Tech4Agri: Getting agri-journalism off the ground
Keron Bascombe is an agricultural journalist and social entrepreneur in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. In 2011, he started Tech4Agri, a blogging platform that provides updates on innovations and technologies for the agricultural sector. In this interview, he explains why reporting on communication technologies in agriculture is so important for the development of his region.
How did you get involved in agricultural journalism and communication?
In 2011, whilst I was studying a masters, a classmate told me about a Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition, (YOBLOCO), which was hosted by the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The competition – a first of its kind – aimed to highlight successes and issues faced by youth engaged in agriculture. Feeling confident in my writing abilities, I wanted to submit something that would be interesting, relevant and useful to young people. This was when I started my blog, Tech4Agri, focusing on agricultural technology and innovation, which ended up being one of the YOBLOCO winners. I went to South Africa to receive my award, along with the other winners, and it was here that I realised agricultural journalism was a worldwide field. I decided to continue with my blog and look for more opportunities in agricultural communications.
How did Tech4Agri evolve to offer other media services to agribusinesses? And how do you think these services help to build the businesses of local youths?
I gained skills in social media reporting and agricultural communications from organisations like CTA and YPARD, who invited me to various trainings. I was also asked to serve as a panellist at different events, enabling me to become a trainer. This helped to build my resume and gave me the confidence to register Tech4Agri as a business to support local agriculture, and other young persons in the field. I developed other skills, such as photography and videography on my own.
I saw that there was room for these services to improve and build on the value of local production in my country, and in terms of solving the information problem that we face in our region. The local extension sector is stifled and support does not reach where it should. The organisation and implementation of agricultural programmes is also not as effective as it could be because of the absence of the use of communication technologies. You cannot deny the impact of technology and this is what I am pursuing with Tech4Agri – to provide technology services and increase the visibility of agri-tech entrepreneurs.
Why do you feel it’s so important to spread information and updates about technology and innovation in agriculture – particularly in the Caribbean?
In the Caribbean, a lot of people practise traditional agriculture and, as a result, yields are low and there is a heavy focus on foreign imports and chemical inputs. There is a need to increase local food supplies to reduce the high import bill throughout the region. I believe that technology and innovation can allow producers to not only support their livelihoods but also support a healthy agricultural ecosystem. My company aims to help farmers access these modern progressive technologies and methods, and enable them to be more productive with what they have.
In terms of agribusinesses, social media and mobile devices are tools that everyone can access to create online visibility for their business and – if done correctly – to build trust between themselves and their customers.
Can you provide examples of the most inspiring young agri-entrepreneurs you have worked with?
Whilst I was developing my blog and my journalistic skills, I met Alpha Sennon, creator of AGRIman – the world’s greatest agricultural superhero. AGRIman is an excellent tool to expose young children to agriculture in a fun and interesting way. Alpha is now doing a school tour with AGRIman, and is running a programme in Trinidad and Tobago to help young men and women identify opportunities in the agricultural sector through his non-profit WHYfarm. He is someone I encouraged and supported with free video services, and he is now one of the most influential persons I know.
More recently, I did an article for Spore magazine about Jameel Philip, who is promoting urban agriculture together with his fiancé Ciele Williams. They are changing the way people see agriculture and removing the stigma of carrying out traditional farming. Their company, Green Thumb Gardens, builds agricultural systems within minimal urban spaces for people living in town houses or apartments to support household food supplies.
So there is innovation in our region, there is progressive agriculture, and there are people here who are making a difference.
You are currently on a masterclass for creative journalism hosted by the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. How do you think you will put what you’ve learnt to use?
My biggest take-away from this masterclass is how to start a guild of agri-journalists, how to make that guild sustainable and how to get agri-reporting off the ground. I want to grow agri-journalism and agri-communications as a viable career in my country.
I have also really enjoyed meeting agri-journalists from all around the world. My friend and colleague who is carrying out this interview, Busani Bafana, is from Zimbabwe. We have unleashed our passion for writing stories, discussing the best methods for drawing out information from the farmers and presenting our articles in an engaging way. It is highly motivating to be around people in the same field but still have that global diversity; we learn so much from each other on the challenges we are facing, but also on the solutions.