At IWMF's Reporting on Agriculture and Women program, Christine Lanyero and Assa Sakiliba talk at a meeting in Mali.
A four-year IWMF project to transform news coverage of long-overlooked women in agriculture and rural development in Mali, Uganda and Zambia has surpassed of the expectations of media organizations.
Twenty-one women media leaders gathered in Mali with International Women’s Media Foundation leaders in February to examine sweeping changes that have taken place since the program was created nearly four years ago.
Under a $2.5 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the IWMF worked with news organizations that expanded coverage of the vital role of women in agriculture and created new sections to spotlight their work. The program, which ends in June, has made a lasting impact on the way journalists cover this vital area, organizers report.
“The changes we see in the news coverage by these women journalists and media organizations surpassed our expectations,” said Elisa Munoz, IWMF’s director of programs, who traveled to Mali to meet with program leaders. “We see far more coverage of the role of women in agriculture. Media organizations now recognize the importance and value of reporting on these issues.”
“Without transparency, it is nearly impossible to solve many of the challenges that face vulnerable populations in less-developed countries. Media that are free to operate and free to report can play a significant role in addressing issues that effect food insecurity, conflict and gender equality,” said Howard G. Buffett, president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
The IWMF “Reporting on Agriculture and Women: Africa” program was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which supports international projects focused on agriculture, nutrition and environment. IWMF trainers for the project visited Buffett’s farm to learn about agricultural practices and listen to his vision for change in Africa.
During IWMF’s visit in Mali, journalists talked about how readers now expect extensive coverage of women in agriculture. Reporters described how they had never connected with rural women in coverage of agriculture until the program was created.
The program’s team leader, Célia D’Almeid, assistant to the editor of Radio Klédu in Mali, told the IWMF, “We used to think that these women didn’t talk, but they do. The program has really had an impact on rural life. Rural women are communicating more and more about what they do and we are responsible for that.”
“Before I had no direct connection to rural women. I dealt with women as wives and mothers. Now I cover them as they relate to farming, cattle farming and other issues,” said Assa Sakiliba, a newscaster at Radio Kledu. “Because of our reporting, government authorities have become more and more interested in women’s issues. Our ministers invite us on a visit to a farm. The women’s farms associations also call us. As a journalist it has made me more interested in agriculture and environmental issues. The changes in my career are very visible. The quality has changed. I have a weekly article on Thursdays as a result of this program.” Margaret Mangani, the Times of Zambia features editor, described how her newspaper had expanded coverage of agriculture. “Now we have The Art Farming and Times Women features. These are specific pages and a weekly supplement on gender issues. When it is not published, we get complaints from our readers,” she said.
Program organizer Marian Chigwedere of ZNBC said the project has taught her to “dig deeper” into agriculture issues -- beyond what the government reports. She said going out into the field has been invaluable. Reporters have been able to get many perspectives and angles for stories by talking to farmers and women in the field.
L’Essor reporter Mariam Traore said that after participating in the program, she realized that she had overlooked marginalized women. “It was an eye opener for me,” she said, “As a journalist, I am more motivated to cover topics that relate to women’s fate. People in the field trust me more. They talk to me when issues arise.”
In Uganda, “80 percent of the country relies on agriculture, but I think there was a gap in agriculture reporting, said Cate Nambi of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation. “ All of the stories were shallow, and reporters just used what was in front of them. Agriculture was covered as part of the business news and came at the end of it. With the program, we were able to tell how interesting it can become when you travel out into the field. We were even able to convince our editors that this was important.”
Agriculture and science reporter Lominda Afedraru of the Daily Monitor in Uganda said coverage has expanded. “ The Monitor already had a farming page, but it was only one page and written by the same male reporter. Now, it is eight pages with the contributions of many reporters.”
Afedraru credits the program with changing the way agriculture is reported in the Daily Monitor. Previous coverage focused on farmers within the city, but now the newspaper covers rural farmers and the issues they confront.
Before the program, Afedraru said, “It was the accepted perspective at the paper that women did not talk to the press and that a reporter should always speak with the husband or male head of household only. The reporters have sought to work past this perspective and put forward the opinions of women and women farmers. When I joined the program, I was the only female reporter among many males. Increasingly, women shown interest and were added to the program.”