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Inspiring a new generation of agricultural journalists

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

Pius Sawa, a highly respected friend of WRENmedia, has worked alongside us both as a trainer and astute journalist in the agricultural sector for almost 20 years. We spoke with him about his career highlights and experiences, and what he’s looking forward to in the next decade.

Pius Sawa (middle) provides training and consultancy to young people in radio and music production, videography and photography from his media studio in Kakamega County, Kenya. © Pius Sawa

You have known and worked with WRENmedia for a long time – it must be almost 20 years – how did you first come to interact with us and what did that lead to?

Susanna found my information online after reading a winning entry I had produced for a script writing competition launched by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation. Following this, in 2007, she came out to Kampala, Uganda, to report on a tsetse fly problem in the Teso region, and arranged a meeting with me and a colleague of mine, Michael Wambi, who was already working for WREN. I was working for a radio station at the time, as was Michael, and she told us that if we wanted to write about the tsetse story and publish it through our radio stations, she would give us all the details. She also mentioned that WREN would be hosting communication training workshops, funded by the Department for International Development, in eastern Uganda on tsetse flies and sleeping sickness and asked if I would be interested to attend.

In March 2008, I attended a training workshop along with other African journalists from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda on reporting science which was held alongside a conference in Arusha, Tanzania on underutilised plants. During that event, WREN asked if I would like to work for them as a correspondent, and I was given my first assignment to write a story on a group of Kenyan youths who had developed a pop machine for small grains like wheat, sorghum and amaranth.

How did you come to work as a co-trainer for WRENmedia? You are very patient and positive in the way you support people – what other skills do you think are necessary to being a good trainer?

During the training assignments at the Arusha conference, I would abandon my own tasks to help other journalists struggling to edit the interviews they had recorded during the event. To make up for getting behind on my own work, I often had to work late while other colleagues were busy having fun at the hotel! It all paid off though when WREN staff heard me interviewing a Kenyan professor and subsequently asked me to be a co-trainer at another workshop in Mombasa – I was so surprised!

I think a trainer must be a good listener, but generosity is also an important trait – sharing all the skills you have learned will really benefit the trainees. Finally, a good trainer should be humble and should respect and tolerate everyone.

You are now using your skills to inspire young people in your community to get into reporting – how did that come about?

After the training with WREN and other organisations, I started winning radio reporting awards. A friend of mine who had previously worked as a member of the BBC World Service Trust, and was then working at his own media production company, told me to get out on my own – assuring me I would not fail. He was already hiring some of my gadgets to record radio dramas from the villages.

His words of encouragement inspired me and so whilst I was writing for WREN’s New Agriculturalist magazine and producing radio features for them for Agfax radio, I asked that instead of sending my fee, could they purchase the core equipment I needed, such as mics, sound recorders, music monitors, video lights etc. They agreed and whenever they travelled to Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania, would bring the equipment out with them.

I received other generous support from colleagues I met during a 2010 ‘Share Fair’ conference which I attended with Susanna in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was given the chance to speak about my career in journalism at this event and afterwards, met with a professor from Pennsylvania who was passionate about knowledge sharing and donated a PreSonus sound card – which is the main tool I still use in my recording studio. At the same event, I met two other colleagues from the International Livestock Research Institute and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. After maintaining contacts with them, they have been an important part of my growth, linking me to other organisations, such as the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines, to produce video and audio content from the field.

I am happy to report that since branching out on my own, many young people have passed through my studio, Zetu Media Services, most of them becoming award winners at their companies. Gabriel Ingubu, for example, is a young man I mentored after he completed university in 2015. He went on to join a local FM radio in Bungoma, western Kenya and is now being sponsored by different organisations to attend international events to produce radio features. The studio has also seen teenagers and adults coming to get skills and test out the equipment for free or at a low cost, and to benefit from the training materials for radio and TV production.

The start of a new decade is a chance to reflect back as well as look to the future – what stands out from the last 20 years in terms of your career highlights, and what are you looking forward to in the next ten?

For the last 20 years, I have focused on learning and building networks. I now see myself building a media empire in Kenya; a one-stop-shop for mentorship and content production. I dream of a very big complex with facilities to nurture talent, produce content and create jobs. I have the calling and the capacity – it is now for me to write my dream on a wide billboard in the sky for everyone to see. Thank you WRENmedia for paving the way.

Toby Penrhys-Evans

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