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Spore: highlighting impact and innovation in agricultural transformation across the years

Trends

For over 34 years, CTA’s flagship magazine, Spore, has offered guidance to smallholder farmers across the ACP, enabling greater productivity and income generation. As a tool contributing to sustainable agricultural transformation, its influence has been widely felt and is well recognised. In this final Trends article, as Spore comes to an end, we review its legacy and how the magazine has evolved from a short technical bulletin to a comprehensive online and print magazine.

At its peak, hard copies of Spore were distributed to over 60,000 subscribers (organisations and individuals) in ACP countries and read by a great many more. A 2015 independent evaluation of Spore stated that: “Spore magazine has improved the knowledge and skills of its worldwide audience. The new knowledge acquired improved the capacities of the readers in the long-term with effect spread beyond the immediate beneficiaries as most of them share the magazine, often with more than five people.”

Born out of a CTA bulletin in 1986, Spore launched in English and French 3 years after CTA was established. However, in Issue 1, CTA’s stipulation for the bi-monthly printed publication was that “rather than promoting CTA, Spore aims to ensure the widest possible dissemination of information of relevance to the agricultural world, in order to fertilise ideas and allow them to germinate. It is in this down-to-earth way that Spore hopes to participate in the process of rural development.”

Since the early years of Spore, the global perspective on agricultural development has changed and so the magazine has also evolved to become more than a technical bulletin providing agricultural production advice to providing in-depth coverage of the topics and issues of broader relevance to agribusiness and sustainable agriculture critical to agricultural transformation. “The content of Spore is varied and rich. What I like in particular is the ‘Dossier’ where a problem is discussed in an in-depth way and well detailed, therefore giving lots of information, and this makes the reader reflect on agricultural issues in a general way,” said Souleymane Nacro, a researcher at the Institute of Environment and Agricultural Research of Burkina Faso during a workshop of Spore readers held as part of the external 2015 Spore evaluation. Always highly valued as a reference source, Spore has been shown to have been used in multiple ways, including in teaching material for spreading knowledge, as well as practical improvements in agricultural practices and in stimulating new agribusiness ventures (see video of Spore reflections).

John Gushit, a lecturer in the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Jos, Nigeria, stated in feedback to CTA: “I write to thank you for how Spore has guided me in my research,” citing a specific article about a project in Kenya featured in the June/July 2012 issue (No. 159). The information helped him to design his research project on helping smallholder farmers to make better and safer use of pesticides. “This project will have a positive impact on the users of these chemicals, as it will enhance good farming practice and healthy living among smallholders,” Gushit emphasised.

In 2010, the Spore June/July 2010 issue (No. 147) featured a short article reporting on quail farming that had taken off in Cameroon. The information caught the attention of Thomas Munyoro, a retired policeman in Kenya’s Nyeri district and a leading light in the 2010 Strategic Self-Help Group, a local NGO for retired civil servants. Munyoro read the article in the offices of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers. “My colleagues and I had been rearing rabbits, but they were affected by many diseases, so we were looking for other activities,” he recalled. Attracted by the idea of quail farming after reading Spore, they researched the topic further and found a quail producer in Nairobi to source chicks in order to establish a business selling quails’ eggs, which were in great demand for their medicinal properties. Before long, Munyoro had over 100 laying quail and his business was thriving.

Extending the reach of Spore

As a relatively small institution with a large mandate, it has been necessary for CTA in all its activities to build smart partnerships with farmers’ organisations, government agencies, research networks, youth and women’s groups and the private sector to add value and bring about sustainable transformation in the agricultural sector. Strategic partnerships have also featured in the dissemination of Spore, particularly for extending the reach of the print edition and Spore has prided itself on reaching places where other magazines found it difficult to gain a readership. One example was South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a region which suffered greatly from armed conflict during 1998-2003; even years later, communications remained difficult.

