They only turn two in November, but Food For Mzansi is now, officially, not only South Africa’s top digital agricultural news and lifestyle brand, but also a prominent player in the African media space.
During a live broadcast from Europe, Food For Mzansi took the top honours in no less than three categories at the 2020 African Digital Media Awards. They are the winners in the categories for audience engagement and news literacy, and also walked away with the editor’s choice award for the continent’s top covid-19 special project.
The global panel of judges remarked that 2020 “saw an incredible performance from Food For Mzansi” after they first turned heads when they were announced as Africa’s best digital news start-up last year. In a media release this afternoon the global press WAN-IFRA said, “The niche South African vertical focused on farming news… have gone from strength to strength.”
“Many people say we’re naïve to believe in agriculture’s power to create social cohesion in this broken, beautiful country of ours.” – Dawn Noemdoe
Judges included some of the world’s top media experts, including the United Kingdom-based Cherilyn Ireton from the World Editors Forum at WAN-IFRA and Sarah Hartley from the Google News Initiative, as well as Serene Luo from The Straits Times in Singapore, Cristina Tardáguila from Agência Lupa in Brazil, Ole Werring from Amedia Utvikling AS in Norway and Toyosi Ogunseye from the BBC in Nigeria.
Commended on ‘incredible performance’
Competing against News24 and the Daily Maverick, Food For Mzansi won the best in audience engagement category with their Farmer’s Inside Track channel. The judges described this as a “very good approach to directly engage a niche audience through various platforms”, including a weekly newsletter to more than 8 500 farmers and agripreneurs. WAN-IFRA had particularly high praise for the weekly Farmer’s Inside Track podcast anchored by journalists Dawn Noemdoe and Duncan Masiwa.
Food For Mzansi’s Sinelizwi citizen journalism programme, which has been rolled out nationally during the coronavirus lockdown, beat the renowned Accra-based GhanaFact in the category for news literacy. Sinelizwi was born in the rural village of Mkhubiso and has since also received support from the Google News Initiative.
Furthermore, Food For Mzansi beat News24 and African News Agency by receiving 55% of the international audience vote for Thandi and Captain Stay Safe, their covid-19 special project. Here the judges said, “What an inspiring project, born early in the covid-19 cycle. Food for Mzansi understand their relationship and responsibility to the community they serve and came up with a perfect vehicle to get the message across to young readers about the dangers of the virus.”
The digital news start-up is the brainchild of media entrepreneurs Ivor Price and Kobus Louwrens, who first started working together 20 years ago as journalists at a daily newspaper. Both have international media experience with Price having previously worked as a London-based foreign correspondent, and Louwrens as general manager of an East African lifestyle magazine group. They are also award-winning journalists and former Media24 community newspaper publishers.
“Everything still feels so surreal,” said Price, who tuned in to the virtual awards ceremony from Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State. “The signal isn’t great here and I was not sure if I heard the announcement correctly. The beauty of this global recognition is that it’s purely based on merit. We don’t know the judges. They have no loyalties to any of us. They simply adjudicated entries from more than 20 different African countries based on global media standards.”
‘Awards inspire us to do better’
Louwrens described the three global awards as a great honour. “I think some people’s ears are still buzzing after our team just about shouted live during the global Zoom announcement. We are committed to giving our audience of nearly a million people continued high-quality journalism. The awards inspire us to do better, and to be better.”
Food For Mzansi also acknowledged the support of the VKB agricultural enterprise as well as its diverse range of clients and project partners, including the team of YehBaby Digital, a Paarl-based digital agency who works hand-in-hand with them. They also wish to honour the 11-year-old Jan Louwrens, a learner of Curro Online, who was the inspiration between the Thandi and Captain Stay Safe campaign.
Dawn Noemdoe, editor: audience and engagement, described a “heart-centred approach” as Food For Mzansi’s secret ingredient. “Many people say we’re naïve to believe in agriculture’s power to create social cohesion in this broken, beautiful country of ours. But despite all the doom and gloom, not a day goes by where we aren’t inspired by the work of our agriculturists. We often find hope and inspiration off the beaten track.”
Meanwhile Food For Mzansi has been inundated with congratulatory messages from readers, including Dr Sifiso Ntombela, chief economist of the National Agricultural Marketing Council and dietician and television host Andrea Slabber.
‘Food For Mzansi changed agri space’
Karabo Rampete, a Pretoria-based farmer, said, “You did it! You deserve it! I’m so proud to be associated with the team. Continue representing us well. If it wasn’t for you, people wouldn’t know about us.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Eric Mauwane, managing director of Oneo Farms, who said, “This team has given recognition to us, as farmers, sharing our pain and our successes. We are proud of their achievements and appreciate their great work. Bunch of winners!”
Thabang Matome said since the arrival of Food For Mzansi he hasn’t read any other agricultural publications. “You have changed the whole agricultural space. I even get stressed if I don’t see new articles (from the team).
VKB managing director Koos van Rensburg says the agricultural giant is proud of its association with Food For Mzansi, noting that “we share the same value system” coupled with a passion for agriculture and shared love for the land. “We believe in sharing the positive agriculture message amongst the diverse population in contrast to some news that just flourishes on sensation rather than good stories. Food For Mzansi carries an objective message in an unbiased manner to the diverse nation.”
“Food For Mzansi is perfectly aligned with the vision to become an inclusive, non-racially biased agricultural sector.” – Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA
Also, Agri SA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede described Food For Mzansi as a very exciting news platform, which is “perfectly aligned with the national vision to become an inclusive, non-racially biased agricultural sector. I have to commend Food For Mzansi for including so many young people in the positive stories they share daily.”
Free State farmer Nick Serfontein, the chairperson of the Sernick Group, said he feels privileged to have been on the journey with Food For Mzansi since its early days.
“It is quite unique in its offering as it is not only for farmers but actually for the end consumer. It connects the farmer (producer) with the consumer. Building this relationship is key to a healthy agricultural sector.”
Serfontein also commends Food For Mzansi for its news credibility, noting that the articles are well-researched and “conducive to a united agricultural sector”.