Rebuilding agriculture’s reputation: Now’s time to get back on the front foot

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Written by Rachel Martin

There’s never been a better time to push for reform in agriculture’s public image – at least according to international marketing mogul Poran Malani.

Malani, who heads up international advertising agency S4Capital, made the comments at the Women in Food and Agriculture Digital Festival this week.

“With vision and a strategy, now might be the time to get back on the front foot,” he said.

The public are more aware than ever before about food and food-related issues. Governments are at least looking at how to revise their food strategies.
“New and forward-thinking companies are looking at ways to engage and new channels make it possible to reach new creative communities and talk to them in an engaging way in order to foster change.”

Where to start?

“The first thing to do is to examine where we are – know thyself before we can look at the solutions we want others to see,” Malani told delegates.

Agriculture has been set on a path over the last 70 years of separating itself from mainstream opinion and trends – the drive has been to provide affordable and quality food to ensure that the population is fed.
“The imagery of farming has been driven by the manufacturers and the retail industry who have used and simplified the image of the farmer in that process.

“Agriculture is no longer simply about food. To be successful you must be an agronomist, a scientist, an entrepreneur. You must be able to make huge financial risks and be able to work a hard, and often lonely, existence. You need to not just be a food producer, but also guardians of the environment.”

4 key steps

Malani highlighted the issue of conflicting messages coming from within the industry because it comprises of so many separate groups – for example, unions, producer bodies, workers – often with opposing views.

“A mechanism needs to be created – forward-thinking and objective – utilising each sector and consumer, scientific and government trends,” he said.

“This body needs to be set up to drive an internal industry agenda, develop policy and strategy with the governments and manufacturers and potential partners, and from this, the messaging will come.”

Bringing in new talent

Malani also suggested a fresh approach to recruitment – including hiring those from outside the industry – could lead to a more progressive sector, better able to challenge itself.

“Change starts with the new people entering the industry. Our they diverse enough? Do we attract the best because we stand for innovation that people need?” he explained.

Do the successful among us do enough to enable change and help empower the rest? Are we looking beyond the profession and adding a moral and ethical equation to our practices?
Finding allies

“Previous foes – retailers and manufacturers – are now struggling against the big e-commerce giants. We can now form alliances with these groups to focus on our goals, as well as theirs,” he said.

For the first time, big tech companies with all of their cash and methodology are looking at getting involved in some of the big issues – environment, shortages and wastage. There has never been a better time to work with new innovative partners.
Understanding the audience

Malani explained the key to effective marketing was to understand the audience and consider its beliefs and how that compares with the image the industry is hoping to achieve.

“We need to understand who we are talking to and make sure we engage with them in the right way. Otherwise, you spend a lot of money saying the wrong things to the wrong people, resulting in nothing changing,” he said.

“The vision needs to be set – what is the role of agriculture? It’s not just food, it’s the science and organisation of keeping the world alive.

It’s the passion to drive through the unknown to reach a place where our stomachs are full to ensure that 10 billion people in 20 years time can not only eat well but be healthy…It takes vision, purpose and commitment.
“We will have to overcome ancient stereotypes and unleash the potential of every human being who can and wants to contribute,” he added.

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