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A communication collaboration of over three decades

For over 35 years, CTA has effectively demonstrated how agricultural innovation can be documented, shared and scaled up to achieve significant improvements in farmer incomes, productivity and food security. Over the years, WRENmedia has had a close working relationship with CTA and has provided a wide range of communications services to help promote the Centre’s activities.

Susanna and Busani attend a CTA Brussels Briefing on the role of radio for agricultural development in 2009

WRENmedia has been involved with CTA since its very early days. We first became involved in producing Spore magazine in 1985 as the English editors under Robert Delleré, who was head of CTA’s Technical Division for 10 years, and was Spore’s first Editor-in-chief. “Spore has been a flagship for CTA,” he said as the magazine came to an end in December 2019 after 34 years. “The magazine has helped the centre make itself known and therefore, in a way, be able to fulfil its role to help ACP countries become self-sufficient in food production and protect their environments. I cannot accept the idea that Spore would stop so soon.” As the English Editors for Spore since 2012, and Executive Editors for the last three years, the WRENmedia team and our network of correspondents also feel the loss of this respected magazine (see Spore: a lasting legacy).

Agricultural advice through rural radio

Spore has been only one aspect of WRENmedia’s work with CTA. For almost 20 years (between 1990 and 2009), WRENmedia produced CTA’s Rural Radio Resource Packs (RRRP) in English and French, which provided over 200 rural radio broadcasters in Africa with the necessary material to make agricultural programmes. The packs, which included farmer interviews recorded by experienced African journalists, helped to provide technical advice and promote knowledge sharing between smallholders, and were often translated into local African languages. “Farmers interviewed for RRRPs said that the programmes enabled them to quickly diagnose crop and animal diseases and seek treatment. This was especially important when they had limited interactions with extension advisors,” emphasised Busani Bafana, RRRP and Spore correspondent.

Busani was one of a number of journalists who received WRENmedia training that was supported by CTA. “It is over 20 years since I first received radio production training in 1997 in order to become a correspondent for CTA’s RRRPs, which provided me with an opportunity to report on agriculture in Africa and the role of smallholder farmers in growing, processing and marketing food,” he states. Moving on to become a correspondent for Spore, Busani emphasises that “It is not an understatement to say that CTA support has enabled me to mature as an agriculture journalist.”

Why media matters

The role and importance of radio in agricultural development was also the topic of a CTA e-discussion held during July to September, 2009. WRENmedia was asked to moderate the online forum, for which over 2,000 people participated prior to an international seminar held in Brussels, Belgium on the role of the media in ACP agricultural and rural development in October 2009. We were then also invited to present the key findings at the 14th CTA Brussels Briefing on ACP Agricultural and Rural Development: why media matters? held at the European Commission. Whilst participants were all in agreement that the media was an essential partner in agricultural development, one of the over‐arching areas of concern was the constraints that limit the media in realising its full potential in this role, including the lack of infrastructure, support to journalists etc. It is a shame that despite these findings, the RRRPs came to an end, although CTA continued to support journalists and others through the scaling up of Web 2.0 and social media training.

In recent years, CTA has been a catalyst in the use of digital technologies, which are making agriculture more efficient and climate-smart, and allowing farmers easier access to advisory services and market information. Digital start-ups and agri-tech were a key aspect of our coverage in Spore, as well as the focus of ICT Update, which we also edited for the last three issues. It has been a pleasure to interact with so many dynamic and enthusiastic young entrepreneurs, as well as others, and to report on their digital innovations.

Sadly, with the end of the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP Group of States, the financial and legal framework that supported CTA expires at the end of 2020 and so our work, including writing blogs and editing the last of CTA’s publications, will also come to an end in coming months. However, as a communications organisation that has known and worked with CTA since its early days, WRENmedia was honoured to be asked to produce CTA: A Legacy of Agricultural Transformation, which was also published online last month (February 2020). Capturing the impacts of an organisation’s activities over 35 years was challenging but the testimonials featured highlight how CTA has made a difference to so many individuals as well as partner organisations. As highlighted in the legacy introduction, “CTA as an institution may cease to exist but a rich portfolio of valuable assets remains, including knowledge products, databases and extensive networks.”

“Unbelievable the grounds CTA covered. Fantastic way to capture agricultural transformation. I love it. Good work.” - Spore correspondent, Bob Koigi, gives his feedback on the legacy document.

WRENmedia has been proud to have worked with CTA, its staff and partners, and to be part of its legacy in drawing attention to significant issues related to agriculture in ACP countries.

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

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