Science journalism in Uganda - November 2012

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Presentation by Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, SCIFODE, Uganda
Delivered at the B4FA Media Dialogue Workshop, Kampala, Uganda - November 2012
www.b4fa.org

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Science journalism in Uganda - November 2012

  1. 1. INITIAL DIALOGUE & TRAINING WORKSHOP ON PLANTBREEDING, GENETICS & BIOSCIENCES FOR FARMING IN AFRICA (B4FA). Speke Resort, Munyonyo Oct. 31st to Nov. 3rd 2012
  2. 2. • SESSION 2: Practical Journalism & Science What is Science Journalism: • I want to start from the word go, with a disclaimer: that my definition is neither the official nor universal interpretation of science journalism. It is mine; from my own point of view, its my own experience that I want share. • First of all, my practice of journalism now close to 20 years—of this, about 7 years I have spent reporting, commenting, editing, broadcasting and interacting and now advocating for science and technology issues.
  3. 3. • I was mentored and inspired into science journalism by Mr. Patrick Luganda. Originally when Patrick was writing farming news at The New Vision it was a grey area that was not prioritised by many media houses, especially print journalism. There was very little reporting, save for the Rural & Farm programmes on then Radio Uganda. • So my practical science journalism-journey, begun with two media houses:
  4. 4. • First At Monitor FM radio [today called KFM]. In the year 2000, I was appointed Producer and Presenter of a 1-hour weekend program called The Environment Show. This was a live and interactive talkshow with a panel of three other journalists and with callers. It basically required good knowledge of environmental issues.
  5. 5. • Now, I was head-hunted among workers at The Monitor newspaper—where in 1996 I was employed as a City Correspondent. The head-hunt was for who could do the job of Environment Talkshow Host, well. And the criteria was basic knowledge of environment issues – broad knowledge of policy, legal, socioeconomic and political-economy of the environment. It was a time when encroachment was spreading on wetlands, forests and lake shores
  6. 6. • Originally as a radio journalist, then as a member of the Environmental Journalists’ Association of Uganda (EJAU), I was found as most suitable candidate to Host the show. • This is because under EJAU, we had received training and exposure to environmental issues from NEMA, Makerere University Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, NARO, the Water, Wetlands, Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife Departments.
  7. 7. • Earlier while working in Government media, the Radio Uganda and Uganda Television (UTV)— both defunct—I was a reporter on agriculture, wildlife and water issues. But in a Government or State-run media particularly radio and TV, we’d report mainly on who has said what, who presided over what ceremony much of the time. • It is about government personalities and their activities, not so much about the issues and for that matter getting in-depth knowledge of scientific and technological matters was not crucial.
  8. 8. • At The Monitor FM Radio—a private entity, the Environment Show used to include wildlife, water, agriculture, health and forestry issues. It was an issue-based program—and gave me early access to scientific bodies, to scientists, especially to research work and a number of training opportunities. • 2. The second media where I did practical science journalism is the then small newspaper The Farmers Voice—now also defunct. It belonged to the Uganda National Farmers’
  9. 9. • Association (UNFA) which later transformed itself into Uganda National Farmers’ Federation (UNFFE). Patrick was editor-Inchief of The Farmers Voice and he headhunted me from Monitor FM radio to FV. • He managed to persuade me and I joined him. I was enrolled as Chief Reporter, and my beat was mainly scientific research issues, across the sectors/sub-sectors of agriculture, environment and later on the science of biotechnology.
  10. 10. • This small newspaper got rapid recognition by various scientific bodies like NARO, UNAS (Uganda National Academy of Sciences) and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST). • They’d invite us to their activities and offered training and Seeing-is-Believing opportunities. • These organisations appreciated The Farmers’ Voice work—because it recognised and prioritized S&T issues in its news and features content. And it was viewed as an ally and interested group or call it key stakeholder
  11. 11. • In between, I got training in Mass Communication from Egypt in 2001 and besides the training, Egypt as a country has prioritised science in its policy and national programmes, so much that this has enabled it produce food in larger quantities compared to a well-endowed country like Uganda. This gave me a good understanding of how policy matters to science • It is S&T that is used in irrigation and breeding highly-productive maize and vegetables and fruits seeds and the transformation of the desert land to produce food. If you, on any morning stood along any of the highways leading into Cairo or other big cities like Alexandria, Suez or Port Said, you’d count more trucks loaded with
  12. 12. • fresh food, vegetables, flowers, livestock and poultry products from the countryside, more than you’d count on highways leading into Kampala in Uganda or the three traditional East African states combined. • Ofcourse one of the reasons why Egypt has more trucks is its sheer bigger population in its cities than E.A has. Cairo is one of the most densely populated capital cities in the world. It is the largest and most populous city in Africa and alone has approximately has 17-20 million inhabitants—if you take into account the metropolitan and greater Cairo areas where there are cities within a city.
