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Gambia forms agricultural journalism guild

written by Sang Mendy (2012 IFAJ Master Class fellow)

Two years and two months ago the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists invited me to attend the IFAJ congress in Sweden, through its Master Class program. The Master Class brought together young agricultural journalists from Asia, America, Europe and Africa which I was part off.

IFAJ paved the way for the formation of a national guild which is today growing. I commend Per Henrik Hansen, the secretary of the Danish Federation of Agricultural Journalists, for personally intervening when accessing a Swedish visa was a problem. His personal intervention was sending me an invitation to apply for a Danish visa which I got. He drove me from Copenhagen to Stockholm where the IFAJ congress was taking place.

I am acknowledging him and my fellow Master Class brothers and sisters from developing countries who inspired me to go back to our respective countries and regions and establish guilds. I took the initiative back to The Gambia and with my colleagues such as Amadou Jallow, a senior agricultural journalist in The Gambia; Dawda Bayo a freelance photographer as well as Seedy Darboe, Yaya B Baldeh and Nyima Jadama. These people thought the idea of forming a guild was long overdue. So we set to work.

This period also coincided with a period when we already started talking to the Danish Food and Agricultural Journalists about putting up a joint project to build the capacity of journalists in The Gambia. So the work was not terribly hard because I used what I learned in the Master Class workshop coupled with the guidance of our Danish partners. By November 2012, we managed to form our guild and called it, The Network Agricultural Communicators-NAC.

We sought and registered the network with the Attorney General Chambers as an association geared toward promoting agriculture. Our objective is to promote agriculture through improved agricultural journalism. This we know will be a challenge but we all hold the belief that with determination and support and the cooperation of all stakeholders, we can move mountains by shaping agriculture in The Gambia. And ultimately, NAC got its registration.

Our membership comprises employed journalists, freelancers, photographers, videographers and other agri-communicators. Our members are stationed in the Greater Banjul Area and are community radio journalists from the provinces, as well.

We wanted people to know of our existence so we met key agriculture stakeholders in The Gambia among them, key figures of the ministry of agriculture, NGOs in agriculture such as FAO, UNDP, The National Farmers Platform, Concern Universal, Action Aid, The Gambia and many more.

We did not stop there. We designed a project with our Danish partners-DFAJ to embark on a nationwide tour of farmers and farmer communities as well as the community radio stations across the country. This nationwide tour was a great success because we were knew the limitations of community radio stations when it comes to reporting agriculture. The trip also allowed the tour team to get to know more about the needs of farmers and how the media, especially radio, can be of great help to them. The tour team also met field workers who are mostly used as experts in most of the community radio stations. The tour ended up with a three-day conference with the theme how can improved agricultural journalism help reduce poverty and food insecurity. The tour and seminar gave prominence to NAC and its partner DFAJ because we were covered on TV, radio and newspapers.

The key word that came in during the entire tour and at the seminar was that journalists who report on agriculture need to be trained on effective reporting on agriculture. This came to NAC as a challenge, knowing there are very few schools offering journalism studies in this country, let alone training journalists on agricultural reporting. We are engaging the Gambia Press Union to provide us with a training series while we also continue to work with the DFAJ and its team of journalists in assisting Gambian journalists on effective and efficient reporting of agriculture in The Gambia, knowing about 80 per cent of the population work in the agriculture industry, 70 per cent of whom are women.

Today we are more than determined to engage all stakeholders in the agriculture industry to collaborate in the fight against poverty and food insecurity in The Gambia. It is difficult to do, especially in a country where nine out of 10 farmers are illiterate. This is why we have refocused our efforts in training agricultural communicators, especially community radio journalists, on how to present community driven agricultural programs with a goal of informing farmers on best practices and changing their attitudes. This we believe is the best and fastest way to impacting farming.

The challenges are numerous, but most notable among them is the lack of funds to offer training, and the lack of experts to train the agricultural journalists in the country. This is why we open up our doors to international cooperation with experienced journalists groups that report on agriculture, the IFAJ, international farmer organizations and non-governmental organizations in The Gambia for any form of technical support to build the capacity of our handicapped reporters.

We at NAC are determined to formalize our desire to join the IFAJ. In our view, the more we network with colleagues across the globe, the more our members will be exposed to the best practices which will impact on their work and eventually the farmers.

Today, we have built a blog which we intend to change into a website. We also have links on YouTube for some of our completed activities.

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