I'm in Argentina this week getting my first taste of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists annual convention, which has been an enlightening experience.
IFAJ has been bringing together agricultural journalists since its first meeting in Paris in 1959. This week marks the first time the association has held its meeting in a Latin American country. That also translates into the first time Latin America has been able to showcase its agricultural production to a mix of agricultural reporters from around the world. Roughly 30 of the 150 or so journalists at the IFAJ events are from Latin America.
In a theme that sounds familiar to the U.S. in some sense, Latino journalists noted the mainstream press doesn't cover agriculture much, unless food prices are rising or there is some other food crisis. That's been a repeated comment thus far in Argentina.
After being in the country now since Thursday, if I have one simple takeaway it is that these people know how to eat -- way too much even for me. The food has been both amazing and overwhelming at the same time. Their steakhouses are first class in Buenos Aires.
Our dinner discussions on Monday night were broken up into different topics at each table. I landed at the No-Till table with five Europeans, another American and an agronomist who moderated our discussion. With soybeans dominating the production in Argentina, as high as 80% of the crops are planted without tillage. Increasingly, soybean farmers are running into challenges with weed resistance because of reliance on glyphosate and lack of rotation. It's common for a farmer in Argentina to simply go year after year planting soybeans. The Europeans defended the need to till to both warm the soil and dry it in the spring. I suggested maybe the Europeans need to be looking more closely at soil-erosion issues when they come up with all of these sustainability models.
The head of Latin American operations for Syngenta was one of the afternoon presenters Sunday. He sought to stress the difference between "good technology and bad technology." While highlighting the necessity for sustainability, such a topic cannot just focus on the environment, but also economics. Also, organic agriculture may be good, but it cannot feed the world.
The commodity boom has lifted the economies of Latin America, which used to be relegated to being a second-class producer of cheap commodities. Reporters from each country in Central and South America ended up doing small presentations about agriculture in their own countries. It became a little too much like an infomercial for me with no real engagement about the issues either farmers or the journalists face in their work. I left.
Later on, we were heading to a reception in the evening but got literally roped into a one-hour Powerpoint presentation about soy processing in Argentina. It was a little informative in that it reflected how much Argentina relies heavily on soy exports in different ways. I promise to have a more detailed report on these issues.
Sunday's events were a little bizarre as a reporter because the one word missing at the end of every presentation: Pregunta? (Questions?) What, 150 journalists in the room and we don't get to ask questions?
Last Friday, I also had the honor of teaching at the master class/boot camp, which included ag journalists from the Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Guatemala, Holland, Ireland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine and the United States. We discussed challenges journalists have reporting on climate change, as well as integrating social media into their work.
At the core of the class I tried to get people to ask questions.
On the climate talk, I led the discussion, which translated into describing why I consider climate change to be such a wicked problem for agricultural journalists. As I told the class, reporting on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies will increasingly becoming part of the work of reporting on agriculture. I described climate change as a "wicked problem" because we have to both understand and describe the science, as well as how it affects our producers. Moreover, society will struggle to deal with climate change because the worst effects of higher greenhouse-gas emissions won't be realized until the second-half of the century. As we know from our problems with the federal budget, society is willing to continually kick the can down the road until a problem then becomes so huge that there are no easy solutions.
I also took a page out of the work done by the 25x'25 Alliance on adaptation strategies when highlighting the various needs for agriculture. If you haven't done so, take the time to read the 25x'25 report produced earlier this year.
Journalists outside our boot camp were also skeptical of our class and reflected that through social media. On the IFAJ Facebook page, an Irish reporter was certain the other instructor and I were turning reporters into public-affairs people with our presentations. Another reporter on Twitter could not see why I described climate change as a wicked problem to report on. I guess he has already solved the issues in his country.
Our tweets from the class with the hashtag #IFAJ2013 were enough that it trended on Friday, so much so that the Argentinian press began to wonder what we were about. Next thing I know, a few newspaper and wire photographers were in our class shooting photos. You can follow tweets throughout the entire week using the #IFAJ2013 hashtag.
Others outside the conference wanted to know what we discussed about agriculture and climate change. I am making the offer that if you would like me to present the same class to a group of people, I would be happy to see if we can set something up.
On Tuesday, we finally get to tour more production agriculture with visits to some of the country's largest export terminals, as well as a research center.
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