Over 50 journalists gathered in Kampala (Uganda) and Arusha (Tanzania) to deepen their knowledge of science journalism and plant genetics as new B4FA Media Fellows. They were joined by scientists and journalists who served as mentors, while returning B4FA Media Fellows from last year’s courses also shared their knowledge and experience. In addition to lectures, the Fellows had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of extracting DNA from strawberries, kiwi fruit and mangoes. Moreover, visits to field sites offered an up close experience with plant genetics, such as on-going work with nematode-resistant bananas at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation’s (NARO) Kawanda site, and Afri-SEM in Tanzania which improves local crops and vegetables for Tanzania, to name only two.
But why did so many journalists take the time to join this four day course on admittedly technical topics?
According to Nassra Suleiman of the Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation, “Reporting the issues concerning science is very important in our country because we have many things to do in agriculture. This course will help me to write stories which can empower local farmers as well as increasing our production in Tanzania and Zanzibar.”
Grayson Mtembi, Chairman of the Tanzanian Science Journalists Association and presenter on radio for the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation, added, “If we see there is a gap between researchers and journalists – for us science journalists, you really want journalists to be well equipped with scientific information so they can write good science stories. I used to see editors who did not want to have a priority on science stories. Seeing that, I decided to organise all media houses who were interested in writing science stories.
Continuing Mtembi added, “For me, it is good to have [plant] technology because many people are not able to have three meals a day. You see people who only have one meal a day. By introducing plant breeding and GMOs, people will be able to get a lot of food and cash crops.”
In Uganda, according to returning Media Fellow Lominda Afedraru, a freelance journalist attached to The Monitor, “In science reporting, you have to bring out the facts and the figures; you’re like a teacher to your public. For instance, if you are writing something on banana bacterial wilt, the farmer doesn’t know the implications for the plant. Basically you have to explain this is a disease that is dangerous to the farmer’s crops and give the farmer options how he or she can actually control this disease and come up with a good yield and good varieties. Whatever article you are doing is for the better of the community, especially the rural poor farmers who are trying to look out for their livelihoods.”
New B4FA Media Fellow, Cliff Abenaitwe of Radio West, commented on the potential impact for farmers: “In the area where I was born, in a family of people who do farming a lot, I happen to be working still in the same area. But we have a big problem – people grow crops but they get little from them. The reason being that they are still in the traditional farming systems of our great-great grandfathers and grandmothers. I believe that with improved farming systems like the use of improved plant breeds or something like GM technologies and biosciences, Africa and the area where I come from, can improve our agriculture.
“I know not every farmer will get the chance to know what bioscience is, what genetics is. That’s why I came to this programme, so that I get all this knowledge and will be able to disseminate it to the people there. Very many people may not take it up, but the few who take it up will be able to transform their lives and they will tell other people.”
This latest series of courses brings to over 160 the number of journalists who have been on the journey of science journalism and plant genetics with B4FA over the past six months. The fellowships in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania will provide continuing support for journalists, many of whom are farmers or come from a history of close links to the land.