With little or poor internet connections in South Kivu, CTA struck a Spore distribution deal with Proximédias Libres, a local company with a good network of partners. Before the partnership was launched in 2010, there were just 100 Spore subscribers in South Kivu. By 2014, there were 1,500 including NGOs, churches, radio clubs, schools, government departments and individuals. The magazines were shipped to the regional capital, Bukavu, and distributed by bus, motorbike and pirogue (canoe) with copies also collected from radio stations and churches. Spore was put to good use by educational institutions, and information from the magazine was regularly transmitted by local radio stations. Readers’ responses were overwhelmingly positive: “I am an avid reader of your magazine, it brings so much to me and my small student community,” stated Arsene Birindwa from DRC. “I strongly believe that awareness-raising on the use of ICTs in agriculture and the added value of agricultural products is making the Congolese agricultural sector increasingly attractive for young people and stimulating their interest in agriculture.”

Following this success in DRC, CTA developed an innovative partnership in Cameroon with the monthly newspaper La Voix du Paysan/The Farmers’ Voice, which distributed Spore free-of-charge. As a result, between 2010 and 2013, the number of subscribers receiving Spore more than doubled from 3,000 to over 7,500. Readership surveys in Cameroon revealed a high level of satisfaction. Over 50% of respondents stated that the magazine provided them with useful information about agricultural and rural development worldwide and in neighbouring countries; approximately 16% benefited from technical information and 10% from references and useful addresses. In Uganda, a similar readership survey provided a number of examples of specific activities inspired by Spore, including on post-harvest practices, biogas, fruit growing, fish farming and vegetable production.

Changing with the times

Interacting with readers, and allowing exchange between readers, has always been a priority for Spore. In the past, letters and emails were received and selected extracts of testimonies, appreciations and comments on articles were published in the M@ilbox section of the printed magazine. In the December 2012/January 2013 issue (No. 161), one reader wrote: “The magazine has been and is still of immense assistance to me as a government field staff advisor; it always keeps me abreast of the latest developments in agriculture.”

Regular surveys also allowed Spore to maintain contact with its readership and, in 2006, with the magazine celebrating 20 years, the editorial team tracked down some of the readers who had shown an interest in Spore in a 2001 readership survey. Tibi Guissou, a microbiologist at the INERA agricultural institute stated that he frequently quoted Spore in articles he wrote for specialist magazines. “Unlike other publications which focus too much on one aspect, Spore has a more multi-disciplinary approach,” said the researcher, who had done much work on the jujube (red date) after being inspired by a Spore article. In Jamaica, environmentalist Dr Frank E Lawrence reported that the publication was his constant companion. “Spore is one of the most useful sources for providing information in helping and motivating small-scale producers,” adding that he regularly passed on copies and articles to other people.

In recent years,to respond to the demands of a more digitally-minded audience and to appeal to a younger readership, articles are provided in a variety of formats, beyond just the quarterly print magazine. Increased digital content includes a greater number of articles published on the Spore website, a bi-monthly newsletter and an active social media presence. Since 2017, Spore has also been also available as an e-pub on key e-reader platforms (Amazon, Apple and Google).

A transformative approach

Highlighting innovation and impact is key in all of the articles written for Spore which now focuses on three thematic areas that are key to agricultural transformation in Africa and beyond: entrepreneurship, digitalisation for agriculture and climate-smart agriculture (CSA). To complement the in-depth analyses provided, short thematic articles, field reports and interviews are written by a network of ACP correspondents who regularly contribute ideas. A number of these correspondents (see box, Cultivating a passion for journalism) have been supported by CTA through their media and journalistic activities, including radio and print training.

As times have changed, written letters are no longer received but Spore’s social media channels provide a valuable way to interact with readers as well as contributors. One tweet on a young woman entrepreneur’s presentation particularly resonated with the social media audience: “Did you eat insects for lunch today at the #AGRF2019? Great #circulareconomy presentation by @HuijbersTalash on using #insects 4 #livestockfeed”.

