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The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) brings together all those working to strengthen and transform agricultural research for development around the world. As part of this role, GFAR is working with New Agriculturist to showcase and raise awareness of important initiatives and their outcomes, to update and inspire others.

Young professionals in agriculture: the social reporters of GCARD2

Building the capacity of young agri-professionals to showcase their work and reach new audiences was a key pillar of the communication plan for GCARD (© GFAR)
Building the capacity of young agri-professionals to showcase their work and reach new audiences was a key pillar of the communication plan for GCARD
© GFAR

Ask a young person what they wish for their future, and very few will mention agriculture. Whether as a farmer, researcher or extension officer, the production of food tends to be a last resort, not the positive choice of an ambitious young man or woman. This of course raises a fundamental question: who will grow the crops to feed the world? Ultimately, there can only be one answer: young people. So in a very real way, our survival depends on making agriculture attractive, and finding a way for agricultural science to engage with youths. For an example of how this could be done, the use of social media by a team of young agriculture professionals - including myself - at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) is a great place to start.

Blending traditional and new media

Sharing experiences and success stories, and coming up with action plans for large-scale development impact were core activities at GCARD2. But the communication team didn't just want to advocate for agriculture; they also wanted to blend the use of traditional and new media, and put young people at the centre of the process. Assembling a team to carry out the social media reporting was a first step; 136 young agriculture professionals from 44 countries were gathered to form an online group, the GCARD Social Media Team (SMT). Led by Peter Casier of the CGIAR - known affectionately by us as 'grandpa' - the team got familiar with the conference themes and objectives, and got to know each other as we prepared a social media outreach strategy. We also began the process of engagement with the wider public, through introductory blogs, articles and use of Facebook and Twitter.

The SMT received two days' intensive training in use of social media tools (© GFAR)
The SMT received two days' intensive training in use of social media tools
© GFAR

Thirty five members of the team were chosen as onsite reporters. Building the capacity of young agri-professionals to showcase their work and reach new audiences was a key pillar of the communication plan for GCARD, and this group received two days' intensive, onsite training in use of social media tools. Eight major outlets were targeted, for different purposes: Twitter, the GCARD blog, YouTube for video interviews, Facebook, audio podcasts for interview sharing, Flickr and Slideshare for pictures and presentations, and LinkedIn for professional interaction. During the conference, coordination meetings were held at the beginning and end of each day, and each plenary and parallel session was monitored and reported on via these outlets. Through this work, many more people joined the conference virtually than were able to be there physically. The onsite team was complemented by the remaining 101 SMT members, who worked offsite as support staff.

In terms of reporting output, the SMT excelled in its task, publishing 63 mainstream articles (including for VOA, Financial Times and BBC), 152 blogposts (attracting over 16,000 visits from 149 countries), more than 1,500 live Twitter updates per day (reaching over 350,000 people), and more than 300 updates on Facebook (attracting over 20,000 hits). Each day, a digest of the previous day's social media updates was also distributed by email to all participants, with a daily digest also published online.

Advocating for agriculture

The SMT published 152 blogposts (© GFAR)
The SMT published 152 blogposts
© GFAR

But the group also became the voice of agri-youth for the entire conference, both through blog posts and by voicing opinions at the plenary sessions. Conscious that the voices of youth and also women are not being heard in the discourse of Agricultural Research for Development, we shared our passions, experiences and outlook, and our desire for additional opportunities for employment and development. Through our interaction we discovered that, although we had all entered the field of agriculture in a variety of ways, including by chance, we all had one thing in common: an immense passion for the field and its importance. Hence our urge to seek careers and long term involvement in the sector.

Together we have formed a diverse network of dedicated youth in agri-related fields covering almost every region of the world. Members of the GCARD SMT originate from Burkina Faso, France, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Romania, Spain, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Zimbabwe and many other countries. As well as receiving certificates of participation from the Uruguay Minister of Agriculture, the onsite team was also honoured by the President of Uruguay, who having heard of our activities, requested a separate meeting with us as social reporters from around the world.

A life changing event

Keron Bascombe receiving a certificate for social media training from the Uruguayan Minister of Agriculture (© GFAR)
Keron Bascombe receiving a certificate for social media training from the Uruguayan Minister of Agriculture
© GFAR

The GCARD SMT truly was a life changing event for many of the young professionals that participated. Mai Touma from Syria comments: "GCARD2 has enabled me to learn more, share, and now perform as a social media reporter: I have now my own blog to write about agricultural development and research at ICARDA, the centre where I work. I'm Tweeting, Facebooking, knowledge sharing, and setting up a big social media campaign to spread ICARDA worldwide." Swathi Sridharan, who participated in the conference remotely, from Zimbabwe, writes: "I was able to follow instantly what was taking place and, unlike the traditional media stories, really appreciated the informal, chatty, thought provoking opinions of those who were there. It felt more like being part of a large circle of friends at a party, talking and milling around together, sharing ideas, than the usual way we follow a conference's outputs and outcomes."

For myself, GCARD2 made me decide to upgrade my blog about technologies, techniques and methods which can be applied to agriculture. GCARD2 has led the way towards a career in agricultural journalism and communications. I see success in my future and a positive impact upon the agri-sectors. And a concluding word from Nawsheen Hosenally, a team member from Mauritius: "I am applying what I have learnt from GCARD2 in my work, focusing on youth in agriculture and rural development. If we want to make a change in Agricultural Research for Development, we cannot ignore the youth and social media!"

Written by: Keron Bascombe

Date published: January 2013

 

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