ACDC News – Issue 01-10

Shallow media coverage of agriculture. Just airing conflicting views.

What happens when urban media try to cover agricultural issues with reporters not familiar with those issues? Stephen Strauss, an award-winning science writer in Canada, explored this dilemma at a recent annual meeting of Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment (AgCare). He said that “reporters want to offer fair and even views, but may have little understanding of the issues they report on.” The outcome:

“Somewhat at the mercy of commentators on the issue, and writing for a non-specialist audience, writers may abandon the attempt to provide synthesis, and merely present contrary viewpoints, leaving readers to apply their own interpretations.

Reference: Use a title search (“Agriculture and the urban media”) for the full citation, including URL for online access.

Internet speeds rumor grapevines: a case report.

An article that we added recently from Western Producer magazine (Canada) described “a worldwide internet storm that has some people believing that canola oil is poisonous, has been used to create mustard gas, and has caused mad cow disease.” Reporter Ed White traced the origins of this Web-spread reportage and said the Canola Council of Canada is “working overtime to correct the misinformation.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Canola rumor travels the world”) or author search (White) for the full citation, including URL for online access.

A (troubling) 39-year, global look at diffusion and adoption of hybrid crops.

Authors of a recent article in the Journal of International Development reported the results of an econometric analysis of yields of eight crops in developing and developed countries. They used Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO/United Nations) data covering 39 years, from 1961 to 1999.

Findings? “Innovations at the frontier are a permanent feature such that developing countries are ‘pushed back’ from the frontier continuously.”

And who will benefit from adoption of biotechnology innovations?

These economists suggested that implications for the impact of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) are evident. “On the basis of the experiences with hybrid crops, we can predict that GURTs will negatively impact on the rate of diffusion of innovations in those crops for which developing countries could previously rely on a flow of innovations from abroad.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Genetic use restriction technologies”) or author search (Goeschl) for the full citation.

“People have to be take action to improve their lives.”

Participation is a key element in successful rural development, according to Robert Agunga in his useful book, Developing the Third World: A Communication Approach. And he places the professional communicator front-and-center in this process. Raised on a small-scale farm in Ghana, Agunga has used his own background and experience to observe the shortcomings of top-down approaches to rural development. In the book he emphasized the key role of communication — and the urgent need for “a new breed of development worker,” the development support communication (DSC) professional. “Promoting participation and mobilization of beneficiaries” is one of nine functions of such professionals.

Reference: Use a title or author search for the full citation.

Promoting new “rural underpinnings” for the global economy.

In an era when agricultural and rural development is “seldom on anyone’s agenda” David Bathrick of Winrock International emphasizes the need to forge rural growth. During a recent presentation at the U. S. Library of Congress he noted that for the first time in three decades the World Bank projects poverty trends to worsen in many countries. At the same time, he said, support for agriculture (in real value terms) during the late 1990s was barely one-third of the support provided in the late 1980s.

Within five key themes, Bathrick offered evidence of how a dynamic agricultural sector “becomes the essential pivotal sector for forging global well-being, for poorer and richer countries.” And he suggested four possible strategic interventions – all of which involve effective communication, in forms such as building awareness, mobilizing, coordinating, sharing information, and providing information and education services.

Reference: Use a title search (“Forging rural growth from globalization”) or author search (Bathrick) for the full citation.

We’re struggling with the language challenge.

Globalization brings with it language barriers that need to be overcome. The ACDC collection involves agriculture-related communicating in more than 90 countries. However, most of the documents are in English language, so their usefulness is more limited than we would like – especially as we look ahead.

According to a recent article in Far Eastern Economic Review: “Global technology-research company IDC estimates non-English speakers on the Web outnumber English speakers by 211 million to 192 million. And it predicts that the number of non-English users will hit 560 million by 2003, dwarfing an English-speaking population by then of 230 million.”

Machine translation can help us. However, limited staffing and budgets in the Center leave this language challenge with us. We welcome any ideas you may have.

Concept of the virtuous farmer.

Richard Ashcroft addressed the tug-of-war between farming “as a way of life” or “as a business” in a recent issue of Outlook on Agriculture.

“Farming is no longer ‘traditional agriculture’: nor is it any longer only the business of farmers — scientists, business people and the urban public all have a stake in agriculture. The traditional virtues of farming may need revision. But the concept of the virtuous farmer still makes sense, and it is both moral and practical. Talking about ‘playing God’ gestures at this — both the farmer and the scientist acting rashly or improvidently fail as regards the virtues of their professions. Public debate to date has not, however, grasped this point.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Agriculture, ethics and biotechnology”) or author search (Ashcroft) for the full citation.

Lost in the agricultural revolution: the principle of the “gift.”

In Way of the human being, Calvin Martin encourages readers to begin to perceive the world “of those people who beheld the first Europeans splash ashore five hundred years ago, and yet who did not regard time or reality or even words themselves in the way those newcomers did then or we do now.”

This thought-provoking book offers valuable insights for rural communicators who would be sensitive to their audiences. It notes, for example, how the hunter-gatherer societies rendered remarkable courtesy to plants and animals. “Underpinning the relationship with the spirits of earth was a tenacious confidence that man and woman are taken care of by this commonwealth, through the principles of the “gift:” creatures gave themselves of their own free will. The agricultural revolution marked the repudiation of all this.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Way of the human being”) or author search (Martin) for the full citation.

Professional activities approaching:

June 28-July 1, 2001
East Region Meeting of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) in Leamington, Ontario, Canada.

July 28-August 1, 2001
Joint meeting of Agricultural Communicators in Education (ACE) and the National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) in Toronto, Canada.

Want to learn to measure cow and sheep burps? 

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper mentioned a booklet teaching farmers how to calculate methane volumes produced by belching livestock. It’s part of the ongoing fight in Australia to counter greenhouse gas emissions. A research organization has estimated that the Australian cow and sheep population “burps 3 million tonnes of methane annually.”

Best regards and good searching.

Please pass along your reactions, questions and ideas for ACDC. Feel free to invite our help as you search for information. And please suggest (or send) agricultural communications documents that we might add to this collection. We welcome them in hard copy (sent to Ag Com Documentation Center, 69 Mumford Hall, University of Illinois, 1301 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801) or electronic form ( Thank you.

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