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Joe Watson Legacy Fund provides Martin with opportunity for African ag studies

By 3rd November 2023November 6th, 2023No Comments

The Joe Watson Legacy Fund helped Martin Rickatson finance the travel costs to join four other BGAJ members in visiting north west Africa.

A year on from the visit by five BGAJ members to the north-west African country of Guinea, courtesy of the country’s AMEDAR (Association of Media and Agriculture for Rural Development), exploratory emails have been exchanged regarding a return trip to enable BGAJ members to potentially offer some training of journalists and communicators in the country’s agriculture sector.

The group, comprising Martin Rickatson, Adrian Bell, Philip Case, Simon Haley and Jean-Pierre Garnier, returned from the week-long visit last October after six days of meetings with the country’s government ministers and visits to crop and livestock farms, intertwined with the opportunity to visit some of the little-explored country’s key sights.

“One of the most enjoyable aspects of agricultural journalism is being able to experience how farming is practised in many different countries, something I’m lucky to do as a machinery and arable writer through visits to overseas factories and field days,” says Martin.

“Every one is fascinating, but few are quite as different to my usual travel spots as Guinea, to which we travelled courtesy of AMEDAR and the BGAJ, and for which I part-funded my travel costs thanks to the bursary I was jointly awarded in 2018 by the BGAJ Joe Watson Legacy Fund.

“In a country where well over three-quarters of the population practises subsistence agriculture, and where challenging roads, literacy and other factors would make distribution of printed media extremely difficult, the head of AMEDAR, Alpha Ousmane Souaré, and the team he has around him, make an impressive effort to get information and advice to farmers via radio and the internet, through the FIM 95.3 radio station and particularly the La Guinée Rurale programme.

“AMEDAR’s generous hosting of me and my travelling companions, and the visits they organised to farms and facilities, plus meetings with ministers and officials in the Guinean government’s agricultural, fisheries, forestry and mining ministries, gave us some really significant insights into how the country’s natural resources industries work – and what they need to help them work better.

“This was my first full experience of west African agriculture and its agricultural media, and it showed not only how many challenges we have in common in farming across the world, but also how many of the differences – such as storage, processing and transportation capability – require ‘only’ good quality advice and investment from trustworthy collaborators to unlock the huge potential of such a country to sell added-value consumer-ready foods rather than unprocessed crops.

“The irony of drinking imported pineapple juice in a strong pineapple-producing country was not lost on us, for example. And on the farms themselves, investment in simple technology and the means of supporting it – basic tractors and implements plus the service training to back them up, for example – could massively boost productivity in a country that has good soils, plentiful water and fairly benign weather.

“I was really grateful for the support of Farmers Guardian in publishing my report from the trip, and for the Joe Watson Legacy Fund award which helped me a freelance to justify the travel expenditure required. We had a great group of five in the travelling team, and were really well looked-after by Alpha and his team. If our discussions about the possibility of a second trip bear fruit, I would urge anyone who has an interest in African agriculture and the desire to pass on their agricultural journalism and communications experience to get involved.”