The international aid community often relies on the media to divulge its campaigns and programs — but what about using print, radio and television directly for agricultural development and fighting climate change?
In Bangladesh, local and national media outlets are being encouraged to take part in projects supporting food security, climate-smart technology, green solutions for crops and other agriculture interventions in a new drive led by veteran journalist Shykh Seraj.
Seraj — distinguished in 2009 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization with the A.H. Boerma award for his outstanding contribution to agriculture development through reporting — believes additional funding from donors and technical assistance imparted by aid implementers could trigger a “silent revolution” among his country’s farmers.
“Documentaries, talk shows, radio programs and other [content about agriculture] could be funded by donors [and] successfully influence community people, policymakers, government, civil society and other stakeholders,” he told Devex. “Such programs could highlight individual success stories, best practices, and stories of field intervention.”
Community radio stations should also be supported to reach far-flung rural farming villages, he added.
More foreign aid support to agricultural development in the media could be more successful than international organizations carrying out those programs on their own, according to Niaz Ahmed Khan, development studies professor at the University of Dhaka and former representative in Bangladesh for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
“[The] media is carrying out different programs on agriculture and community-based development issues, though these activities are very limited,” he told Devex.
In particular, Khan explained that print publications are publishing regular features and reports on food technology, food security, crops production, fish culture, technology transfer and success stories in certain rural communities.
Khan encouraged aid implementers to arrange fellowships and workshops for agricultural development journalists so they can enhance their proficiency in these issues to better report on them. The training should include local reporters as well as those based in Dhaka and working for online media.
Agriculture media programming
In Bangladesh, the media struggles to reach far-flung areas of the country, precisely where efforts to divulge sustainable agricultural development initiatives are most needed.
After the country won independence from Pakistan in 1971, radio was practically the only way for farmers to get their news, which rarely included any item pertaining to their livelihood. It was not until the 1980s when Seraj began to host a regular television program on agricultural development. Today, he continues to anchor a weekly national talk show about agricultural issues that is avidly watched by not only farmers but also economists, policymakers, government officials, the international aid community in the country and and other stakeholders.
Since 2005, the host moderates a yearly pre-budget panel discussion on allocations for agriculture, farmers’ concerns and rural development with representatives from the national and local governments, community leaders, civil society advocates and farmers to debate agriculture issues and push for a more agriculture-friendly national budget.
But will donors be willing to give funds directly to the media? Not for now.
“As of now, direct financing of media … is not in our program pipeline. However, we closely work with the media to promote development, and transparency and accountability, by enabling ADB’s stakeholders — especially people affected by development activities — to better participate in the decisions that affect them,” Gobinda Sar, senior external relations officer for the Asian Development Bank in Dhaka, told Devex.
Sheikh Ahaduzzaman, assistant FAO representative in Bangladesh, admitted there is a gap between the media and the aid community, while Paula Bianca Ferrer from IRRI noted they prefer to concentrate on specific campaign goals rather than an ongoing communications relationship with print, radio and television.
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