Wangalachi et al (food security)

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  • 1. African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 10(23), pp. 4694-4698, 1 June, 2011Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/AJBISSN 1684–5315 ©2011 Academic JournalsReview Experiences in effective communication on transgenic technology in Africa – the case of the insect resistant maize for Africa (IRMA) project A. Wangalachi1*, D. Poland2, S. Mugo1, S. T. Gichuki3, D. Ouya4, G. Kimani3 and J. Rabar1 1 International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), P.O. Box 1041 - 00621 Nairobi, Kenya. 2 PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, 7500 Old Georgetown Rd., Suite 1200. Bethesda, MD 20814 USA. 3 Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), P. O. Box 57811 – 00200 Nairobi, Kenya. 4 International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), P. O. Box 340 – 00202 Nairobi, Kenya. Accepted 13 January, 2011 The Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) Project, aimed to improve food security through developing and deploying locally adapted stem borer resistant maize varieties using both conventional and biotechnology mediated methods, especially Bt technology. This technology uses a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to create transgenic maize varieties. Transgenic technologies have been a controversial and emotive topic in recent years, and the IRMA project was launched against this backdrop. To ensure widespread acceptance of the IRMA project and its Bt technology, the project carefully planned and implemented its communication and public awareness strategy. Following its public launch in March 2000, the project promoted an open communication environment and continuously engaged with stakeholders to update them on progress. The project achieved this through targeted and diverse communications products such as media articles and broadcast news pieces, newsletters, websites, videos and reports. To complement these, the project conducted annual stakeholders’ meetings, and specialized training for frontline project staff and collaborators, especially extension agents. This paper reviews the IRMA Project’s public awareness and communication strategy and analyzes its effectiveness. Key words: Transgenic technology, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize technology, communication, public awareness, insect resistant maize for Africa (IRMA) project.INTRODUCTIONTransgenic technologies, also referred to as “genetic ‘GMOs’, as they are commonly referred to. Globally, thismodification”, “genetic engineering” or “genetic enhance- communication has had both negative and positivement”, have attracted considerable and emotive debate. effects. Both parties have disseminated information intoThe emotion is associated with perceived loss of the public domain, nevertheless, the facts may noteconomic, human and environmental safety. It is also always hold true. The Insect Resistant Maize for Africaassociated with perceived adverse behavioral and (IRMA) project considered monitoring of the local,physiological effects such as impotence (Juma, 2003; regional, and international media to be critical. This wouldKeech, 2010). Both proponents and opponents have help in assessing the credibility of news sources, and siftbeen effective in their communications and outreach reports based on fact from those that were alarmist orefforts, based on the fact that the general public is now sensationalist.more informed about genetically modified organisms or This paper explores the communication activities undertaken by the IRMA project, and their impact on public acceptance. The goal of the IRMA project was to increase maize production and improve food security*Corresponding author. E-mail: awangalachi@cgiar.org. Tel: through the development and deployment of insect resis-+254 (0) 20 722 4619. tant maize to reduce losses due to stem borers. Using
  • 2. Wangalachi et al. 4695both conventional and biotechnology breeding techni- nics, appear to use sensationalism to further their cause.ques, the project combined the best available science to They have spread fear, warning consumers of allegedachieve its aims. As it dealt with a controversial product, adverse effects on health, loss of biodiversity in thegenetically modified insect resistant maize containing a environment, and loss of markets for agricultural productsgene from Bacillus thuriengiensis (Bt), there was a lot of (Karembu, 2009; Keech, 2010). Consequently, fieldsinterest in this novel project and its end product. sown to genetically modified crops have been raided and Before the launch of the IRMA project, Centro demonstrations held against the production of geneticallyInternacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT) modified crops. In addition, there have been attempts toand the project donor, the Novartis Foundation, consi- block passage of biosafety legislation (Karembu, 2009).dered Kenya and Zimbabwe as likely sites. After due The media have had some attention-grabbing headlines,consideration, it was determined to base the IRMA for example, Reuters quoted Prince Charles, in anproject in Kenya, making it the only