  13. 13. • A key factor why Egypt has a higher agroproduction, is there’s more S&T applied in agriculture than we do here, and this leads to Egypt and indeed other north African states’ higher productivity on the land. • Egypt also invests heavily in S&T in education, water, transport systems than what most industry than most other SSA States do. Egypt has systematically increases knowledge, including in humanities and culture and uses knowledge for new S&T innovations. Attention is paid to R&D covering basic and applied research, and experiments. For long many SSA get training of its scientists on Egyptian
  14. 14. • scholarships. • What I learnt while in Cairo is that prioritization of S&T creates more jobs, higher wealth, better quality of life—and generally leads to socioeconomic transformation. • Now without sounding like digressing from the topic, my presentation has been to illustrate here is my practical science journalism journey I have gone through, to give you the sense of how it works out—in terms of where practical journalism is done, the building of skills, gathering knowledge and experience. Practical journalism is not so much about writing and broadcasting per se, but learning from other
  15. 15. • Others and sharing with them like we are doing here. Being able to build the passion to learn closely from scientists simple things like how a plant benefits from e.g. fertilizers or compost manure and natural soil fertility as a combination, as opposed to just depending on soil fertility which with time recedes/depletes. • Or how agricultural productivity and production benefits from improved seeds like hybrids or cross-breeds of poultry and livestock, unlike pure landraces in crops and bird and animal breeds
  16. 16. • In 2008 I was contacted by IFPRI—among seven journalists around the world—to comment on a report by American journalist, Gregg Zackary Pascal on media coverage of agriculture in the Third World. This was a great piece of analysis of how the media has knowingly or unknowingly betrayed its own people and countries’ important source of life and livelihoods • N.B: CNN this morning has a report on how bananas could be a crucial global food in the midst of global warming.
  17. 17. • Lastly media coverage of biotechnology in Uganda: it’s a new area of media attention not research. Through a case-by-case interest and individual/personal attention, the Ugandan journalists are making an entry and impact on their audiences—especially newspapers as far coverage of biotech issues are concerned. But it is on an on and off scale, as issues and news from this area come in limited drops, just when there’s exposure at a research institute, an excursion to a field tour or a workshop on any of the biotechbased projects in NARO.
  18. 18. • Yet, a lot of research has gone on and goes on: Uganda has close to 10 CFTs—the highest in SSA or even in the 3rd world going on concurrently in the crops research alone. • There are plans to introduce research on mosquitoes by the UVRI, using biotechnology to fight malaria – Uganda’s No. 1 killer disease. Already there has been research for an antimalarial vaccine and interesting results have been gotten by Med-Biotech labs using MSI funding. Lots more stories are abound in the breeding, genetics and soil research e.t.c.
  19. 19. Another opportunity that has enhanced my ability to understand, appreciate and report science or does enhance one’s ability to carry out practical science journalism is training. In 2006, I received training from UNESCO, UNECA, ASARECA and ISAAA along with other journalists on the Coverage of Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This was a very practical experience that brought us face-to-face with scientists applying biotechnology tools and techniques to transform crops in Africa and it had a component of visiting the research institutes just like B4FA has planned during this training. Similar training has been provided by NARO institutes in Uganda, most especially the NARL and NaCRRI where leading scientists in the world in banana, roots/tubers and cereal crops research have been resource persons at media training workshops and have been our hosts to their Tissue culture and genetic transformation labs. • 5. Last but not least, one very important avenue in my practical science journalism journey has been the Londonbased Science and Development Network (www.SciDev.Net ) where again it was Patrick who introduced me to the idea; to apply to be their correspondent in Uganda. • 4.
  20. 20. • With his recommendation, I begun with SciDev.Net in 2004. My first story idea on an outbreak of Anthrax in the QENP and hippos, buffaloes and other grazing animals were dying. Herdsmen and fishing communities were threatened. This idea was approved and I undertook the assignment into the park. • Luckily I teamed up with the now Director, then commissioner for Animal resources in MAAIF. He a veterinarian, and a wildlife expert were heading an Anthrax surveillance and control team. I got out a powerful story and since then till about last year, I regularly written for SciDev.Net—mainly on agroscience: policy, legislation for S&T; issues in
  21. 21. • crop-research, issue of genetic engineering and developing appropriate technologies; funding or investment for S&T training and education, environmental issues; research to fight malaria and efforts to improve nutrition and health have been key issues. • Today, I now mostly engage in consultancy work broadly on science communication and specifically on advocacy for legislation and policy for S&T i.e. establishment of a Science and Technology Ministry; Public Education & Media training on S&T issues
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