A Bright Future for Ghana Agric

Buckeye Farm Beat

My mission in Ghana was to help journalists cover ag or "agric."

Published on: November 11, 2011

So what I was brought to Ghana by ACDI/VOCA and USAID of the U.S. government to do was to help train journalists to write more about agriculture or “agric” as they abbreviate it. Initially I was to work with “The Business and Financial Times,” an independent publication that focuses on the topics in its name. They publish it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The plan was to work with the editor and writers to help them establish a full-page of agricultural news that ran one day week just like the Insurance and Petroleum sections it runs each week.

However, to get more bang for the buck, the staff at ACDI/VOCA ADVANCE decided I might as well work with as many media outlets as possible. I approved wholeheartedly. That brought “The Ghanaian Times,” “Daily Graphic,” “The Enquirer,” and “The Finder” into the fold on the newspaper side. And since only about 50% of the farmer audience (who make up 80% of the population in the north) can read or write, we concurred that I should also work with radio stations to bring more agric programming to the villages. So throw the reporters for the major radio stations of Northern Ghana: Radio Savanna of, Radio North Star, Diamond Radio and Radio Justice. Radio Savanna is run by the state-owned  Ghana Broadcasting Network. The Ghanaian Times and Daily Graphic are also state-funded. The others are independent.

BLOGGER: Nurudeen Salifu had trouble getting his editor at the Daily Graphic interested in a story he wrote about soybean inoculants. So he posted it and other topics he has written about on his blog at salifunurudeen.blogspot.com. The site includes health and environmental observations as well. Check it out.

BUDS: The camaraderie between the brothers of the media is strong. The newspapers have their offices in the same building so they know each other well. They often attend the same press conferences and may share a ride. They happily read each other’s publications or listen to the radio to see what is making news.

Rather than operate out of the capital of Accra as initially planned, I was moved to the northern city of Tamale with the rest of the ACDI/VOCA ADVANCE project team. Tamale is the traditional capital of the north. It is Savanna and home to the farmers who produce the country’s staple crops of cassava, yams and maize. It is therefore where ACDI/VOCA’s ADVANCE is implementing its program to link various actors in the food chain overall to encourage more production of corn, soybeans and rice. The plan is to help get suitable seed and inputs to a small number of nucleus farmers who run tractors over several hundred acres. Sometimes they work with the country’s vast majority of small farmers to share crop part of the land --supplying some kind of service in exchange for part of the crop. These larger “nucleus” farmers are open to and capable of using the improved technology suppliers are offering to sell. Bankers like their track records. They are expanding because the plentiful land of the savanna is readily available through agreements with the local chiefs who have jurisdiction in the eyes of the villagers.

I started by visiting with all of the writers and reporters for these outlets at their home offices. We spent a few hours talking about their audience, their coverage, how they work and what challenges they were facing. They were all very kind to take time away from busy schedules and deadline demands to spend it with me. I was impressed by their professionalism and confidence. To get a job in Ghana is tough and to get a job in journalism or broadcast requires a degree and sometimes several degrees. Also, they have the advantage of having learned their English at the feet of British who occupied Ghana until 1957. (English is the official language although there are at least 5 tribal languages spoken in Ghana. In the North I heard a lot of Dagbani. In the South they were speaking the Asanati language or Twi. I met numerous everyday folks, like drivers and waiters, who knew as many as five different languages and could switch back and forth without any translating going on in their brains.) Certain turns of phrases accompanied by a sharp edge of skepticism gives their writing a tint of the British tabloid journalism. Frankly some of the lead stories of the more popular publications like the Graphic, the Times, the Enquirer and the Finder lean on the tabloid style. Topics ranged from the deluge flood that killed seven people in areas of Accra where projects to prevent flooding had been delayed to the arrest of a Nigerian headmaster and teacher for raping a 13-year-old girl.

ENQUIRER: Francis Npong loves photography and is ready to buy a new Nikon camera. Such equipment is tough to come by in Tamale. He sees them on the Web, but without a credit card he is trying to figure out how to get it shipped to him. He offers his comments on the environment at his blog, npong2franco.blogspot.com.

Understand the audiences for these different outlets are very diverse. While the B&FT is a straight forward business publication following the approach of the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal, the other newspapers also include varying amounts of local news of the day to entertainment, sports and crime. Of greatest interest to their readers however, is politics. Each has their slant on the topic and depending on who you support each might be more interesting to you the reader. The radio stations were even more expansive with programming from 4 a.m. to midnight that included traditional and contemporary music, talk shows about everything from religion to health and family values, call-in shows and usually two or three regular news reports a day.

PROGRAM DIRECTOR: Ahmad Hamidu Dainba plans the programming for Radio Savanna, which includes a 45-minute Saturday evening program on agric. On the day I visit the transmitter is having trouble picking up the station’s local signal. So the main feed from Accra is being fed to the listeners. The station has a mobile van that travels to villages for remote broadcasts. “Everyone wants us to come,” he says.

The morning DJ on Radio Justice explained that his talk show from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. was “the best listened to and being copied by everyone.” Why? Because of its emphasis on promoting traditional Moslem values. As a service he has coordinated a volunteer neighbor-watch group of 1,000 men who help patrol the city at night. At the other extreme the night DJ at Radio Savanna told me I should tune in at midnight if I wanted to hear his hour-long all-reggae show.