sub-Saharan African interview with the Daily Telegraph, saying “… thecountry aside from South Africa to undertake such widespread use of genetically modified crops would beresearch. This project would serve as a reference point the biggest environmental disaster of all time”. This storyfor other countries in the eastern Africa region in defining was headlined ‘Prince Charles says GMO crops will bethe scientific, regulatory, and communication issues in "disaster"’ (Randall, 2008). Among the organizations thatorder to proceed effectively in establishing biosafety have strongly supported such claims are GreenPeace,protocols and regulations. Establishing an effective the Canadian-based GM Free Consumers Network, andcommunications strategy at diverse levels was also organic farmers worldwide.considered a priority. Some headlines, however, have indicated government Communication was accorded a prominent role since support for the technology with The EastAfrican boldlythe earliest discussions about the project among the stating ‘Kenya govt wants to impose GMOs ‘by force’’donor, International Maize and Wheat Improvement (Mbaria, 2008). The Times (UK) had a headlineCenter commonly called by its Spanish acronym suggesting that those against GMOs had ulterior motives.CIMMYT for Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Under the title ‘Green activists are keeping Africa poor’,Maíz y Trigo and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute a leading British scientist accuses the west of(KARI). This can be traced directly to the public relations impoverishing Africa by promoting traditional farming atdifficulties related to genetically modified (GM) crops the expense of modern scientific agriculture (Henderson,encountered in Europe and to a lesser extent, the United 2008). The development of GM crops has however notStates, and the forceful opposition to them by powerful reached its full potential due to limited resources foranti-GM organizations. It was not thought that introduc- research, low levels of awareness among consumers,tion of GM crops in sub-Saharan Africa would be immune and expensive and cumbersome regulatory processesto such controversies and attacks, and so communication (De Groote, forthcoming).was considered a key thematic area for the IRMA project In Africa, there have been several successful initia-and guiding principles were discussed and established tives, spokespeople and media outlets that have fosteredearly on Mugo et al. (2003). This was the thematic area: positive communications on transgenics, mainly in South“Communication to raise awareness on the technology, Africa and Kenya. Such public awareness initiatives andpromotion to raise awareness on the insect resistant organizations include the Africa-Bio, Open Forum onmaize varieties, and capacity building through training of African Biotechnology (OFAB), the Insect Resistantpersonnel in biotechnology, and the establishment of Maize for Africa (IRMA) project, the International Servicebiosafety facilities and other infrastructure necessary for for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)-development and use of insect resistance maize AfriCenter, African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forumvarieties” (Mugo et al., 2003). (ABSF), CropLife, African Agricultural Technology Effective aspects of the IRMA communications and Foundation (AATF), and AfricaBio. Others include thepublic awareness included the use of a multiple stake- development and launch of the Biotechnology Awarenessholder approach, continuous stakeholder engagement, Strategy for Kenya (BioAWARE) in the lead up to thefostering public understanding, balanced media coverage passage of Kenya’s Biosafety Law, and the first ever Alland input into the policy development process. Among Africa Congress on Biotechnology.the communication strategies employed by the project Some of these initiatives have been specifically gearedwere, annual stakeholders’ meetings, project documents, towards informing and influencing key decision anda road show and monitoring of the media. policy-makers such as the 2008 meeting in Kampala, Uganda for members of parliament supported by SciDev.Net, and Gatsby Trust; and awareness andTHE CONTROVERSY OVER TRANSGENICS support for the Biosafety Bill 2008 by various stakeholders in Kenya. Media outlets have includedOpponents of biotechnology, and specifically transgenics, newsletters (print and electronic), and science pullouts
