From Avocado to Zebu cows, there is a large buffet of farming news on Kenyan radio, TV and newspapers.
People easily connect with the news because agriculture is synonymous with food and many are interested in working on land, especially if it can be a source of main income or a side hustle.
The media entry has expanded the agri conversations and helped farmers to connect with markets. It fills the gap that was left by the defunct agriculture extension services, both on the national and county levels.
However, we are now faced with the danger of media houses sensationalising agriculture news with headline grabbing punch lines, followed by content that is so lacking in depth and accuracy that it borders on misinformation. I am not using the broad brush of fake news, I am sticking to misinformation.
To understand where I am coming from in this subject, let me start with the disclosure that my work as an ASALs grass farmer has been covered in media platforms.
I have also written farming articles for newspapers which have expanded my market and networks. Thank you. I acknowledge that my work needs editing because my is and was are still not there and it also needs to conform to the editorial guidelines of the particular media house.
Therefore I am not picking on a hand that has nurtured me, but kwa roho safi I wish to strengthen it so that it can nurture others. Done.
To those who have followed farming articles in Kenya media – initially there was noticeable care to facts. But with every progressive year there is a level of sloppiness that has slipped in, so that although articles pass the editorial test, they fail on facts.
Grant it that these articles are not peer reviewed science papers, but even with the help of Google, you need some basic awareness on a topic to know when you are messing up facts e.g. attempting to edit internode to node for brevity, is a no-no.
I have personal experience with my article that had objective facts edited to distortion all in the name of making the article “appealing” to readers. This left me utterly embarrassed that my name was in a by line of an article that was laden with very glaring errors. Since then I am quick to pick errors in farming articles and it is not getting better. Talk of people who can keep feelings!
This was brought up afresh when in a recent farming pull out in a leading newspaper, an ASALs grass champion from Rift Valley was captioned with a wrong name.
I am acquainted with the man and this left me wondering; if you can mess up a name, why should I trust the rest of the article or indeed any other info in the publication?
We need every pair of hands and brain trust we can get if we are going to feed this nation, and media houses can help to bring more people into farming.
While we must recognize that media houses are private enterprises which are liberalized in sourcing and creating content, they should be aware that using sensational or clickable news in agriculture writing can have the undesired effect of not only discrediting their brands but also of attracting the wrong people into farming.
These are people who come in with very high expectations on returns, are not aware of financial risks involved and underestimate how physically involving farming is. They also lack the resilience that is needed to survive in the farming sector.
Could it be that many abandoned agriculture ventures, especially those that started with a lot of hype were started by people who“read it the newspaper”?
The crowning line on most of farming articles is how much income the farmer is making. Really?
This irks me as someone who has a number of successful farmers who mentor me, especially at this time that I am transiting to growing cereals.
A talk with any of them is all about their farming journeys and linking me with their network of service/inputs providers. They particularly like to rub in the tough times they have had in farming, so as to make me aware that farming is not a financial walk in the park.
They would cringe at the thought their income is plastered in the media – because in whichever career you are in, money matters are private.
However flattering it might feel for one to be covered in the media, “No comment” should be the default answer to questions on matters of income. Thank me later.
When farming articles are on hobbies in which the “successful” farmer has no expectations of a profit na ako sawa – this should be labelled as agritainment with a disclaimer: Do not try this at the farm unless you want to sell your farm or pesa si shida.
Same warning should be given for donor funded projects and research which can not be economically replicated as farming ventures.
Farming articles should inspire people and media houses that want to earn and retain public trust must differentiate themselves from the fact-free copy and paste writing that is in the internet.
They should feel a public duty to say the hard truth that though farming can be a worth business venture it is not cool – it is sweat.
Let the media blast out that though equipment and machinery have made farming easier and more efficient, the stories of ground breaking apps that relieve the modern farmer from all chores – except going to the bank, are a stretch.
Most of these things are very expensive, need supporting infrastructure and are only economically justifiable in large scale operations. That is why they are mainly used in countries where agriculture is subsidised by the state.
Unfortunately our Kenyan agriculture is not subsidised and upende usipende – you need boots on the ground. And if the venture is to tilt closer to being profitable, those boots will have to be for the owner and not for visiting the farm on weekends.
If media houses fail to do the due diligence on the science and facts of agriculture, they abet in giving farming a bad name.
Oh, please correct me if I am wrong – I will not catch feelings.