Talk it Out: Improving Agriculture Through Communication

Posted on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Written by Emma Drake, Communications Summer Intern

Around the world, many countries face ongoing challenges related to agriculture, food and rural development. Recent examples include the earthquakes in Nepal and the avian influenza outbreaks in North America and West Africa. Is it possible that these situations could have been avoided if there had been better communication between governments, manufacturers, environmentalists, agriculturalists and consumers?

A partnership between five universities and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is sharing resources for better communication, and hopefully preventing future agricultural crises and challenges.

The Communication for Rural Development and Social Change Global Research Initiative (GRI) strives to strengthen agricultural and rural policy framework by incorporating and improving the communication processes involved. Although scientists are working on innovating food production, sources and distribution, the GRI believes that communication is critical to solving the global food crisis.

“Communication plays a very important role for any kind of innovation,” states Dr. Helen Hambly Odame from the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, and GRI representative for the University of Guelph. In an era of misinformation, communication strategies become increasingly vital for conflict resolution, education and awareness, shares Helen.

Helen’s role in the initiative is to provide scholarly input and research support to the FAO around food, agriculture and rural development issues in relation to the communication process. Currently, she is looking at case studies based in Latin America and the Caribbean. The other four universities working on the initiative, the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Queensland University in Australia, Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, are looking at case studies in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa.

Based on the case studies, each university will provide the FAO with intelligence and research findings before the FAO advises countries of the United Nations on agricultural and rural development communication issues. This research not only aids the FAO, but also allows the universities to strengthen their own research competencies while networking with other partners who are supporting farmers and addressing global food security issues.

Ultimately, the GRI hopes to improve communication between all levels of agricultural stakeholders including national governments, inter-government organizations and producer organizations. Communication among these groups is minimal or doesn’t exist at all, which makes facing and surpassing current agricultural and rural development challenges increasingly difficult.  

“Within agriculture, there is culture,” explains Helen. “It’s those human, social and community elements which are challenging.”

For example, in the current avian influenza crisis there has been a lot of communication towards the public, but this communication has not allowed engagement of public stakeholders This is causing confusion and conflict amongst consumers, companies and producers that could be avoided if better relationships and communication processes were better established.

The GRI focuses on building partnerships between people and organizations rather than building physical communication systems, and Helen says that success for the GRI would be strong links between all levels of stakeholders. “We are hoping that around the world, we will start seeing producers, associations, ministries of agriculture, and the private sector communicating better about the issues that affect them and building their capabilities and their competencies to communicate,” she explains. 

Photo of rural woman speaking to crowd from the Communication for Rural Development Sourcebook

The Communication for Rural Development Sourcebook, available on the CCComDev website, provides guidance on how to apply communication practices to agricultural and rural development initiatives. The section which includes the photo above gives a general overview on communication for rural development. Photo by FAO / A. Proto.

A web-based platform called Collaborative Change Communication (CCComDev) has been established to provide updates on progress being made by the initiative. CCComDev also includes a document library with case studies, reports and other resources linked to the initiative. This platform, which is managed by the University of the Philippines Los Baños, serves as a communication tool between the universities involved in the initiative. “We want to build up our intelligence and knowledge as a partnership of universities, and we want to do it for the good of the world,” explains Helen.

“Food, agriculture and environment, including water resources, are going to be tremendously important in the future, and the capacity to learn and communicate will be essential ” shares Helen. “I am really proud to be a part of an institution like OAC and  collaborate with students who are going to be working in this area.” 

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