By Christopher Bendana
I love travel, and international conferences present some of the few opportunities where journalists get to travel. Travel is expensive and journalism is not in tandem with good money so many journalists rarely travel without support.
So, when I saw an opportunity, a call for a fellowship for agricultural journalists to attend the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists annual Congress in South Africa where I would travel and as well improve on my agricultural reporting, I was more than eager for it. I was not disappointed.
I was among the ten selected journalists for the IFAJ DuPont Pioneer Master Class program.
As an awardee, I attended the Boot Camp preceding the congress, attended the congress and participated in numerous field visits.
From the Boot Camp, which took place at Leriba Hotel outside Pretoria, I learned from other agricultural journalists that the agricultural challenges in many countries were the same as in my country Uganda; climate change leading to droughts and limited government support to the sector among others.
I also learned the limited knowledge of agriculture and general science among journalists covering agriculture.
From the field visits to the DuPont Pioneer research complex, and at AgriSA, I learned that technology is able to solve some of the major challenges in the agriculture sector and increase its productivity. I learned aspects like improving soil fertility, the importance of good quality and better agronomic practices.
I also learned the importance of communication and journalism in helping the farmer learn about new technologies
A point in case came from Scott Angle, the CEO for the International Fertilizer Development Center who, speaking at the Africa Forum prior to the Congress, highlighted the importance of communication.
“You are the multiplier of the information,” he said in reference to dissemination of scientific innovation.
Theo De Jager, president of the Pan African Farmers’ Organization was candid.
“The world sees agriculture through your eyes,” he urged. “Make it attractive, sexy.”
As a biotech journalist, South Africa also provided me the right learning experience. Syngenta, Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer were involved as sponsors of the Boot Camp and Congress, and as big biotech companies, they highlighted the importance of biotechnology in addressing agricultural challenges.
Biotechnology offers potential for breeding crops that are resistant to pests and diseases, crops whose nutrition value has been enhanced and drought tolerant crops.
On a final note, unlike other congresses and conferences I have attended that are held only in a hotel setting, the IFAJ congress gave me the opportunity to explore South Africa’s agricultural sector in the fields. This included visits to Pannar Seed in Delmas, Rossgrow, visits to Thithombo Game Breeders and the wine belt of the Hex Valley in the Western Cape. It was a practical learning experience touching the raw maize and table grapes sectors.
It also provided me an opportunity to visit Western Cape University, one of the leading agricultural universities on the continent. IFAJ is the ideal organization to connect with other agricultural journalists from other parts of the world. Through these new innovations we can easily reach each part of the globe through information sharing. I am now working with IFAJ to start a Guild in Uganda.