  • 3. 4696 Afr. J. Biotechnol.and features in local and international dailies. Scientific stakeholders on the communications front, this entailedpublications such as the African Journal of Biotechnology developing joint press releases, drafting position state-have contributed to creating a critical body of credible ments, and actively engaging the media in either a panelbiotechnology information. Other initiatives have included format or with one-on-one interviews. In addition, IRMAtraining of journalists, scientists and extension workers on would take advantage of events conducted by othereffectively communicating the science and benefits of organizations such as ABSF and ISAAA to conductagricultural biotechnology. media outreach—both to Kenyan and international media. For general outreach, the communications team alsoKEY ASPECTS IN IRMA COMMUNICATIONS produced a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document, a project brochure, and fact sheets, as well asTargeting communication efforts articles in the CIMMYT annual report. For stakeholder and internal use, the communications team developedFor communication to be effective, it needs to be and produced the IRMA Updates quarterly newsletter,targeted. In the case of communications on transgenic project annual reports, and an “issues management”technologies it additionally needs to strive for balanced matrix. IRMA also sought to take its information andmedia coverage, foster public understanding, be a messages directly to key audiences. It reached out tocontinuous activity, provide public input into the policy farmers and other stakeholders through participating indevelopment process, communicate the benefits and not the popular national agricultural shows. Other initiativesjust the science, periodically survey public opinion, use included training of journalists and key extension officersa multi-stakeholder approach and provide information (Mugo et al., 2005a).proactively (Keech, 2010). For the external officers, the project undertook an Initial activities included forecasting the project’s innovative “road show” of workshops in July 2005,information needs and how these would be met; traveling across Kenya to improve the effectiveness ofunderstanding Kenyan audiences and their information frontline MoA extension staff and to receive input into therequirements and preparing for stakeholders’ meetings, project’s public awareness strategy. Five informationwhich were deemed an integral part of the project’s sharing workshops were conducted at Mtwapa, Katu-communications efforts. mani, Embu, Kakamega and Kitale. In total, 120 resource From the onset, transparency and openness were persons and extension agents participated in theobjectives of the IRMA project’s communication efforts. workshops, enabling them to better convey accurateIndeed, communication was one of the five themes in information about Bt technology and the IRMA project. InIRMA I and IRMA II. This was in part to counter antici- addition, the roadshow team identified good communi-pated attacks from anti-GM organizations, but even more cators among the extension staff, and effectiveas an approach to encourage stakeholder and media messages, suitable for video and radio productions, toinvolvement. Because the project leadership accepted reach farmers. To identify particularly effective messen-the science in support of development of transgenic gers and messages, the project conducted a ‘Starmaize, the project embraced increasing awareness about Search’ exercise—a talent search for the best extensionit. agent; this would be the person who had the ability to A key trait of the IRMA communications strategy was spread, most effectively and convincingly, key IRMAto keep the messages simple and to develop diverse pro- information and messages to farmer audiences inducts for the various audience segments—the educated Kiswahili (the most widely spoken local language inlay public, journalists, non-governmental organizations, Kenya) (Mugo et al., 2005b). In the years that followed,farmers, policymakers and project partners. A second key the IRMA project and the MoA collaboratively conductedfeature of the strategy was to create a sense of workshops on biotechnology and biosafety for farmerownership among Kenyan partners and stakeholders by organizations, to share information and harmonize use ofgiving the project an African voice and face. This was limited resources (KARI and CIMMYT, 2007).accomplished through media training of scientists and Monitoring of the global media was useful in providingproject administrators. Later in the project, with the a context for the position statements and FAQs,inquiries on transgenic maize received by KARI field synthesizing media trends and advising the IRMA projectagents and Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) extension steering committee on implications for information effortsofficers, a third plank was added, aimed at training and developing an archive of information for use inpersonnel at grassroots level. presentations and publications. A clipping service was The IRMA project’s communications activities were contracted out to Picasso Productions, a Kenyan mediadiverse, but coordinated. A focal point for communicating house, to monitor the Kenyan media. The report given intransparently with the public was organizing the annual 2002 documented about 100 articles and 30 editorialsstakeholders meeting. In addition to directly engaging key related to agricultural biotechnology, mostly maize, that
