Malawian government encourages journalists to focus on agriculture

Africa is the largest recipient of food aid amongst all continents. But the Malawian government’s Ministry of Agriculture department has devised a plan to pull its country out of this trend.

It is called the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp).

Ministry of Agriculture representatives met with journalists at the Kalikuti Hotel Thursday to discuss ASWAp and what it entails. And this is because the government thinks journalists are a key component to not only the ASWAp mandate, but its success.

The Agriculture Sector Wide Approach aims to make Malawi more agriculturally independent and sustainable. It strives to decrease the country’s level of imports. 

The ASWAp mandate thinks this can happen if journalists pay more attention to Malawi’s agriculture, and publish more stories on the topic as a result. The mandate suggests journalists can bridge the gap between farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture. In other words, it can increase the level of communication between farmers and the government.

And this can only have positive effects.

The journalist’s reports can allow farmers to voice their concerns and needs, which would otherwise be challenging without the role of the media. Journalists can give the farming sector a stronger, more powerful voice.

This is important because it will allow the government to cater more strongly to the needs of farmers. The more pleased the farmers are in the country, the greater the nation’s productivity overall. Imports will decrease, exports will rise, and economic profits will result.

In addition, the media can be used as a way for the government and other bodies to inform and educate farmers. Farming messages and tips can be transmitted to farmers through the power of newspapers, radios, and maybe even televisions. In this case, an increase in agricultural coverage could only increase the level of information to farmers. This, too, can increase the nation’s agricultural and economic productivity.

 “The power of media houses have been overshadowed,” says Dayise Kachingwe, an economist in the planning department for the Ministry of Agriculture while speaking to the room of reporters. “And ASWAp can be the link.”

The journalists in the room had a powerful response to the government’s request. The journalists agreed with ASWAp mandate. It was welcomed with enthusiasm and passion.

But this is not to say the mandate was not criticised. 

The journalists spoke openly and freely about what they think they will need from the Ministry of Agriculture in order for ASWAp to be a success.

“This is the first real and honest conversation we have been able to have with the Ministry of Agriculture,” one reporter confessed during the conversation at the hotel.

The reporter’s asked the Ministry of Agriculture to hire a communications officer. This was the main agreement between the journalists and Ministry of Agriculture at the meeting.

“Right now, there is no systematic engagement between the Department of Agriculture and journalists,” says Rex Chapota, a participant of the meeting and Farm Radio Malawi’s executive director.

Appointing a communications officer in the department would allow journalists to contact people within the Ministry more easily than they can now. Communication between journalists and the department needs to be strong in order for the communication between the government and farmers to be strong.

There were other agreements made between the Ministry of Agriculture representatives and the journalists. The department acknowledged that journalists need to be more included throughout policymaking processes in agriculture. It was also discussed how important it is for journalists to engage with Malawi’s extension workers.

“We think this is a starting point,” admitted economist Dayise Kachingwe from the Department of Agriculture.

The group will meet again next Thursday at the Kalikuti Hotel.

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