Capturing the dynamism of young entrepreneurs such as these in our journalistic collaborations for Spore is a real pleasure for us as a team of writers and editors. The energy and enthusiasm of young people to transform agriculture and make a real difference is aptly captured by the business leader’s interview with Isaac Sesi in this edition. Sesi has a real passion that shines through for inspiring other young people to get into science and technology. Sharing his interview on LinkedIn, he received over 250 reactions in just 1 week – using his network to extend the reach of Spore. Sesi and Huijbers are just two of a number of impressive entrepreneurs featured in this and other recent editions of Spore. Others include Ngabaghila Chatata of Thanthwe Farmers. Promoting CSA approaches (greenhouses and drip irrigation), Chatata has transformed her horticulture farm into an agribusiness hub that is incubating over 3,000 youth and smallholder farmers a year and is producing over 100 t of high-quality fruit and vegetables year-round for supply to local hotels and supermarkets in Malawi. And featured in this edition, from Kenya, 28 year old Rodgers Kirwa, who uses the profits from his harvests to sustain his iAgribiz Africa Model Farm and provide training courses to over 2,000 local farmers, which has resulted in yield increases of up to 100% (see Kenyan Smallholders Adopt Market-Oriented Production in this edition).

A fond farewell

It is with great sadness that the Spore team acknowledge that Spore is coming to an end. However, the archive of articles will continue to be available online. As the current editorial team, we and our network of ACP correspondents, have been proud to be a part of the Spore story, to report on such a wide portfolio of topics and to network with an extensive range of partners and organisations. We thank you, our readers; without your support and interest in receiving the information provided in Spore, the publication would not have endured – over 3 decades is a lasting legacy indeed.

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

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Cultivating a passion for journalism

As a long-standing Spore correspondent, it is not an understatement to say that CTA support has enabled me to mature as an agriculture journalist. It is over 20 years since I first received radio production training in 1997 in order to become a correspondent for CTA’s Rural Radio Resource Packs (RRRPs), which provided me with an opportunity to report on agriculture in Africa and the role of smallholder farmers in growing, processing and marketing food. As a result, I developed radio programmes on innovative agricultural issues that were freely broadcast across Africa. The programmes, which were often also shared on cassette and CD-ROM at farmer club meetings, armed farmers with useful information. Some of these farmers, who I interviewed for RRRP programmes, told me that the programmes had enabled them to quickly and easily diagnose crop and animal diseases and seek treatment, which was especially important when they had limited interactions with extension advisors.

When the RRRPs were discontinued, my long-standing association with CTA unlocked an opportunity to become a correspondent for Spore. This has been an insightful experience, which has enabled me to blend specialised scientific agriculture research and farmer narratives with meticulous fact-checking, analysis and creativity. Coverage of key conferences, sponsored by CTA, and writing stories about CTA’s work across ACP countries has also honed my writing skills and enabled farmers to share their experiences with a wide audience. This work – which has been published online and in print, including by international outlets such as the Inter Press Service – has raised my professional profile. As a result, I was invited to judge the 2018 and 2019 International Federation of Agriculture Journalist (IFAJ) Star Prize, and in July 2019 I was awarded an IFAJ fellowship designed to provide professional development, leadership training and networking opportunities to agricultural journalists from developing countries.

Busani Bafana

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Spore: a far reaching legacy

Robert Delleré was head of CTA’s Technical Division for 10 years, and became Spore’s first editor-in-chief. As production of the magazine comes to an end, Delleré shares his thoughts about Spore’s legacy.

Spore has impacted on so many people in different ways for the simple reason that it is unmatched. It responds to a need and has been adopted by the large community responsible for agricultural and rural progress in ACP countries. It has no equivalent for the transmission and exchange of information in its field.

Over the years, Spore has constantly improved: from the use of colour and photos, to covering a larger range of languages and, eventually, production of a digital edition. Contribution from target groups – including producers, researchers, extension officers, and officials – has also grown. I could not have expected a better performance.

Spore has been a flagship for CTA. It has helped the centre make itself known and therefore, in a way, be able to fulfil its role to help ACP countries become self-sufficient in food production and protect their environments. I cannot accept the idea that Spore would stop so soon.”

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