  • 4. Wangalachi et al. 4697appeared in the major Kenyan newspapers. The service et al., 2005a; Mugo et al., 2008; Mugo et al., 2005b;monitored features by the key words ‘GM crops’, ‘Bt Mugo et al., 2003).maize’, ‘KARI’, and ‘IRMA project’. During the 2007 stakeholder meeting, it was encourag- ing that participants’ concerns centered on the project’s implementation and when the Bt maize would beUse of a multiple stakeholder approach available to farmers rather than questioning the techno- logy; this gave confirmation that consumers andThe stakeholders to whom the IRMA project reached out stakeholders had gained acceptance of the technology asincluded farmers, project partners, non governmental a result of adequately having their concerns addressedorganizations (NGOs), other biotechnology organizations, throughout the course of the project (Mugo et al., 2008).seed companies, maize processors, Ministry of Agricul-ture officers, extension agents, donor agencies,journalists, scientists, and policy makers. The project STRIVING FOR BALANCED MEDIA COVERAGEdeveloped targeted communications products and mes-sages for each of these groups, and this was useful in The IRMA project communications team did not set out totaking the IRMA message further. For example, by create a ‘positive spin’ on GM technologies, or on theensuring that farmers, extension agents and journalists IRMA project, its processes and products, but insteadreceived the correct and appropriate messages on the sought to achieve balanced media coverage. This wasGM technologies and the IRMA project, the project achieved through transparency, having effective spokes-achieved mostly positive and balanced media coverage; people, being proactive in seeking and exploiting mediaadditionally in a consumer survey on GM issues, opportunities as offered through the monitoring service orrespondents cited newspapers as being an important as they emerged, effectively supporting scientists beforesource of information (Kimenju et al., 2005). they gave media interviews, and reacting immediately to negative news. Through Picasso Productions and journalists invited to stakeholder meeting, the IRMACONTINUOUS STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT AND project was able to get its stories and features placed inFOSTERING PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING the leading Kenyan papers, and television stations. In addition, the IRMA project had some significant mediaThe IRMA project succeeded in engaging stakeholders events, mostly around the many ‘firsts’ that the projectthroughout its project lifetime—first during its public had achieved. Two of these were the launch of the firstlaunch and subsequently through the annual stakeholder biosafety greenhouse complex, in Africa, outside of Southmeetings (Mugo et al., 2003). This was useful in three Africa, on 23 June 2004 and the first planting of the Btways; it kept the project partners and other stakeholders maize on Kenyan soil in confined field trials at Kiboko onupdated on the project’s progress, it improved the sense 27 May 2005 (Mugo et al., 2005a).of ownership and inclusion by stakeholders and it The official opening of the project’s biosafetyengendered openness and provided a channel for greenhouse complex in 2004 by Kenya’s President (H.E.stakeholders to highlight areas of the project research Mwai Kibaki) was a huge media draw in itself and wasthey wished to be included, further enriching the perceived as a presidential endorsement of geneticusefulness and relevance of the IRMA project and its engineering for agricultural advancement in Kenya. Thisproducts to the target community. The effectiveness of high visibility launch was not serendipity, but rather thethese initiatives was captured by participants’ questions result of a concerted effort in which KARI and projectduring the question-and-answer sessions of various leadership persuaded the MoA of the historic aspects andstakeholder meetings. For instance, in 2002, these ques- impact of the biosafety greenhouse opening, which intions were on the stewardship of the Bt maize turn relayed this to the Office of the President. Thetechnology. This indicated that the IRMA project had by ripples from this event spread continent wide, with newsthen communicated effectively on the technology, which of the de facto endorsement appearing extensively inwas well understood by the stakeholders’ representatives major local, regional and international channels including(Mugo et al., 2003). Questions shifted from the safety of Cable News Network (CNN) International and Africathe technology to demand for the technology. (aired at least three times on the CNN World News The IRMA project was commended by Kenya’s Report).Agricultural Secretary at the time for its comprehensive The first planting of the Bt maize confined field trialsinformation and communication strategies, and for not was also well attended by local journalists and both theleaving the public and the stakeholders behind, in the planting and the IRMA project were covered extensivelydevelopment of its technology. He praised the project for on television, print and in electronic media. Coverage“keeping stakeholders engaged through diverse ways also extended to The New York Times, and The Interna-including (these) annual stakeholders’ meetings…”(Mugo tional Herald Tribune, Reuters wire service, and to
