Personal reflections from the IFAJ 2018 Master Class

September 17, 2018
A translation for this article is available in French

Jefferson Massah is a journalist, media trainer, and development communications practitioner from Monrovia, Liberia. He is also the former head of programs at Radio Gbarnga, located in Bong County, and was awarded the George Atkins Communications Award in 2015 for his work informing the community, particularly about Ebola. He reflects on this learning opportunity.

My recent trip to the Netherlands made me the first Liberian journalist to attend the International Federation of Agricultural Journalist (IFAJ) Master Class program. This was a unique opportunity to engage with other journalists and share experiences and thoughts on the critical role of the media in promoting agriculture development—particularly in developing countries where the media not only reports the successes of small-scale farmers but also serves as a tool for educating farmers on best farming practices.

In my country, agriculture extension services remain very poor due to the limited number of agriculture extension workers employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers want support to boost extension services. In attending the Master Class, I had a deep interest to learn from other journalists how they address similar problems when it comes to agricultural extension education in their respective countries.

During the first week of activities in the Netherlands, we attended training sessions that focused on the role of the media (particularly radio) in fostering agriculture development through supporting agricultural extension services, understanding the information needs of small-scale farmers, and developing effective radio programs.

We also had lengthy discussions and training sessions on media integrity, accuracy to ensure good journalistic quality, honesty as the hallmark of our reportage, fake news, and employing creativity as media leaders to ensure the high impact of our work.

Apart from indoor training sessions, we also had the opportunity to visit farms in the north and south of the Netherlands. We spoke to farmers—mainly dairy farmers—to hear their experiences.

Following the completion of our Master Class training program, we were invited to attend the annual congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists hosted by the Netherlands Association of Agricultural and Horticultural Journalism at the Wageningen University & Research from July 11-14.

The annual congress provides member countries the opportunity to discuss pertinent issues relating to agriculture communications and journalism globally and explore ways to expand the activities of IFAJ to impact global agricultural development.

With my presence at both the Master Class and Congress, we made a case for Liberia to attain membership with the IFAJ. Delegates voted unanimously to accept eight new countries as members, including Liberia.

The program provided me with the sense that Africa has huge potential for agriculture development if the right investments are made to develop this sector, which might in return bring high economic returns for the continent. Africa spends so much on food imports despite the vast amount of fertile land that remains undeveloped.

I realized that, despite the scarcity and high cost of land rental in the Netherlands, the country continues to be considered one of the leaders in global food production, while Africa, with abundant rich soil, remains threatened with food security problems. Land ownership and acquisition is much easier and cheaper in Africa than most developed countries, as I experienced during my study tour in the Netherlands. This provided me the hope that Africa can still advance further in making the continent food sufficient if the political will is fostered by leaders on the continent.

As a person engaged in media training activities, most of the knowledge and skills I acquired from the IFAJ 2018 Master Class will be integrated into my training and mentoring activities for journalists at community radio stations. I already had an experience-sharing session with seven lead reporters of Local Voices Liberia during our podcast production training at the Ganta Media Resource Center. Local Voices Liberia is a network of rural journalists with keen interest in reporting issues affecting the rural population’s ability to influence policy action in Liberia.

Also, I intend to promote agricultural journalism in this country by expanding the activities of our national network of agriculture and rural development journalists.