Written by: Joan Apio- Communication Officer (RUFORUM)
In a discipline that has existed for eons, there is a legitimate question: “Why should agriculture care about social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube?”
Michele Payn-Knoper, a self-described Community Catalyst, Advocate, Farm and Food Connector who established the US-based Cause Matters Corp., has a simple and powerful answer: “It’s really quite simple. Mass influence. Facebook reached 150 million users nearly three times faster than a cell phone. If you’re not at the table, you can’t be a part of constructing the conversation about nutrition, science and agriculture.”
In Africa there was a time when farmers congregated at the local feed mill, talking about the weather, developments in the world of agriculture and in their neighborhood. Back then, communicating with others was called socializing. It was undertaken on a face-to-face basis and it was generally local.
Nowadays, however, the continent has a growing mobile ‘phone user population – a ready audience for information dissemination and exchange and advocacy. People, farmers included, spread the word – whether personal or business – using social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and blogs. Indeed, social media is the agriculturalist’s newest work tool.
For RUFORUM, this changed communication landscape opens up the potential for social media reporting. The network, currently comprised of 42 African universities, has been ‘socialising’ for the last 10 years through physical meetings and conferences but never through social media channels. During the 4th RUFORUM Biennial conference held in Maputo, Mozambique, from 19-26 July 2014, the network experimented with the use of social media to report on the conference’s proceedings.
The initiative was championed to create visibility for research, innovations, policy implications and the role of networking in the area of higher agricultural education. A small unit at the RUFORUM Secretariat, led by Ms Nodumo and myself, was thrilled at the possibilities this initiative would present to the network as well as the opportunity to train and encourage cross-learning among young social media reporters.
From a pool of 135 applicants who expressed interest in reporting on the conference, 12 reporters were eventually selected from Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda who reported in English, Portuguese and French. These were trained over two days in the use of social media in reporting on capacity building in agriculture and higher education topics in Africa, with the training led by three female facilitators, Maureen Agena, Ruth Aine and myself, who are beneficiaries of the CTA Web 2.0 trainings and have held trainings for young people on using social media for research, collaboration and networking.
The trained reporters had a significant impact on both the dissemination of information from the subsequent conference and in provoking interactive exchanges between those passionate about agriculture via Twitter and Facebook. They also set what will no doubt be a trend in the use of social media to create awareness of agriculture that will be present at all future RUFORUM conferences.
It is through their endeavours that we, including RUFORUM, can exert the ‘mass influence’ that Michele Payn-Knoper spoke of, and sit around the global table where conversations about nutrition, science, education and agriculture are engaged in.
I am extremely proud of the team that worked so tirelessly to ensure the conference was a visible success. To see more details on the blog articles written by the social media reporters during the conference, visit the July, 2014 posts or access the #RUFORUM10 tag in Twitter to view the conversations, while photos taken by the reporters are available on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruforumsec/.
This is a series of the social media reporting event for the 4th biennial conference. The next post will focus on the key lessons and outcomes of the social media training event and its reporting. Subscribe by visiting http://www.cit4agriculture.com/ or follow me on twitter @apiojoan to keep updated.