Friday, 4 September 2009

Media, Agriculture and Climate Change

Joachim Ezeji

The strongest impacts of climate change in Africa are associated with rainfall and water availability; and agriculture in Africa is completely leaned on both hence its enormous vulnerability. An understanding therefore of how local communities perceive and consider changes occurring in their communities (such as water shortage) or how they interpret the climate crisis can help define strategies for appropriate responses and specific applications to reduce vulnerability to climatic variability and change. The questions to consider involve the inclusion of local knowledge in the definition and diffusion of long-term application of adaptation policies. As efforts to develop and diffuse adaptation mechanisms in Africa and elsewhere grow in momentum, one major constraint has been the failure to develop an effective communication strategy to drive the process.

Effective communication as a sub-set of development needs to be developed in order to get the message down to the bottom of the pyramid where those most affected i.e. the small holder farmers agglutinate. The concept of information in general, and of climate change adaptation information in particular, as a resource for effective adaptation and development, needs to be domesticated well beyond the current cozy confines of conference rooms and research hubs. Adaptation has been defined (AMMA, 2008) as a strategy of responses that aims to bring the potential impacts of climate change down to a minimum and reduce the negative effects for the lowest cost.

As such measures get developed, it becomes urgent to educate people including government officials, agricultural extension officers and farmers on what they are. Local policy makers, planners and administrators need to recognize that information is indispensable to the adaptation process. This is apparent with due cognizance of the fact that in most parts of Africa, the essential information mechanisms and infrastructural facilities are not yet sufficiently developed to foster the generation, storage, preservation, retrieval, dissemination and utilization of information. However, effective communication is seen as an essential tool for the establishment and maintenance of good social and working relationships and it enables people to exercise control over their environment. The purpose of communication is to bring about change of attitude, knowledge, skills and aspiration of the receivers.

In Nigeria, various communication media are commonly used to transmit all sorts of information to people. Some of these include magazines, leaflets, newsletters, newspapers, pamphlets, radio, internet, handset phones and television, among others. None of these media has proven excellent in this regard because of a number of factors, most salient though latent is that most of the journalists or program presenters are not experts in the field and often rely on what they read or where instructed/directed to do. Short term courses by journalist has not been effective in eclipsing this constraint. What has helped over the years are only where such journalists have been on that bit for years, hence pooling a great wealth of experience and exposure. As at today, many journalist in Africa are still at cross roads on the difference between mitigation and adaptation. You need to read their articles or stories to understand what I mean. Journalists need to have a background of good training at least to the University level in order to understand current dynamic global debates such as those on agriculture, Climate change and carbon trading etc. A three day training or conference participation in Brussels or Lagos cannot confer all that knowledge on them.

What I am suggesting in effect is that everybody should be and function as a media. Word of mouth is the best advert. Use issues as this as ice breakers and see what they know. Extension farmers still remains a veritable and useful tool. A combination of media, word of mouth and extension services is the best approach. In my organization, Rural Africa Water Development Project, a Nigerian NGO; we mainstreamed effective communication into many of our pro-poor programs. And one lesson we have learnt and which we always share is the fact that beyond stirring awareness, this has the extra benefit of building ownership and a high sense of community participation in the projects. People living in same community or in the same trade or profession should at least. freely share information within themselves.

An interesting study by Agwu et al (2008) in Nigeria sought to determine farmers’ adoption of improved agricultural technologies disseminated via radio farmer programme in Enugu State, Nigeria. The findings of this study revealed that major source of information on improved agricultural technologies to farmers were fellow farmers; then followed by radio programmes. A greater proportion (96.3%) accepted radio as a useful source of information on improved agricultural technologies. However, only 23.7% of the respondents were found to have listened to the radio farmer programme. The study further showed that the major relevant technologies disseminated were harvesting of yam and storage in barns and pest control in food crop farms.

The study also revealed that the radio farmer programme had little effect on enhancing adoption of improved technologies by the respondents. A greater proportion (56.3%) of the respondents were not satisfied with the radio farmer programme. Only age, farming experience and membership of farmers’ organization significantly influenced adoption of improved agricultural technologies disseminated through the radio while the major constraints to adoption of technologies include inappropriate scheduling of programme, inability to ask relevant questions and get the feedback from the radio presenter and language used in presenting the programme. Based on these findings, it was concluded that the present level of adoption of the improved agricultural technologies disseminated via radio farmer programme to farmers in Enugu state is low.

Finally, the media-newspapers, television, and radio- represent a special communication challenge to development. Approached wisely, the media may carry your story as you want it framed. Mishandle the media, on the other hand, your message may be publicly skewed. In engaging the media, you will need to identify the different segments of your audience and craft appropriate messages for each, and these include the local small holder farmers.

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