Middle East Forum a Model for IFAJ Global Outreach

By Hugh Maynard

IFAJ Global Manager

IFAJ has expanded the number of member countries since 2015 by a third. Despite this increase, there are still regions of the world where only a few member countries are present, one of them being the Middle East.

Even though the region is a substantial area of agricultural production, only Turkey, Iran and Israel are IFAJ members, all of them new arrivals since the 2015 constitutional changes that broadened membership eligibility. Hence the motivation to organize an event in the Middle East even though IFAJ only had a short list of individual names to work with.

What interest would there be in the Middle East in IFAJ’s program of guild development, professional and youth development, and global outreach?

Turns out there was quite a lot. Working in partnership with the Turkish Guild of Agricultural Journalists to host the event, and the World Federation of Science Journalists for promotion, 40 agricultural journalists from the Middle East and surrounding countries responded to the invitation to attend a forum in Istanbul from May 2-4, 2018.

In the end, 25 agricultural journalists were able to attend from Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey. The forum was also organized as part of the 6th Food Safety Congress which provided the journalists with additional content for their reporting once they returned home.

(See also IFAJ President Owen Roberts’ blog, “The Courier”, on the Agricultural Journalists Forum in Turkey)

The discussions during the forum would not be unfamiliar to agricultural journalists in other regions. The different needs of specialist or full-time agricultural journalists versus those who cover the topic for a general publication such as a daily newspaper. Issues of income, familiarity with complex content, support from organizations such as IFAJ for training and certification, attracting young people into the profession . . . many of the same topics raised during the IFAJ Africa Forum held in conjunction with the 2017 congress in South Africa were also at the forefront during the Istanbul event.

Perhaps more remarkable was the affinity amongst the participants, most of whom had never met before. Iranians, Iraqis and Israelis all seated at the same table easily found commonality around topics important to their profession. The buzz during the meeting coalesced into a unanimous expression to create a regional network to help establish country guilds and provide support for the region’s agricultural journalists.

Subsequent to the 2017 Africa Forum, another seven African countries have applied for IFAJ membership. This demonstrates that the benefits of IFAJ activities such as these forums and the Master Class (open to agricultural journalists from non-member developing countries) are successful in not only engaging individual agricultural journalists but also leading to the establishment of associations to support the profession on a local basis.

Pictured is Aliza Zezak from the Israeli guild who was one of several forum participants who spoke as part of a panel on access to information during the congress.

The model works – bringing individuals together provides a platform for raising and finding ways to address topics of common interest and make progress in establishing networks and associations for long-term support. Whether structured as a master class, a forum, or even just a press event, combining agricultural content with professional development activities sets the stage for the collective framework that allows these activities to continue into the future.

So, if you know of an event that would attract the attention of agricultural journalists, could provide opportunities for sponsorship and might serve as a platform to establish new guilds, rejuvenate existing guilds, or form new networks, get in touch with globaloffice@ifaj.org.

One of the participants at the Middle East Forum was Oded Hon from the Israel Association of Agricultural Journalists. Here is a letter from him describing the experience:

Dear friends and colleagues, agricultural journalists,

I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the extraordinary experience I had at the beginning of May this year at IFAJ Middle East Forum for Agricultural Journalists in Istanbul which was held under the 6th Food Safety Congress.

Meeting with you enriched me both professionally and socially and created, hopefully for all of us, not only a desire to keep contact in the future but also a real belief that interpersonal relationships can lead to cooperation that serves the causes which are dear to us all.

My meetings, as an Israeli journalist, with journalists from Iraq, Jordan, Kurdistan, Tunisia and other countries made me feel that despite the tension existing between some countries in the Middle East, the professional-personal relations may be helpful in reducing tensions.

I extend a special thank you to Owen Roberts, the President of IFAJ, to Hugh Maynard, the Global Manager of IFAJ, and to Ismail Ugural, President of TGAJ, the Turkish Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

Thanks to them and their teams we had an interesting, professional, friendly conference with exceptional hospitality resulting in a strong will to maintain contacts and act according to Owen Roberts’ words: “To work together”.

Best regards,

Oded Hon, Israel