TRADITIONALIST: Alhassa Salifu Kalala, Radio Justice morning DJ, has a license to start his own radio station which will include agric as well as traditional values.

They also run agric programs. They range from the extension-like interviews with scientists or officials from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to an innovative dramatic play with Mr. Compost and Mr. Farmer as the main characters. Imagine the local villagers sitting around their radios under the moon and listening to these educational reports.

Different groups had different challenges. One of the main ones was finding expert sources willing and able to talk about the topics. In particular they complained that the Ministry of Food and Agriculture was not as available for comments and help as they needed. Another was a shortage of resources. In some cases the writers not only produced stories, they also sold advertising and handled circulation. The lucky ones had a motorcycle available for transportation. Getting agricultural stories in the publication was problem especially for those which had an n inclination towards the more tabloid type of approach. I noticed one such publication found a way to get an agric story on the front page by using the headline “Ruminants Invade Tamale.” (Indeed just about anywhere you look in Tamale there are goats on the loose. When I ask who owns the goats, I’m told, “They know their owners and go home to them every night. If someone steals a goat, the owner will find them too.”)

One reporter read me an excellent piece he had done on the potential for inoculants to improve soybean yields. He had even tossed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s

Interest the technology in his lead to see if the editor would bite. He didn’t.

One of the surprising concerns raised to me came from Kudus Husein, the Tamale correspondent for the B&FT. Kudus and I spent about three days together. He is a very good writer and truly has a handle on what is going on in the city. Among other things he helped me better comprehend the factors behind the rapid development in the area. Kudus mentioned that everyone he writes a story about wants to pay him for the piece. “What?” I ask. “They want me to accept some money to write a story they want.” Turns out this is common practice in Ghanaian journalism. The head of the ACDI/VOCA office in Accra confirmed that in order to get the press interested in their stories, they usually have to offer some incentive ranging from cash to lunch or transportation. “They don’t chase the story like reporters in the US,” she told me.

MAIN MAN: Kudus spent a long time patiently walking me through a vast array of business and cultural topics. There wasn’t much we couldn’t and didn’t discuss. I think my job has stress, but he has to handle story writing and ad sales. While he doesn’t have to deliver the publication, he does have solicit subscriptions. He often works six or seven days a week and he is taking classes.

Kudus told me he would be in trouble if he accepted money to write a story, but some of the others had less to say about the situation. Given their low pay scale and short resources it seems to be part of the business.

So the last day I was in Tamale, we gathered together as professional to discuss these problems and look for solutions. In addition to the eight journalists we were joined by Rev. Gilbert Yaw Nachin with the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute. Rev. Nachin was looking for ways to involve the press in coverage of the institute’s activities. My contacts at ACDI/VOCA Collins Kyei Boafo, a veteran reporter himself, and Frank Larbi’ also joined the training session as did Julia Shuck another volunteer who is a recent agricultural communications graduate from the University of Missouri.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter where they come from journalists are not hard to get to talk. Our discussion was lively. It did not hurt that each of these participants had grown up on a farm. They knew the problems that farmers faced. They were very curious to lean about agriculture and the coverage of agriculture in the U.S. “Why would anyone be selling land if crop prices are so high?” “Why wouldn’t every young person want to be a farmer?” “What happens when a farmer dies?”

When I countered with “Who owns the farmland?” everyone had a strong view. The chief? The village? The state? Finally Sadik with North Star Radio quieted the group, “We are all saying the same thing. When you want to farm land you must go and ask the chief of the village for permission.”

The four hours flew by. We concluded that we needed to start an email group to link ourselves and share articles and ideas. The group agreed to form a Ghana Agric Journalist Guild. A plan for a newsletter to link journalists and key sources was agreed upon. And the group decided to look into potential membership in the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. The ADVANCE group is also looking into ways to link sponsors to educational programming.

AGRIC: The B&FT ran this headline the day the ACDI/VOCA ADVANCE program was announced. Kudus and editors of the Times plan to include more investigative articles in the future.

At the end I offered up some Ohio hats, shirts and pens, they were as eager to have one as the reporters I have seen here. When I asked them to taste a chocolate “Buckeye” candy and tell me what two Ghana commodities were used to make it they happily identified chocolate and groundnuts (peanuts).

TEACHER: My slides of farming in Ohio drew lots of questions from the journalists at the workshop.

We gathered for a group photo and more than one thanked me for sharing with them my own enthusiasm for covering agriculture. “You have inspired me,” Kudus said. “When will you come again.”

I told him I would like to and I hope I get that chance. These are a talented and very energetic group of journalists. I surely learned more from them than I taught. I foresee agric in Tamale heading into a very exciting decade. NGOS are flooding the area with ideas and money. A huge organic mango orchard is being planted. Talk is growing of a livestock terminal and slaughter house that would ship live and processed goat and cattle to the south. Grain elevators, a here-to-unknown concept, are nearing construction. The number of banks has tripled. The place is a boomtown.

ATTENTIVE: The journalists attending my wrap-up workshop were very attentive to my suggestions to improve their writing.

Thanks to the web I can watch their work on line. I will search for way sot support them. And God willing I would love for them to come here and see how we do our work.