3 March 2000

Link with world farming to be cut

At the end of March the BBC World Service will drop the

only programme devoted to farming world-wide. Thats a

shame believes Geoff Tansey, who is one of its contributors

THE Farming World has run for over 40 years, but this kind of specialist programme is doomed – not because the BBC thinks it is no good but because it does not fit the corporations new vision.

"There is much less need for professionals to pick up information from these specialist World Service programmes," argues Penny Tuerk, who runs the World Service English Network. "With the technology explosion, it is much easier for people to get that kind of information" she says.

Nonsense, argues David Dixon, who produced the programme for many years and now edits Appropriate Technology. "For years we had to fight battles to keep the programme going whenever they had a relaunch in the World Service – the problem is that senior management dont understand the needs of rural listeners. Last year, excluding South Africa, only one African in 9000 has access to the Internet, while around the world the average is one person in 40."

"We get listeners from urban and rural areas, rich and poor countries", says current producer Sarah Reynolds, pointing to a mound of correspondence from all over the world.

From April, World Service coverage of agriculture will be within its environment and development programmes as well as occasional series looking at various aspects of food. These should have more influence on the opinion formers who form a major part of their audience, believes Ms Tuerk.

"Theres nothing new in this, it has been happening for years and the coverage in science and business is good. But it tends to happen when there is controversy, crisis or a scientific breakthrough. What is to be lost is the weekly coverage of agriculture and rural development, which provides millions of World Service listeners with an understanding of and a feel for these matters," says Michael Pickstock of Wren Media which makes The Farming World for the BBC.

"Most World Service listeners live in countries where agriculture underpins the economy. What will these listeners, nationals and expatriates, make of the BBCs decision that there is no place for such specialist programmes in the new schedules?" During the 70s and 80s when first famine threatened Asia and then the Green Revolution postponed the crisis, the BBC World Service extended The Farming World from 15 to 30 minutes per week. As the benefits of the first Green Revolution are overtaken by continuing population increase and the need to report on the next revolution increases, the decision to drop the programme is inexplicable." he says.

Penny Tuerk believes the new approach is right. But, she says, her decision is not irrevocable and "if we get a lot of letters to the contrary I will take notice of them."

If you have comments write to "Write On", BBC, Bush House, Strand, London WC2B 4PH.Or e-mail to: writeon@bbc.co.uk

Farmers are always ready to listen to good ideas and reliable information. What better means than by radio?