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November 5th, 2012

Can training in science sharpen journalists’ skills?  Do genetics matter to journalists?  From 31 October – 3 November, twenty-one journalists from Uganda gathered in Kampala, Uganda to ask these – and other – questions.  Through hands-on experiments and interactive presentations from leading scientists and science journalists, B4FA’s Ugandan Media Fellows took the opportunity to decide how and whether this science training could inform their future stories.

Media fellow James Odong is a writer for Etop, a local newspaper in northeast Kampala covering 8 districts and a radio broadcaster (Etop Radio) with 1.5 million listeners.  Like a number of B4FA Media Fellows, he is also a smallholder farmer.  In his own words, “I will benefit as a person and as a farmer and also personally, professionally as a journalist I benefited. As a journalist it will improve my work”.

He was particularly interested by the topic of tissue culture: “I am going to adapt it myself, I have already contacted the person who is making tissue culture here in Uganda, and I will be contacting very soon because I want to take that technology to my village, and I am going to start extensive farming because this year I lost a lot because of climate change, and I lost a lot of money”.

The twenty-one B4FA Media Fellows made several field visits to witness the cutting-edge plant science occurring in Uganda for local and regional food staples, such as cassava and banana.  At the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), they visited tissue culture labs for cassava, confined field trials for GM cassava  with resistance to virulent viruses (mosaic and brown rot) as well as field trials for conventionally improved cassava for higher nutritional content, such as plants with enhanced vitamin A levels. At the National Agriculture Research Laboratory (NARL), B4FA Media Fellows had hands-on experience with GM golden bananas (enriched with vitamin A), GM bananas with resistance to weevils and nematodes and GM bananas resistant to bacterial wilt, a devastating disease for bananas, Uganda’s staple food.

 

The journalists were joined by a number of leading experts, including:

  • Tina Barsby of the UK’s National Institute for Agricultural Botany
  • Peter Wamboga-Mugirya and Patrick Luganda, Ugandan science journalism experts
  • Sharon Schmickle, a journalist who covers national and international stories for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996
  • Phinehas Tukamuhabwa, Makerere University, Kampala
  • Erostus Nsubuga, AgroGenetic Technologies Africa, Buloba
  • John Wasswa Mulumba, Entebbe Botanical Gardens, Entebbe
  • Chris Leaver, University of Oxford and B4FA Senior Scientific Advisor
  • Andrew Kiggundu, NARO
  • Abel Arinaitwe, Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural R&D Institute
  • Africano Kangire, Coffee Research Institute, Mukono
  • Bernie Jones, B4FA Director of Journalism
  • Claudia Canales Holzeis, B4FA Research Associate