Eating bugs, fencing elephants, engaging audiences

By David Poulson

This talk given at a recent workshop of the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation is notable for what it borrows.

The innovation is the use of cell phones in a way that enables African beekeepers to share data.  My favorite line comes early in the piece.

After showing an image of a western honey bee, researcher Maryann Frazier notes: “The true lifeline of this story, perhaps, especially in this initial intervention, is this fabulous little insect, one that you would not want to eat, John.”

You can’t appreciate that line without knowing some context. This presentation followed another one by John Nduko who explained the development of insects as a source of protein for people. That’s one attention-grabbing project and Frazier seized a reference to it to help drive her own story.

The reference has the added benefit of showing  that she’s engaged with the broader workshop.  She’s paying attention and we should too.  And it’s a nice, spontaneous way of demonstrating how many of these projects are linked.

Frazier borrows again from another project not her own, describing how others use beehives to keep elephants from trampling crops.  That’s yet another attention-grabber.

Frazier’s project is important, innovative and interesting. But it’s not quite as startling as eating bugs or deterring elephants with bees.  Yet there is enough of a link to borrow those projects to help her tell her own story.

You can’t find much fault in this yarn, perhaps with the exception of lapsing into a bit of jargon. There are references to Kenyan top bar hives and Lanstroth hives. It would take a fairly specialized audience to be familiar with those terms.

The key is to either avoid them or explain them.

And borrow when it makes sense. Just like we did with the headline on this story.

Check out other examples of this kind of work here.

David Poulson is the director of Michigan State University’s translational scholars program and the senior associate director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism

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