Jeff Rutherford
Publication Date
Publication Date: 
September 1, 2012

"Journalists can make an important contribution to debates over food and farming by helping to inform their audiences about not just the challenges, but also about the emergence of agro-ecology and its potential to make a difference."

In preparation for the Earth Journalism Network (EJN) Fellowship Program to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress taking place in September 2012, journalism trainer Jeff Rutherford has developed this media guide on agro-ecology and food sovereignty issues to help journalists in their efforts to cover these issues. The toolkit contains:

  • Section 1: Food at a Crossroads - "Successfully meeting development and sustainability goals and responding to new priorities and changing circumstances would require a fundamental shift in agricultural knowledge, science and technology." Background, definitions, and examples are provided for journalists. Strategies are also offered; for example: "Enough doom and gloom already....People are increasingly aware, though still woefully misinformed, that there is something wrong with how food works in our world. But instead of breeding action and commitment to finding solutions, this awareness risks breeding fatalism and complacency. Exciting advances in agro-ecology worldwide offer hope and avenues for action, but the message is not getting out."
  • Section 2: Look beyond the Hype - "What people don't know about food is damaging our health and the planet. Does it have to be that way?" Four key threats to industrial farming which undermine its capacity to continue in the future are outlined to inform journalists; they include: energy constraints, water availability, climate change, and ecological degradation.
  • Section 3: Seeing Food through a Journalistic Lens - "Reporting the truth about our food system requires an understanding of ecology and just good solid journalism." Tips for improving coverage of agro-ecology and food security issues. In brief, they include:
    • Use different angles - "Using a 'green' lens is important when it comes to agriculture. But don't just approach these issues from an environmental viewpoint....Agro-ecology and food sovereignty can be approached as a business or economic story, a scientific story, a health story, a social and cultural story, a security story, and so on."
    • Focus on People - "...focusing on case studies of farmers, agroecologists and researchers in the field help audiences to see what is (and isn't) people. And the subjects don't just have to be success stories; efforts that failed can be just as interesting and even more enlightening."
    • Avoid (or explain) jargon - "Especially when interviewing scientists, economists and other experts, think of yourself as an interpreter who needs to translate the language of this expertise into common terms that everyone can understand."
    • Focus on solutions, not just problems - "Including potential solutions - and there are of course others proposed besides agro-ecology - provides a story with more balance."
    • Explore all sides - "Interviewing proponents of these [varied] approaches, and coming to understand why they support the approaches they do, and what assumptions they are using, will make your reporting on agro-ecology and food sovereignty more nuanced, contextual and credible."
    • Use pictures and graphics - "Social media is of course another tool that modern reporters have come to rely on to distribute stories more widely, get feedback and indeed find sources and information."
    • Find News Pegs - "...[G]et creative in finding ways to pitch your stories in the newsroom. Good news pegs can include commemorative days (World Food Day, farmer-related events and even traditional holidays such as harvest festivals), or current events that relate to agricultural and environmental problems - famines, rising food prices, dead zones created by agricultural run-off and so on."
  • Section 4: Farming with nature...Does it pay? - "One of the least reported features of agro-ecology is that it can be profitable."

Chinese, English, Portuguese, and Spanish

Number of Pages: 

16 (Chinese), 17 (English), 19 (Portuguese), 20 (Spanish)


EJN website, September 20 2012; and email from Internews to The Communication Initiative on April 22 2013.