The Story Behind the Story: Mahamadi Sebogo on his Star Prize-Winning Article Report on the impact of COVID-19 on market gardeners in Bagré and Loumbila (Burkina Faso)

By Mahmadi Sebogo, winner of the 2021 IFAJ Star Prize for Writing

My report on the impact of COVID-19 on market gardeners in Bagré and Loumbila, Report on the impact of COVID-19 on market gardeners in Bagré and Loumbila (https://www.sidwaya.info/blog/2020/06/18/maraichage-a-bagre-et-a-loumbila-les-cris-de-detresse-des-producteurs/), fell like a hair in the soup. It was not on my agenda.

Initially I had a project to report on artisanal fishing as a source of employment for rural youth in these two localities (https://www.sidwaya.info/blog/2020/06/09/peche-artisanale-une-pourvoyeuse-demplois-peu-valorisee/ ) in March 2020. A few days before the field trip, the first government measures to curb the pandemic were announced. The capital, Ouagadougou, and other major cities were quarantined.

When I was preparing to go out into the field again after the restrictive measures were lifted, an idea crossed my mind (perhaps a journalistic flair!): “Why not take advantage of this rural trip to highlight the impact of this global health crisis on off-season agricultural production in these two localities, which are part of the country’s major vegetable-producing areas?”

I shared the project with a senior editor who recognized its relevance and gave me advice. A look at the coverage of the impact of the coronavirus disease gives me further comfort. Indeed, during the first two months of the outbreak of Covid-19 in Burkina Faso, the local media focused on the consequences of the disease on the urban economy. In the same vein, I produced a short report on the impact of the pandemic on the capital’s bakeries and pastry shops (https://www.sidwaya.info/blog/2020/04/06/covid-19-la-traversee-du-desert-des-boulangers-et-patissiers/ ). The consequences of the pandemic on the rural agricultural economy were rarely on the media’s agenda.

It was therefore important not to miss this opportunity to see what farmers, in this case market gardeners in the interior of the country, are experiencing as a result of this global health crisis which has suddenly and drastically restricted access to markets. Especially since it is not every day that we have the means to carry out reporting missions in the deep country.

A colleague from a local radio station in Bagré and Sidwaya’s correspondent in Ziniaré made a great contribution to the preparation of the mission, particularly in putting us in contact with the market gardeners. I would like to pay tribute to my colleague from Ziniaré, Abdias Cyprien Sawadogo, who died two months after the report was published.

In preparing my reports, I placed particular emphasis on mapping the key players involved in the topic. The identification and diversification of sources then became a crucial step. For me, the quality of a journalistic production is based on the consistency of its content, which depends on the quality of the sources, but also on the journalist’s ability to have the sources communicate, to get them to open up! The quality of the writing style comes second, supporting the content.

In the field, I found producers who had their hearts in their mouths, not only because of the disastrous consequences of the disease on their income, but also because of the recurrent problems of the lack of infrastructure for preserving their produce and regulating the market. The strong desire of those who define themselves as the disenfranchised to express their frustration facilitated our work in the field. Those left behind, not only by the public authorities, but also by the media. The media productions, which always focus on political and urban news, do not give the place they deserve to this rural peasant world, which represents more than 70% of the Burkinabe population.

In the field, it is imperative to cast a wide net and collect as much information as possible, a principle that is dear to me. But not without losing sight of the colossal and tedious task of organizing, constructing and ordering the multitude of data collected that awaits you. This stage is central to putting to music the often discordant sounds collected here and there. I invest all my intelligence and energy in it. Because, once this exercise has been successfully completed, the rest, especially the writing on the paper, flows like water.
The main difficulty I encountered was the question of time. For a deadline of 48 hours, initially to carry out a single report, it is necessary to juggle, within the same amount of time, the carrying out of the second report, especially in two localities distant by more than 200 km. The collection of information and the appointments are then carried out on the double! And as usual, when I commit to a story, I put my heart into it!

This story reinforced my commitment to putting the rural world at the centre of my productions. And to see that it was a report on the rural world that earned me this prestigious award, my first international award in my young career as a journalist, made me feel very good!

Read an English translation of Mahamadi Sebogo’s winning story here

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