through IFAJ, especially with the great changes brought by the digital world. I think this was an important meeting to arouse interest…it was organized by agricultural journalists, for agricultural journalists, which ensured we focused on our professional activities. We need to create a permanent working group to move the Brazil network forward.”

Rede Brasil de Jornalistas Agro (Brazilian Agricultural Journalists’ Network)

Nearly 100 agricultural journalists participated in the Rede Brasil de Jornalistas Agro (Brazilian Agricultural Journalists’ Network) professional development and information exchange event with representatives from the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) at Syngenta’s national headquarters in Sao Paulo in early April 2019.