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Twenty years of agricultural reporting with WRENmedia

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

2018 marks 20 years of collaboration between WRENmedia and our Zimbabwe-based correspondent, Busani Bafana. To celebrate our connection with Busani, we interviewed the multi award-winning journalist to find out more about the story of his career so far, and his thoughts on the future of food writing.

Our Director, Susanna, with Busani at the banana conference in Mobasa in 2008

How did you initially get to know WRENmedia?

In 1997, I saw a Rural Radio Resource Pack (RRRP) at a library in Bulawayo, where I live, and it included a call for contributions from journalists in Africa – I think it was a call for a pack on farmers managing pests. The contact details on the pack were for Michael Pickstock, WRENmedia’s director at the time, who then called me and gave me a brief about radio production, including tips on recording interviews and writing out the scripts. After a couple of trials and heavy edits, I got my first RRRP on seeds. It was fame at last, to hear my voice on the cassettes that arrived by post.

After a media exchange to the US in 1998, where I learned about newsroom management, I stopped over in London on my way home. I was to spend three days in the UK, so I called up WRENmedia and asked if I could visit. I took the train from London to make the visit to Fressingfield and Michael met me at the local station. That was the start of my 20 years of working with WRENmedia. I continued to contribute to the RRRPs, which were sent out five times a year, up to the time they were available on CD and eventually discontinued. Since working with the company, I have been a contributor to WRENmedia’s New Agriculturalist online magazine and also for Spore – which they produce for the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation.

What fuelled your passion for writing about agriculture and food security in Africa?

Working with WRENmedia on the RRRPs initially piqued my interest in the topic, and a year later, in 1998, I applied to attend a training course on reporting about the environment, which was held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The course gave me a new perspective on food security in the face of climate change and environmental protection, which are hot topics today.

The opportunity to learn about the challenges food producers face in making a living, while keeping Africa fed, has been exciting. Agriculture and food security were also an attractive beat, having covered politics, finance and human rights at college. I have been able to apply the skills I developed during my course in framing my agricultural stories and giving expression to the human experiences that I encountered.

The chance to travel is also an attraction, no doubt. Going into the field to hear from smallholder farmers, interrogate policymakers and quiz development researchers has kept me in the agriculture space. I have met and interviewed strawberry farmers in Madagascar, toured rice fields in Senegal, sampled plantains in the Democratic Republic of Congo and enjoyed organic pineapples the size of my head in southern Uganda. Agriculture reporting is never without adventure!

Twenty years of working with WRENmedia is a long time – can you share with us the impact our training and support provided over the years has had on your career?

WRENmedia has shaped my writing on agriculture and food reporting by providing me with the tools I need to tell stories with precision and flair. I recall the WRENmedia better science reporting workshop that I attended, which was run alongside an international banana and plantain conference held in Mombasa, Kenya in October 2008. From that conference, I wrote a feature that won me the CGIAR Award for Excellence in Agriculture Reporting in 2009. I was the first African journalist to win the award.

WRENmedia has conducted incisive training workshops on all matters relating to agricultural reporting, and I have been privileged to attend many of them. Learning is for life and nothing beats building up personal skills. I am still perfecting the craft of writing well, but I believe the publication of my articles on international news outlets, such as the Inter Press Service and Thomson Reuters Foundation, is testament to the work I have put into developing my writing thus far. I haven’t won a Pulitzer yet, but it’s in the pipeline.

How do you think things have changed over your career in terms of reporting on agriculture? Do you feel excited or concerned about the future?

With the explosion of the internet and social media, the challenge for reporters now is to dig deeper. Nowadays, journalists need to verify the facts, and quickly. But I am excited about the future of reporting on agriculture – the food agenda is a top priority today and will be for the foreseeable future.

I do worry, however, that a food-secure future is under threat as a result of general inertia by global leaders on tackling climate change. Smallholder farmers in Africa are living with the impacts of climate variability and their diminishing ability to sustainably produce enough to feed a growing continent. I want to be one of the writers whose stories will make a difference in triggering change.

Sophie Reeve

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