  • 5. 4698 Afr. J. Biotechnol.SciDev.Net, among numerous other global websites and support of the CIMMYT Corporate Communications(Mugo et al., 2005b). Unit for helping in the completion of this paper. We also Despite unforeseen setbacks, such as the halting of acknowledge Hugo de Groote for editorial assistance.the first Bt trial, CIMMYT and KARI partners openly The authors would like to thank the Syngenta Foundationengaged the media about the stoppage due to a technical for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) and the Rockefellererror, where a systemic pesticide was inadvertently Foundation (RF) for their financial support through theapplied to plants already infested with stem borer larvae, IRMA Project.obliging the scientists to repeat the experiment. Thishelped in building the credibility of the IRMA project, andthe project went ahead with a reputation of having ABBREVIATIONSnothing to hide, thus establishing long-term trust in theeyes of the general public. GMO, Genetically modified organisms; IRMA, Insect Resistant Maize for Africa; CIMMYT, Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo; KARI, KenyaINPUT INTO THE POLICY DEVELOPMENT PROCESS Agricultural Research Institute; OFAB, Open Forum on African Biotechnology; ISAAA, International Service forThe IRMA project contributed to the development of the the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications; ABSF,Kenyan biosafety policy through its various communi- African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum; MoA,cations efforts, presentations by scientists at different ministry of agriculture; FAQs, frequently asked questions;fora, and collaboration with similar stakeholders, such as NGOs, Non-Governmental Organi-zations; CNN, Cablegranting interviews for the Africa Harvest Biotech News Network; AATF, African Agricultural TechnologyFoundation-commissioned video for use to drum up Foundation; BioAWARE, Biotechnology Aware-nesssupport for the Biotechnology Policy and Biosafety Bill, Strategy for Kenya; WEMA, Water Efficient Maize forwhich came up for debate in 2008 in Kenya’s parliament Africa; IMAS, Improved Maize for African Soils.and was passed in 2009 (GoK, 2009). Through effectivedocumentation of all the processes and progress of the REFERENCESIRMA project, useful information was captured that in-formed the design of similar transgenic maize technology De Groote H (forthcoming). Crop biotechnology in developing countries.projects, namely the Water Efficient Maize for Africa In Altman A, Hasegawa M (eds.): Plant biotechnology for the 21st Century: Basic aspects and agricultural implications. Amsterdam:(WEMA) and Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) Elsevier.projects, both executed by CIMMYT together with other Go K (2009). Biotechnology Policy and Biosafety Bill. Nairobi:partners. Government of Kenya. Henderson M (2008) Green activists are keeping Africa poor: The Times. London.CONCLUSION Juma C (2003). Biotechnology In The Global Communication Ecology. Economic Perspectives 8. Karembu M (2009). Biosafety Communication - The Challenges: WEMAThe IRMA Project has been described as having defined Spokespeople Media Handling and Risk Communication Workshop.the course of biotechnology activities in Kenya. It has Nairobi.also serves as a testing ground for national biosafety KARI, and CIMMYT (2007) Insect Resistant Maize for Africa Annual Report 2006: IRMA Project Document. Mexico D.F.: Kenyaregulations and guidelines (Mugo et al., 2008). This Agricultural Research Institute and International Maize and Wheatpaper has offered experiences from the first two phases Improvement Center.of the IRMA project, showing the activities undertaken in Keech D (2010). Communication of Biotech in Africa. Pretoria:disseminating information to the general public. The AfricaBio. Kimenju SC, De Groote H, Karugia J, Mbogoh S, Poland D (2005).project was effective in communicating about its transge- Consumer awareness and attitudes toward GM foods in Kenya. Afr.nic technology, and countered attacks from opponents of J. Biotechnol. 4: 1066-1075.the technology, thus succeeding in gaining widespread Mbaria J (2008). Kenya govt wants to impose GMOs ‘by force’ Thestakeholder acceptance, and building the foundation for EastAfrican. Nairobi. Mugo S, DeGroote H, Bergvinson D, Mulaa M, Songa J, Gichuki Sfollow up agricultural biotechnology projects with a (2005a). Developing Bt maize for resource-poor farmers - Recenttransgenic component. Reassurance, clarity, awareness advances in the IRMA project. Afr. J. Biotechnol. 4: 1490-1504.and information are keys for any successful commu- Mugo S, Mulaa M, Likhayo P, Wangalachi A, Gichuki S (2008). IRMAnication initiative. Thus, the IRMA project strives to Project Phase II, “Delivering Products to Farmers”. Seventh Stakeholders Meeting: Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA II).provide accurate information to consumers, and to Mugo SN, Poland D, Mulaa M, Gichuki S (2005b). IRMA Project Phasefarmers, and this has led to the success of the project. II, “Delivering Products to Farmers”. Fifth Stakeholders Meeting: Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA II). Mugo SN, Poland D, Mulaa M, Hoisington D (2003). Third StakeholdersACKNOWLEDGMENTS Meeting: Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) Project. Randall J (2008). Prince Charles warns GM crops risk causing theThe authors would like to acknowledge the contributions biggest-ever environmental disaster: The Telegraph. London.