The San Jorge University (USJ) together with the Association of Agri-Food Journalists of Spain (APAE) are organising this university expert course which has already trained more than thirty people from all over Spain.
“When we journalists who report on the agricultural sector go to the press conferences of agricultural councillors and they talk about the CAP, we find out about it; but the rest of the journalists usually ask us a lot of questions about how to approach the issues. It is a sector that you have to control because it is very complex”. For this reason, Elisa Plumed, the current president of the Spanish Association of Agri-food Journalists (APAE), together with other colleagues such as Miguel Ángel Mainar and Lourdes Zuriaga, thought about how to train all those interested in learning more about agri-food communication, whether they were journalists or not. This is how the university expert degree that San Jorge University has been offering since 2017 in collaboration with APAE came about and which has already trained more than thirty people from all over Spain, because it is a pioneering and unique training in the country.
The course is aimed at two very different profiles, on the one hand, those journalists who want to learn more about the agri-food sector and approach concepts related to the role of the administration, the links in the sector, etc; and on the other hand, those professionals in the agri-food sector who want to acquire tools to learn how to communicate.
“The agricultural sector is so broad that it is impossible to control it; it is an approximation so that journalists can get to know it better as a whole,” says Elisa Plumed. “We also want to improve the chain of communication in the agri-food sector and how to communicate decisions in the sector, as it is sometimes very complicated,” says Plumed.
There are 525 hours of training in a blended format (90% online with six face-to-face sessions). It is precisely this format that has been chosen because the people who work in the agri-food sector are very close to the territory and as it is the only training of its kind in Spain, it must be accessible. Students from Malaga, Valencia, Madrid, Valladolid, Asturias, Zaragoza, Huesca, Teruel, the Canary Islands and Barcelona have already enrolled.
This year, due to covid, the start of the training has been postponed to October 2021. More than 20 teachers are taking part in the course, most of them experts who work in the sector on a daily basis.
The expert course in agri-food communication aims to specialise journalists and encourage communication within the primary sector, which has always been very closed to communication, except in times of crisis.
“In the primary sector, the focus is no longer so much on sales or quality-price, but more on loyalty, values, emotions… Now the important thing is to communicate that a company is socially responsible, that it is committed to the environment and to its employees. And you have to know how to do that,” explains Elisa Plumed.
Agri-food communication: more and more necessary every day
The agri-food sector “has never been given much importance, only in the regional media because it is information that is very close to the territory”, explains the President of APAE. In fact, Plumed highlights the value of this sector, as it is of great economic importance “because it distributes a lot of money”. “As a journalist, agri-food information is very informative because on the one hand there are many groups and associations involved and also because of the large amount of funding that comes from the European Union through the CAP, which is the only common policy that the EU currently has,” says Plumed.
Since the pandemic, things have changed. “There has been a small turnaround with covid, which already started about three years ago by sowing a breeding ground that has made it possible for depopulation and everything that affects these territories and their ways of life to be of interest. This continued with the farmers’ demonstrations over low prices in January 2020 and reached its peak with the confinement, when agri-food became an essential sector and interest in it grew,” he says.
“As we stayed in our homes, we started to focus more on food, and something we had been so sure of, such as food, came into question with a great fear of shortages. But shortages are not something that happens in societies like ours. The primary sector continued to work during the pandemic under very complicated conditions and the public has given it value,” argues the president of APAE, an association with more than 150 members throughout the country.
This is why agri-food communication has become fundamental nowadays in order to communicate the good work of the sector and to make all the stages of the food chain known. “Although we have always recommended talking and communicating, in the past we only responded with crisis communication. Cases such as the Évole report on the meat industry, the listeriosis crisis, the outbreaks of swine fever in Europe, mad cow disease… are well known, because the sector is not used to talking, because it has never needed to do so,” says Plumed.