Dr Olufemi A. Oladunni, executive director and CEO of the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute in Nigeria, underscored the crucial role of agricultural journalism in emphasising the significance of prioritising agriculture across all levels of society to ensure food security and boost economic growth.
In his speech, delivered by his technical assistant Kingsley Olurinde, Oladunni highlighted the considerable potential within Nigeria’s agricultural sector, encapsulating its vast landmass, abundant water resources, and climatic conditions suitable for agriculture.
Oladunni is among the many dignitaries attending the first National Conference on Agricultural Journalism. The two-day event – held at the Reiz Continental Hotel in Abuja – is hosted by Farming Farmers Farms, Prime Progress and the Journalism Communication and Media Centre. It is backed by the Nigeria Media Innovation Programme (NAMIP), implemented by the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF).
Despite the potential of the country’s agriculture sector, Oladunni emphasised that its true potential remains largely untapped, largely due to existing challenges that have led to underperformance.
“Journalism possesses enormous potentials to initiate and effect tangible changes and improvements in any human society,” stated Oladunni, underlining the transformative power of the media.
He further stressed, “Given the humungous agriculture-enabling natural resources Nigeria is endowed with and the apparent underperformance of the nation’s agricultural sector, agricultural journalism has an incredibly large space to thrive and impact the sector positively.”
In a call for action, he underscored the necessity of raising awareness about the imperative of agriculture and encouraging investment in the sector.
“There is a lot of indifference among critical stakeholders towards agricultural investment,” Oladunni noted, acknowledging the challenges faced by investors due to low returns on agricultural investments compared to other business ventures.
However, he emphasised, “The need to ensure national food and nutrition security is eminent and urgent. Hence, agricultural journalism needs to lead the sensitization and advocacy campaign for more public investment in the sector towards creating a more business-enabling environment.”
Further addressing the role of agricultural journalism as policy informants, Oladunni urged journalists to serve as a bridge between stakeholders and policymakers.
“Policymakers need to be fed with specific, timely and adequate information on the challenges confronting different categories of actors in the agricultural sector,” he remarked. By amplifying the voices of rural farmers and conveying their concerns to policymakers, agricultural journalists can drive the formulation of targeted interventions to address sector-specific issues.
Oladunni emphasised the need to inspire the younger generation’s interest in agriculture, aligning it with the Sustainable Development Goals. He encouraged journalists to showcase innovative practices and technologies that promise enhanced productivity and returns on investment. “Innovative means must be deployed to arouse their interest in agriculture through the development and dissemination of inspiring content on modern agricultural practices and technologies,” he articulated.
Media’s power for positive change in agriculture
Dr Adewale Kupoluyi, editor-in-chief of FarmingFarmersFarms, a newspaper primarily focused on the reporting of agricultural news, underscored the potential of media to not only inform but also influence positive change. His address served as a reminder that the pen can indeed be mightier than the plough in building a resilient and prosperous agricultural future for Nigeria.
“The conference offers a unique platform to learn new things, provide network avenues for investors and other stakeholders in the agriculture value chain as well as serve as a forum to highlight how the media of communication can fill this vacuum by knowing what needs to be done to boost farming, promote agricultural production, and ensure that food security is attained in Nigeria and that it is doable,” said Kupoluyi.
Veteran voice champions agenda-setting in agricultural journalism
Reflecting on the evolution of agricultural journalism, Dr Godson Ononiwu, a seasoned figure in the field, recalled efforts from four decades ago when agricultural journalists sought unity and influence. He encouraged current practitioners to remain steadfast, emphasising that their journey is supported by numerous witnesses who share their passion.
Drawing on his extensive travels across Nigeria, Ononiwu highlighted the diverse landscape and the varying challenges faced by farmers throughout the country. He also noted his pivotal role in establishing communication units across Nigeria, a development that eventually shifted the political discourse surrounding agriculture. Politicians, he pointed out, began to recognise the significance of media in influencing policies and public sentiment.
Ononiwu urged current journalists to be proactive in shaping the narrative. He stressed the need to prompt research and encourage agenda-setting, rather than merely relying on existing research. By collaborating with research institutions, journalists can inspire a continuous flow of relevant information and insights. He also noted that consistent messaging can lead to issues being taken more seriously and addressed effectively.
In a plea for collaboration and synergy, Ononiwu highlighted the necessity for united efforts to advance agricultural journalism in Nigeria. He emphasised that working together, journalists can magnify their impact and help transform the agricultural sector, playing a vital role in the country’s progress.
Role, challenges, and media influence in Nigeria
Obinna Chukwuezie, the founder of the Journalism Communication and Media Centre in Nigeria, highlighted the intrinsic value of agriculture as a pillar of sustenance, healing, and nourishment. He emphasised that agriculture’s significance extends beyond mere sustenance, encompassing healing properties and more.
Delving into the critical role of the country’s agricultural sector, Chukwuezie unveiled staggering statistics that underscore its importance. The sector contributed to 21% of Nigeria’s GDP in 2015, serving as a vital economic engine. Additionally, he highlighted its role in supporting rural livelihoods, as 53% of the population resides in rural areas. A poignant reminder of agriculture’s resilience emerged as Chukwuezie discussed its capacity to produce high-quality food despite challenges posed by a changing climate.
With an arable land expanse of 34 million hectares in 2015, agriculture’s significance also extends to employment generation, offering livelihoods to nearly a third of Nigeria’s workforce.
However, Chukwuezie stressed that despite this, 70% of rural dwellers are subsistence smallholders, indicating room for growth and transformation.
In an era of increasing information reliance, Chukwuezie spotlighted the evolving landscape of agriculture into an information-intensive field. Here, the media plays a pivotal role in disseminating valuable insights to rural farmers and other stakeholders across the value chain. Chukwuezie pointed out that agricultural journalists hold a unique role as conduits for farmers to share their experiences and amplify their voices.
Describing the nature of value-chain reporting, Chukwuezie emphasised its comprehensive scope, spanning interactions across the entire agricultural chain. He highlighted the multidisciplinary nature of this form of journalism, requiring knowledge in politics, economics, science, technology, and more. Journalists, he noted, often traverse remote areas to capture stories and insights, contributing to a holistic representation of the sector’s dynamics.
Crowning Nigeria’s agricultural achievements, Chukwuezie revealed its remarkable standing as the sixth largest global producer of farm output, ranking first in Africa. The country’s significant role in specific crops, such as cassava, and its leading cattle population further solidify its agricultural prominence.
Capping off his presentation with an intriguing statistic, Chukwuezie noted that Lagos alone consumes a staggering 8 000 cows daily, shedding light on the immense scale of food consumption and production in Nigeria’s bustling urban centres.