Written by: Joan Apio- Communication Officer (RUFORUM)
In a discipline that has existed for eons, there is a legitimate question: “Why should agriculture care about social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube?”
Michele Payn-Knoper, a self-described Community Catalyst, Advocate, Farm and Food Connector who established the US-based Cause Matters Corp., has a simple and powerful answer: “It’s really quite simple. Mass influence. Facebook reached 150 million users nearly three times faster than a cell phone. If you’re not at the table, you can’t be a part of constructing the conversation about nutrition, science and agriculture.”
In Africa there was a time when farmers congregated at the local feed mill, talking about the weather, developments in the world of agriculture and in their neighborhood. Back then, communicating with others was called socializing. It was undertaken on a face-to-face basis and it was generally local.
Nowadays, however, the continent has a growing mobile ‘phone user population – a ready audience for information dissemination and exchange and advocacy. People, farmers included, spread the word – whether personal or business – using social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and blogs. Indeed, social media is the agriculturalist’s newest work tool.
For RUFORUM, this changed communication landscape opens up the potential for social media reporting. The network, currently comprised of 42 African universities, has been ‘socialising’ for the last 10 years through physical meetings and conferences but never through social media channels. During the 4th RUFORUM Biennial conference held in Maputo, Mozambique, from 19-26 July 2014, the network experimented with the use of social media to report on the conference’s proceedings.
The initiative was championed to create visibility for research, innovations, policy implications and the role of networking in the area of higher agricultural education. A small unit at the RUFORUM Secretariat, led by Ms Nodumo and myself, was thrilled at the possibilities this initiative would present to the network as well as the opportunity to train and encourage cross-learning among young social media reporters.